It’s quite curious that a mountainous country with plenty of snow isn’t strongly associated with skiing. Yet that seems to be the case with Iceland. Sure we have glaciers, volcanoes and all kinds of otherworldly geological features – but you rarely hear the words Iceland and skiing mentioned together in the same sentence.
So, it may come as a surprise to learn that there are some fantastic ski resorts in Iceland. OK, perhaps they are not of the same grandeur size and scale of those found in the European Alps, but there are some impressive pistes to be found if you know where to look.
Many resorts now boast snow machines (consistent and reliable snowfall isn't always easy to come by), as well as snowboard parks and an increasing number of chair lifts.
As much as we love Iceland, we have to admit that few people come here solely for skiing. While the mountains here are numerous, they aren’t quite big enough to challenge the quality of slopes found elsewhere.
But make no mistake, skiing here is a unique experience, and it might turn out to be one of the best things to do in Iceland during the winter!
When to Go Skiing in Iceland?
The season typically runs from November to April, with February being the peak time. But what about the near total darkness that envelopes Iceland over winter? Fear not, all of the slopes are very well floodlit, so you won’t need to strap a flashlight to your hat whilst hurtling down a mountain.
The best Ski resorts in Iceland
In general, the North of Iceland boasts larger resorts and a much better snow record. However, there are also a few places close to Reykjavík that offer decent downhill action. Some of these are even situated within the city itself- although they are short slopes served by a simple drag lift.
It’s worth mentioning that access to ski resorts is incredibly easy. Snow cover is often very close to sea level, so you don’t need to spend hours driving up steep mountain roads to get to the lifts. In fact, the roads leading to the resorts are frequently snow-free which means you won’t need a large 4WD vehicle to arrive safely; your campervan should do the trick!
Skiing in the North of Iceland.
There’s no doubt about it, Northern Iceland has better resorts and a more reliable snow record than anywhere else in The Land of Fire and Ice. Here’s a few of the best places for skiing action in the North.
Iceland’s premier ski resort, Hliðarfjall is very handily located just 5 minutes outside of Akureyri, the so-called capital of the North and Iceland's second largest city. You’ll encounter plenty of accommodation options, bars and restaurants here, so you won’t need to go far to enjoy some apres-ski nightlife!
The resort itself consists of 26 marked pistes (this includes 3 cross-country trails) that are served by seven lifts. Snow cannons help to elevate the snowy conditions, though given the huge dumps of snow that seem to fall on Akureyri it’s hard to imagine they’re needed. As with most ski locales, all equipment can be hired on-site, and there’s hot food and drinks available in a couple of cafeterias.
Hliðarfjall rises to a height of 1000 meters, and the views over Akureyri and Eyjafjörður are simply stunning. It is such a popular resort that even skiers from Reykjavík frequently make the 800 km round trip to experience it. There is a real ‘winter sports vibe’ in Akureyri during the colder months, so it’s worth checking out if you want an authentic Icelandic skiing adventure.
If the crowds at Hlíðarfjall grow to uncomfortable heights and you want to try out a different type of skii site, then head to Dalvík. A picturesque little town a bit further up Eyjafjörður from Akureyri, Dalvík has a rich history of alpine sports as well as an ideal location. Quite a few Icelandic winter Olympians hail from here and the resort is literally right outside the town.
We’ll be honest- Dalvík is not the biggest resort, with only nine runs served by two lifts which range from beginner to intermediate. But there is a certain charm in the laid-back, relaxed atmosphere here that you can’t get from other sites. While the skiing may not be the most exhilarating, we think the experience of practicing the sport in one of the most northern parts of Iceland makes up for it.
If there are any snowboarders among you, then you should definitely head for Tindastóll. A cool, laidback resort just outside the town of Saúðákrókur in Skagafjörður, Tindastóll boasts a natural canyon which serves as an ideal ramp for snowboarders to pull some stunts. The canyon itself is 3 km long with near vertical sides, satisfying the needs of even the most daring of snowboarders.
Skiers are well catered for as well, with two drag lifts rising to a height of 1000 meters. At the summit, you can choose which way to descend the mountain, depending on how brave or reckless you are feeling. This is also a great place for beginners or young children. A conveyor belt style lift (delightfully called ‘The Magic Carpet’) serves novices on the lower nursery slopes.
Heli Skiing on the Troll Peninsula
The Troll Peninsula is a mountainous area that lies between Eyjafjörður and Skagafjörður. It also happens to be one of the best areas for Heli Skiing in Iceland. There is practically no avalanche risk, so the helicopter can ascend higher and to more places. Here, it’s possible to go skiing in June, which in turn means the chance to traverse snowy slopes under the midnight sun!
The Heli Skiing season typically runs between February and June, and the snow conditions range from fresh powder to corn snow. There are a few companies that offer Heli Skiing in Iceland, where you can choose between a standard package (between 4 and 6 days) or your own custom program.
Whilst this type of skiing isn’t limited to experts, some experience with off-piste skiing is advised before diving in.
Skiing in the South West of Iceland
Winter sports in the South West of Iceland basically revolves around two resorts: Skálafell and Bláfjöll, the latter of which is much larger. Both places are less than a 30-minute drive from Reykjavík.
Convenience wise this is great – weather wise not so much. Because the south of Iceland has a lot less snow than the North, resorts here aren’t typically open until January. Still, if the conditions are right then there is great skiing to be found.
A very well-developed resort that lies just a few kilometers South East of Iceland, Bláfjöll (Blue Mountains) is serviced by 14 (count ‘em!) lifts, two of which are chair lifts. The runs range from beginner to advanced so every skill level is catered for. Snowboarders need not fret, as there is a huge and impressive purpose built snow park with ramps and slides awaiting them.
There are also seven cross-country trails, the longest of which is 12 km long, should you have the energy to attempt it. As you’d expect from a large resort, there is equipment available on-site as well as a pretty decent restaurant where you can grab a bite and wind down after a hard day on the slopes. Oh, and if you’re stuck for transport, there is a bus service to Bláfjöll from Reykjavík.
Skálafell boasts fairly modest and basic ski slopes, but it is a fun site all the same. Since Bláfjöll can sometimes get a little crowded, this could be the quieter alternative. A chairlift whisks you to the top of the mountain and then there are two runs back down, an easy blue one or a slightly more demanding red.
A couple of smaller drag lifts are available for younger and less experienced skiers, so these beginner groups can still get the most out of the experience.
Winter activities in Iceland
Skiing in Iceland is a truly unique experience- one of those activities that we think you should definitely consider if you find yourself here during wintertime.
To get from one place to the next efficiently, you’ll probably need your own transport as some of these places are quite remote. The good news is that a vehicle rental in Iceland tends to be cheaper in the winter months. Check out our page to see our diverse selection of offerings up close!