“Ah, ah/ We come from the land of the ice and snow,/ From the midnight sun where the hot springs blow./ The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands,/ To fight the horde, singing and crying: Valhalla, I am coming!/ On we sweep with threshing oar, our only goal will be the western shore.”-Led Zeppelin, “Immigrant Song”

It’s the last week of May when we land on the shores of Iceland. The country’s escaping from a winter of darkness and vodka-drunk with excitement over days of 24-hour sunlight. Traveling here feels like it’s as much a change in time as in location-like going back a couple of hundred years. The bus driver on the drive from Keflavik International Airport to the capital city of Reykjavik explains that there aren’t any trees here because “the Vikings cut them down.” What, last year? I have the urge to double-check the nearest calendar. Saying we got here during the last week of May seems inadequate, like saying, “It’s the last week of May in pre-Columbus America,” “We’re in Napoleon’s France,” or “We’re here in Smurf Village.” From the barren landscape and focus on the Viking heritage, it seems that Iceland isn’t somewhere you should be able to get to on a five-hour flight from LaGuardia, New York.

Unlike the pure-blood Norwegian Vikings who discovered the island in 870, our crew consists of mixed breeds: Chad Otterstrom (he looks Scandinavian), French Canadian Annie Boulanger (as beautiful as the Icelandic girls), Jussi Tarvainen (Scandinavian!), myself (blond!), Stephen Duke (ready to dilute the local gene pool), and photographer Mark Kohlman (Minnesotan!).

Iceland’s the size of one of our mid-sized East Coast states, floating out in the middle of the North Atlantic with only the even-more-sparsely populated, glacier-covered Greenland to keep it company. The total population is 280,000 people who are descendants of blond Norwegian Vikings and redheaded Irish monks. The culture of Iceland is like a history book opened to the Middle Ages. Morals are learned in school by reading about sagas from the twelfth and thirteenth century A.D. (800 years ago). The language, Old Norse, hasn’t changed since the Vikings spoke it. Words come in large and extra-large minus the vowels. They even have a language preservation program that makes up words for things like pizza (p°tsa), the United States (Bandar°ki Nordur-Amer°ku), and computer (ltà®lva). Lucky for our sorry tourist asses, almost everyone speaks English.

Icelandic winters involve plunging into frozen darkness only modestly lit by the Northern Lights and table scraps of daylight. Not surprisingly, we’ve passed up on winter riding here until The Iceland Park Project came along. It’s a snowboard camp run by three friends: Rob Wyke, Bjarni Valtimarsson, and Graham MacVoy. IPP is a bare-bones camp of hikeable jumps and rails on a small coastal glacier. Our plan is to experience the nightlife of Reykjavik first and then set out for the fishing village and some shredding.

Reykjavik: Urbanely Urban

With about 180,00 people to work with, it seems like a contradiction to call Reykjavik an urban oasis, but that’s exactly what it is. On any given night, Laugarvegur, the main street, is bumper to bumper with brand-new SUVs and European luxe cars, even though everywhere in the city is a mellow bike ride away. But that doesn’t seem to be the point. People in Iceland are wealthy enough; they have at least one if not two new cars-one for the city and one aftermarket 4X4 or SUV for getting out into the heart of the island. The quality of life is better than in the U.S.; there’s no homelessness, there’s government healthcare, no one locks their bikes up, and it’s one of the cleanest pieces of land on Earth thanks to their dependence on geothermal energy (one downfall-all the water smells sulfuric). People don’t seem to have that pent-up need to leave you’d expect to find on an island of relatives floating around in the middle of the Atlantic. st Icelanders, including Iceland’s most famous resident, Bjà¥rk, travel back and forth to Europe, and (more expensively) the U.S., but almost always come back to Iceland.

In Iceland, a father’s son or daughter takes his first name as their last name and then adds the suffix, dottir or son. We learn this the first afternoon at Nikita, the Icelandic women’s clothing company started by Heida Birgisdottir (her dad’s name is Birgis). To minimize confusion, in the phone book people are listed under their first names and everyone including the president is called by their first names.

On our second day, we’re getting our first real look at Iceland outside of Reykjavik, Himmi from Nikita is driving our crew around the Ring Of Fire-a road that goes around The Blue Lagoon hot springs circumnavigating thermal mud basins, pools, and geysers. The landscape is vast and dramatic, stretching out infinitely-mossy plains of volcanic rock, deserted black beaches framed by granite cliffs (for throwing things off), hidden waterfalls, thermal pools and geysers, and finally, a glaciated center. We drive through an expansive, rocky, moss-covered valley with steaming thermal rivers and silly little Icelandic horses galloping awkwardly along the road. It is … it’s … I’m at a loss for words when Himmi reaches over and turns down the volume on Bjork’s Homogenic, which is blaring through the speakers, and says in a very sincere way, “Eet ees a very emotional landscape.” Ah, yes.

It’s emotional, and it’s stark-there’s a noticeable lack of diversity of any kind. The only animals we see are horses, lambs, and pigeons. Himmi reconfirms that the trees were all chopped down by the Vikings for fuel and building ships. But he says this in a way that gives you the impression that it happened a couple years ago, like his grandpa’s generation did it, but he’s talking about the Vikings, the same ones who swilled mead and set out on the high seas in masted vessels.

We head back to Reykjavik, and Chad, Duke, and Kohlman dine (with a not-so-clear conscience) on endangered puffin birds. The next day, it’s sunny out, and we’re told it’s the nicest weather of the year. Heida says, “As hot as it ever gets. You guys are lucky!” Without the breeze off the ocean, it’s maybe T-shirt and jeans weather … brr. We kill more time in the city and head out that night and get a little deeper into the Reykjavik party scene with a local girl named Imba. Imba guides us through a series of smoky clubs. We occasionally look out the window and see sunlight. Some of us call it early-two in the morning. Duke links clues together and finds his way back to the hotel around 4:00 a.m. Kohlman taxis his way out of the suburbs at about 6:00 a.m. We confirm that Reykjavik goes off, and like some sort of Darwinian isolated-island evolution scenario, the women are on the whole, beautiful. Damn, aren’t we supposed to be snowboarding?

Iceland Park Project

We meet up with Graham and set out on the three-hour drive north to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and the SnaefellsJà¥kull glacier.

The Iceland Park Project was started in 2001 and has been especially successful with us magazine people thanks to the insane scenery. The camp is in Arnastapi, described in the tourism books as one of Iceland’s most beautiful seaside villages. Talk about surreal. We throw our gear onto a bunk in the crowded concrete hostel, which sits on the tip of the cliff-encompassed peninsula. Migrating, mating masses of loud Arctic terns run the joint, dive-bombing anyone who strays off the beaten path into one of their nesting areas. The birds have been known to dive at people so viciously that they break their own necks on impact. The view to the front is an impossibly calm Atlantic Ocean that looks like it has a heavy layer of metallic mercury spilled over it. In the mornings the fishing boats motor out to sea in a dreamy time-lapse motion. Behind the hostel is an A-shaped volcanic plug in the foreground of the 4,744-foot-high summit of the SnaefellsJà®kull glacier.

Graham, Rob, Bjarni, and their friends have been working for three summers on the camp. Bjarni was born and raised in Arnastapi, and he looks it. A tall and intensely steely-eyed guy who seriously looks like, you know, a Viking-a snowboarding Viking. Bjarni is a dude of few words. He’s also one of few Icelanders to pick up the third stone at nearby Dj£pal¢nssandur beach-a traditional test of strength taken before a man joins a fishing-boat crew. The heaviest stone, Fullsterkur, weighs 155 kilograms (342 pounds).

The day we arrive in Arnastapi is Seaman’s Day (Sjomannadagur), one of the biggest Icelandic national holidays. It involves camping, drinking, and celebrating the salty seafaring life-the locals are out in force. Vacant-eyed, thick, Dutch-looking guys-Iceland’s version of the redneck-celebrate by getting absolutely polluted and running full speed into each other from about 30 feet apart. Nobody dies that night. Urban Icelanders explain that those guys are from “the other side” of the island. The highlight of the night isn’t the human cannonballs, but the “authentic” heavy-metal band. In black leather pants, pissed-off looking, the lead singer an exact replica of Lemmy from Motà¥rhead-they totally rock the Peninsula. Insightful lyrics in broken English are as follows, “Shit, f-k, shit” as the crowd goes wild. The sun orbits around us all night-giving the whole scene a surreal sideways glare-the thousands of terns continue screaming and dive-bombing overhead, and the Atlantic continues slamming itself against the granite cliffs.

The next day (or maybe it’s the same day) the crowds head back to wherever they came from, the band wanders around the campsite still in black leather, and we finally go snowboarding with our new friends from up north that Kohlman nicknamed “the Icedudes.”

In the city we hadn’t met any snowboarders. They knew of Nikita, and they knew about snowboarding, but unlike the strong ski culture in Scandinavian countries, these Icelanders don’t seem interested in the actual act of snowboarding. We’re stoked when the snowboarder pocket of resistance in Iceland shows up at IPP. They explain that in the winter, they ride at Hl¯darfjall near the other city of Akureyri in northeastern Iceland. There are a couple other resorts back near Reykjavik, Blafjoll and Skalafell, but they say the best riding is up by Akureyri, complete with windlips, cornices, couloirs, cliffs, and a snowboard park. Despite the fact that the Icedudes live in about as remote a place as you can think of, they know their snowboarding. When we get there with Chad in tow, the group erupts: Jurgen durgen shmirgn Chad Otterstrom furgen! And the Sharpies come out. They have all the newest movies, including Neoproto, which we premiere in Iceland on the stoop of the hostel.

No matter where you go, there’s always some sort of snowboard scene. This one may be small, but it’s legit. _mar _marsson, Halldàµr Helgason, Gudlaugur (Gulli) Hàµlm, Eir¯kur (Eiki) Helgason, and Viktor Hjartarson-they all ride together, make movies, and tackle whatever rails they can find. A guy named Geiri runs the Icelandic Snowboard Association, which seems to encompass all the riders on the island. The biggest obstacles these riders face are a lack of daylight and shitty, unpredictable weather-basically, the opposite of what we’ve got going on here at IPP.

From the hostel at Arnastapi, a dirt road, F570, climbs up the side of the mountain. We notice that the sticker on the dashboard of the camp’s rental van specifically forbids driving up this road. Huh. It’s a fifteen-minute hike from the drop-off point to the wallride at the bottom of the park. The glacier surface lift had stopped running a long time ago since the glacier was rapidly receding. The get-on point would have been in dirt and rock-damn global warming is so inconvenient.

This is the second weeklong session of IPP-the ff the 4,744-foot-high summit of the SnaefellsJà®kull glacier.

Graham, Rob, Bjarni, and their friends have been working for three summers on the camp. Bjarni was born and raised in Arnastapi, and he looks it. A tall and intensely steely-eyed guy who seriously looks like, you know, a Viking-a snowboarding Viking. Bjarni is a dude of few words. He’s also one of few Icelanders to pick up the third stone at nearby Dj£pal¢nssandur beach-a traditional test of strength taken before a man joins a fishing-boat crew. The heaviest stone, Fullsterkur, weighs 155 kilograms (342 pounds).

The day we arrive in Arnastapi is Seaman’s Day (Sjomannadagur), one of the biggest Icelandic national holidays. It involves camping, drinking, and celebrating the salty seafaring life-the locals are out in force. Vacant-eyed, thick, Dutch-looking guys-Iceland’s version of the redneck-celebrate by getting absolutely polluted and running full speed into each other from about 30 feet apart. Nobody dies that night. Urban Icelanders explain that those guys are from “the other side” of the island. The highlight of the night isn’t the human cannonballs, but the “authentic” heavy-metal band. In black leather pants, pissed-off looking, the lead singer an exact replica of Lemmy from Motà¥rhead-they totally rock the Peninsula. Insightful lyrics in broken English are as follows, “Shit, f-k, shit” as the crowd goes wild. The sun orbits around us all night-giving the whole scene a surreal sideways glare-the thousands of terns continue screaming and dive-bombing overhead, and the Atlantic continues slamming itself against the granite cliffs.

The next day (or maybe it’s the same day) the crowds head back to wherever they came from, the band wanders around the campsite still in black leather, and we finally go snowboarding with our new friends from up north that Kohlman nicknamed “the Icedudes.”

In the city we hadn’t met any snowboarders. They knew of Nikita, and they knew about snowboarding, but unlike the strong ski culture in Scandinavian countries, these Icelanders don’t seem interested in the actual act of snowboarding. We’re stoked when the snowboarder pocket of resistance in Iceland shows up at IPP. They explain that in the winter, they ride at Hl¯darfjall near the other city of Akureyri in northeastern Iceland. There are a couple other resorts back near Reykjavik, Blafjoll and Skalafell, but they say the best riding is up by Akureyri, complete with windlips, cornices, couloirs, cliffs, and a snowboard park. Despite the fact that the Icedudes live in about as remote a place as you can think of, they know their snowboarding. When we get there with Chad in tow, the group erupts: Jurgen durgen shmirgn Chad Otterstrom furgen! And the Sharpies come out. They have all the newest movies, including Neoproto, which we premiere in Iceland on the stoop of the hostel.

No matter where you go, there’s always some sort of snowboard scene. This one may be small, but it’s legit. _mar _marsson, Halldàµr Helgason, Gudlaugur (Gulli) Hàµlm, Eir¯kur (Eiki) Helgason, and Viktor Hjartarson-they all ride together, make movies, and tackle whatever rails they can find. A guy named Geiri runs the Icelandic Snowboard Association, which seems to encompass all the riders on the island. The biggest obstacles these riders face are a lack of daylight and shitty, unpredictable weather-basically, the opposite of what we’ve got going on here at IPP.

From the hostel at Arnastapi, a dirt road, F570, climbs up the side of the mountain. We notice that the sticker on the dashboard of the camp’s rental van specifically forbids driving up this road. Huh. It’s a fifteen-minute hike from the drop-off point to the wallride at the bottom of the park. The glacier surface lift had stopped running a long time ago since the glacier was rapidly receding. The get-on point would have been in dirt and rock-damn global warming is so inconvenient.

This is the second weeklong session of IPP-the first one was completely rained out. Ours is the exact opposite and rare: totally sunny. The features consist of a wallride, a couple rails brought over by the Icedudes, an urban rail, a hip, and two tabletops set up side-by-side, perfect for transfers. The features morph through the weekend, the hip becomes a quarterpipe, which becomes a weird skiers-delight rail feature by the last day. We have six days set aside to shred and explore.

On the first day, everything is normal enough. We get up to the glacier around noon and Chad sessions the tabletop transfer-earning the title Human Of The Day (which is awarded with a beer back at camp) when he overshoots the table on his first try and stands up from an impact that should have sent his spine through his skull. We go back down to camp and it’s suggested we try to get a sunrise session … at 3:00 a.m. We all wake up and pack into the vans, with Icedudes in hot pursuit, and session the hip. Jussi pulls some extra-stylish methods, then, satisfied, hits it switch and pulls one of those trademarked Finnish-style frontside grabs. We get back to camp around 7:00 a.m. and, you know, wind down with a couple cold ones, play cards, knit beanies, and eat breakfast. Then we put on our sleeping masks to keep out the savage rays and, like nocturnal animals, emerge much later that afternoon.

We end up on an indecipherable cycle of snowboarding whenever we feel like it. The lift never runs, so the slopes are always open; the sun never sets, so there’s no rhythm to the day. We just randomly decide to shred, sleep, or go on little field trips around the peninsula. Annie presses a noseslide down the urban rail at 4:00 a.m. Duke slashes the wall ride at 7:00 p.m. Chad transfers a few hours later, and Kohlman slips into a coma at 3:00 a.m., emerging an alarming fourteen hours later. We take field trips with the rest of the IPP campers. We crawl through the Cave of Doom (fun to say with a thick Scottish accent), which is inexplicably littered with dead seagulls. We run around the edge of the volcano that Jules Verne used as the location of his book, Journey To The Center Of The Earth, and Jussi throws rocks at the resident marmot. Bjarni takes us to a black beach that’s littered with rusted metal from a shipwreck. There’s a little overgrown rock hut that looks like only a very small dwarf or elf could have lived in it. Most Icelanders believe in elves, dwarfs, trolls, fairies, and other human-like creatures. I guess I would, too, if an elf house was blatantly sitting on my local beach. This is also where the three rocks are that Bjarni lifted. It’s all very much like living in one of the sagas-it probably doesn’t help that we’re all sleep deprived.

The rest of the week consists of a blur of sunrise sessions, sunset sessions, high-noon sessions, skate sessions, hikes along the cliffs, and harassing the irritable terns, all while the sun continues its daily orbit around the peninsula.

It’s finally the last day and 215 daylight hours have passed since we first made landfall. We decide there’s just enough time for one more daynight of debauchery in Reykjavik before catching a rainy flight back home. We hit up our new hangout, The Vegemot Bar, and drink more than we can afford to, eat pizza on the main street, lose track of each other, and eventually end up sleeping five deep in the Salvation Army Hostel rooms. Jussi barely makes his flight back to Finland, and the rest of us look (and smell) ruggedly out of place in Iceland Air’s business cabin.

Months have passed since we left. It’s dark in Iceland now. The Icedudes are slaughtering handrails in whiteout blizzard conditions in Akureyri. Laugarvegur is bumper to bumper with pale hipsters heading through the dark into smoky clubs. Northern Lights are strobing overhead. The Arctic terns are just starting to feel the urge to migrate back to the Snaefellsnell Peninsula. I am, too.

Thanks to Iceland Air for providing air traveel. Check its Web site for direct flights from Minneapolis, San Francisco, New York, Boston, D.C., and Orlando: icelandair.com

More info on the Iceland Park Project is available at: icelandparkproject.com

Thanks to the Icedudes for keeping it real: bigjump.is

EXTRAS:

Nikita Clothing

Heida and Runar started Nikita clothing four years ago. They began selling Heida’s designs out of their snowboard/skate shop in downtown Reykjavik. The clothes caught on like wildfire. She started exporting clothes to Europe, got a team of some of the best riders in the world together, which now includes Natasza Zurek, Priscilla Levac and Hannah Teter, and came up with a catchy phrase: “For Girls Who Ride.” Four years later, Nikita street clothes can be found everywhere from Bozeman, Montana to Helsinki, Finland. So that’s how’s it’s done. nikitaclothing.com

t one was completely rained out. Ours is the exact opposite and rare: totally sunny. The features consist of a wallride, a couple rails brought over by the Icedudes, an urban rail, a hip, and two tabletops set up side-by-side, perfect for transfers. The features morph through the weekend, the hip becomes a quarterpipe, which becomes a weird skiers-delight rail feature by the last day. We have six days set aside to shred and explore.

On the first day, everything is normal enough. We get up to the glacier around noon and Chad sessions the tabletop transfer-earning the title Human Of The Day (which is awarded with a beer back at camp) when he overshoots the table on his first try and stands up from an impact that should have sent his spine through his skull. We go back down to camp and it’s suggested we try to get a sunrise session … at 3:00 a.m. We all wake up and pack into the vans, with Icedudes in hot pursuit, and session the hip. Jussi pulls some extra-stylish methods, then, satisfied, hits it switch and pulls one of those trademarked Finnish-style frontside grabs. We get back to camp around 7:00 a.m. and, you know, wind down with a couple cold ones, play cards, knit beanies, and eat breakfast. Then we put on our sleeping masks to keep out the savage rays and, like nocturnal animals, emerge much later that afternoon.

We end up on an indecipherable cycle of snowboarding whenever we feel like it. The lift never runs, so the slopes are always open; the sun never sets, so there’s no rhythm to the day. We just randomly decide to shred, sleep, or go on little field trips around the peninsula. Annie presses a noseslide down the urban rail at 4:00 a.m. Duke slashes the wall ride at 7:00 p.m. Chad transfers a few hours later, and Kohlman slips into a coma at 3:00 a.m., emerging an alarming fourteen hours later. We take field trips with the rest of the IPP campers. We crawl through the Cave of Doom (fun to say with a thick Scottish accent), which is inexplicably littered with dead seagulls. We run around the edge of the volcano that Jules Verne used as the location of his book, Journey To The Center Of The Earth, and Jussi throws rocks at the resident marmot. Bjarni takes us to a black beach that’s littered with rusted metal from a shipwreck. There’s a little overgrown rock hut that looks like only a very small dwarf or elf could have lived in it. Most Icelanders believe in elves, dwarfs, trolls, fairies, and other human-like creatures. I guess I would, too, if an elf house was blatantly sitting on my local beach. This is also where the three rocks are that Bjarni lifted. It’s all very much like living in one of the sagas-it probably doesn’t help that we’re all sleep deprived.

The rest of the week consists of a blur of sunrise sessions, sunset sessions, high-noon sessions, skate sessions, hikes along the cliffs, and harassing the irritable terns, all while the sun continues its daily orbit around the peninsula.

It’s finally the last day and 215 daylight hours have passed since we first made landfall. We decide there’s just enough time for one more daynight of debauchery in Reykjavik before catching a rainy flight back home. We hit up our new hangout, The Vegemot Bar, and drink more than we can afford to, eat pizza on the main street, lose track of each other, and eventually end up sleeping five deep in the Salvation Army Hostel rooms. Jussi barely makes his flight back to Finland, and the rest of us look (and smell) ruggedly out of place in Iceland Air’s business cabin.

Months have passed since we left. It’s dark in Iceland now. The Icedudes are slaughtering handrails in whiteout blizzard conditions in Akureyri. Laugarvegur is bumper to bumper with pale hipsters heading through the dark into smoky clubs. Northern Lights are strobing overhead. The Arctic terns are just starting to feel the urge to migrate back to the Snaefellsnell Peninsula. I am, too.

Thanks to Iceland Air for providing air travel. Check its Web site for direct flights from Minneapolis, San Francisco, New York, Boston, D.C., and Orlando: icelandair.com

More info on the Iceland Park Project is available at: icelandparkproject.com

Thanks to the Icedudes for keeping it real: bigjump.is

EXTRAS:

Nikita Clothing

Heida and Runar started Nikita clothing four years ago. They began selling Heida’s designs out of their snowboard/skate shop in downtown Reykjavik. The clothes caught on like wildfire. She started exporting clothes to Europe, got a team of some of the best riders in the world together, which now includes Natasza Zurek, Priscilla Levac and Hannah Teter, and came up with a catchy phrase: “For Girls Who Ride.” Four years later, Nikita street clothes can be found everywhere from Bozeman, Montana to Helsinki, Finland. So that’s how’s it’s done. nikitaclothing.com

ir travel. Check its Web site for direct flights from Minneapolis, San Francisco, New York, Boston, D.C., and Orlando: icelandair.com

More info on the Iceland Park Project is available at: icelandparkproject.com

Thanks to the Icedudes for keeping it real: bigjump.is

EXTRAS:

Nikita Clothing

Heida and Runar started Nikita clothing four years ago. They began selling Heida’s designs out of their snowboard/skate shop in downtown Reykjavik. The clothes caught on like wildfire. She started exporting clothes to Europe, got a team of some of the best riders in the world together, which now includes Natasza Zurek, Priscilla Levac and Hannah Teter, and came up with a catchy phrase: “For Girls Who Ride.” Four years later, Nikita street clothes can be found everywhere from Bozeman, Montana to Helsinki, Finland. So that’s how’s it’s done. nikitaclothing.com