This island country in the North Atlantic sits on the seam between two continental shelves grinding together thousands of feet deep in the earth’s crust. The country just touches the Arctic Circle with its northernmost edge, and its inhabitants use the earth’s geothermal energy to heat the hot water for the entire country. With record high temperatures and little to no snowfall in western Canada, Iceland (if by name alone) seemed like the perfect destination for a bunch of snow-starved Canadians and one transplanted Finn. Leanne Pelosi, Gaetan Chanut, Jesse Fox, and Paavo Tikkanen spent the last two weeks of February in a winter wonderland immortalized on film by Scott Serfas. This is their story.
Global Warming At Its Finest
It is raining so hard when we wake up in Iceland’s capital of Reykjavik that it sounds like a hurricane has moved in next door. Our local tour guides, three kids from a town on the north coast called Akureyri, show up at about 8:30 a.m. with a pickup truck full of snow. They’d called the night before, and we told them we would be ready to go at eight, but, of course, we are all still in bed. _sgeir Hà®skuldsson, who lives in Reykjavik and works with a distribution company called Optical Studio, introduces us to Viktor Helgi Hjartarson, Eirikur Helgasonn (“Eiki”), and Gudlaugur Holm Gudmunsson (“Gulli”).
At the ripe old age of seventeen, these kids are some of the strongest riders in Iceland. During the winter months, they attend a snowboarding boarding school of sorts (no pun intended) in Sweden, where they ride in the mornings and attend classes in the afternoons. Lucky for us, they have a bit of a winter break from school and are home for the two weeks we’re visiting their country.
Being so far north, Iceland gets fewer hours of daylight in the winter than most of North America and Europe. The shortest day of the year, December 21, only has four hours of daylight. Being there in late February, we saw about eight hours of sunlight per day, with the sun hanging just above the horizon for two hours in the morning and evening-setting the sky ablaze with every hue of yellow, orange, and red imaginable. Not the easiest light to try and drag ourselves out of bed with, but spectacular to look at once we get our lazy asses up.
The Icelandic “wonder kids” show us the video they made the previous year, entitled Noxious Dreaming. We get a sense of why they’re regarded in their homeland as such good snowboarders-they completely tear up the terrain available to them. We finally get the crew rolling around ten and make our way to what Gulli describes as a “warm-up” rail in Hafnarfjordur, a suburb of Reykjavik-a ten-stair rail followed by a curved flat section that swings about 60 degrees to the left, and then another ten stairs, just for good measure. Jesse turns to me and with a touch of bewilderment says, “If this is their warm-up rail, then I’m afraid to see what they’re going to take us to next.”
Consistent rain and warm weather has reduced Iceland to more of a “not-so-Iceland,” so the snow in the pickup truck is much needed for the handrail to be rideable. After a couple tries to work out the kinks-pun intended this time-Victor and Gaetan stomp some solid frontside 50-50s, Gulli gets a hot frontside lipslide, and Eiki, obvious MVP of this particular rail, nails a 50-50 down and around to a frontside boardslide on the last section, as well as a smooth-as-silk frontside boardslide down the entire thing. I think Jesse hit the nail on the head when he called it a “frontside kink-a-saurus-rex that swings left.”
The next day, again claiming an 8:30 a.m. start, we eventually get rolling at about eleven. The long sunrise is difficult to get used to, and we all seem to wake with a perpetual grogginess that’s unshakeable without three or four cups of coffee. Our energetic hosts take us to an eight-flat-eight-flat-eight kink-o-rama of a rail in front of an elementary school called Rimaskoli in a subb of Reykjavik called Grafarvogur. We somehow manage to get permission from the principal to hit the rail-as long as we promise to send them a photo and not sue. No problem.
Lunch lets out, and before we know it, 200 kids are milling about wanting autographs. Gaetan, Paavo, and Leanne start signing anything shoved in their face-arms, foreheads, necks. Before we know it, all the kids look like ex-cons with bad prison tats. Once lunch hour is over, the kids who do go back to class are pressed up against the windows trying to catch a glimpse of the action-the teachers get fed up trying to corral their classes and just let everyone out early. With the entire school looking on, Eiki nails a frontside boardslide on his fourth try. I begin to think that Eiki is the guy everyone copies homework from in “frontside boardslide.” Gulli and Leanne get a couple backside boardslides each, and we call it a day.
Just Inside The Arctic Circle
Eiki’s family owns a bunch of cottages on some property just outside of Akureyri, a five-hour journey north from Reykjavik, and is letting us stay in one during our visit. We check in late, 2:30 a.m., after a drive that caught us some views of the legendary Northern Lights.
Our first morning there is extremely windy but clear, so we head up to the local resort, Hlidarfjall. Gaetan and the local kids are the only ones up to hiking the exposed face and battling the elements. The view is spectacular. The entire island of Iceland resembles a giant volcano with the top sheared off. The first 30 kilometers of land leading in from the ocean is relatively flat and then climbs drastically to a massive plateau. Most of the population lives along the coast-we can see fishing villages dotting the shores of Eyjafjordur, the largest fjord in the world.
Tired and hungry after a major hip-building mission, we’re invited to Eiki’s house for dinner, where we’re treated to amazing roasted lamb with all the fixings. Jesse and I try some shark, traditional Icelandic cuisine, after dinner. It has a tough texture and leaves a strange menthol-type blast in your sinuses when you swallow it, but overall, it isn’t bad. Scott declines by saying, “Sharks and I have an understanding-I don’t eat them, and they don’t eat me.” Seeing that he also shoots surfing, we understand where he’s coming from and only make fun of him for a few minutes.
With a catboarding trip in the works, we wake up at our usual time of 10:00 a.m.-our eternally polite hosts are waiting outside for us to get moving. Eiki has brought his fourteen-year-old brother Halldor Helgason to ride with us. It looks like a stiff breeze could blow him away, but we give him the benefit of the doubt, seeing as his brother has been killing it so far. Once underway in the cat, we notice that we can already see the behemoth of a hip that we dug the previous day with over ten miles to go. Lucky for us, it’s sunny. Some highlights of the session are Gaetan’s big frontside fives, Paavo’s smooth air to fakies, Leanne’s backside airs-the last one big enough to sprain her elbow-Eiki destroying a couple frontside nine nosegrabs, and his little brother killing it with some frontside fives. But the best hits of the day are definitely Gulli’s switch backside sevens-big, smooth, and stomped.
Himmi, who works in sales and marketing for Nikita clothing, takes us to his office where he shows us around and hooks us all up with some fantastic tracksuits that were obviously intended for maximum comfort. The suits are perfect, seeing as we have an eighteen-hour travel day ahead of us. Himmi then takes us to a phenomenal Italian restaurant in the heart of Reykjavik and buys us all dinner-the amazing Icelandic hospitality shining through once again.
Almost getting lost on the way to the airport the next morning, we realize that the cold and snow we’d been expecting must have also made a wrong turn somewhere, showing up just in time to see us off. Freezing temps, high winds, and heavy snow are my last memories of Iceland. As our plane climbs up and through the clouds, I struggle to find an adjective that properly describes the land below. Just before drifting off to sleep, it dawns on me, the perfect word to try and explain our experiences in Iceland: magical.
mps, high winds, and heavy snow are my last memories of Iceland. As our plane climbs up and through the clouds, I struggle to find an adjective that properly describes the land below. Just before drifting off to sleep, it dawns on me, the perfect word to try and explain our experiences in Iceland: magical.