Iceland is a world-class destination for winter sports. Dependable snowfall and breathtaking glaciers make it the perfect destination for a range of Ski and Snow Tours.
From Skiing to Glacier Climbing, to Ice Caving and even Snowmobiling, Iceland has a ski and snow tour for everyone. You can even take a kayaking trip in a glacier lagoon, or sail between floating Icebergs on an amphibian boat tour!
Whether you are visiting in the Winter or the Summer, here is everything you need to know about the Icelandic ski and snow scene.
Glacier Walking in Iceland
11% of Iceland’s landmass is covered by glaciers, which are formed over thousands of years. Each fresh snowfall adds further weight to the glacier, which is compressed under the accumulated weight. Eventually, the great sheets of ice can reach a thickness of 1000 km!
Iceland has 269 of these extraordinary ice formations. Many visitors like to take the opportunity to take a guided walk on the surface of the ice.
For your safety, you should never attempt to get up on the glacier without the presence of an expert guide. Glaciers are not a stagnant piece of ice. They are moving and flowing all the time.
Glaciers slowly flow throughout the landscape, carving out new rock formations and forming beautiful glacier tongues. The movement can also cause deep cracks in the ice, which can be very dangerous if you aren’t with a local expert.
Best Icelandic Glaciers for walking tours
- Vatnajökull is the largest Ice Cap in the whole of Europe, with 30 separate glacier tongues to be explored. It is conveniently located near the Icelandic Ring Road and is home to the majority of Iceland’s Glacier Walking Tours.
- Svínafellsjökull is another excellent alternative to Vatnajokull. Wonderful mountains and volcanoes surround the glacier. It has been featured in movies like Lara Croft, James Bond, Batman, and, more recently, Game of Thrones. If you want to walk in the footsteps of the stars, this is the best glacier for you to explore!
Glacier Climbing In Iceland
For those looking for an even more exciting glacier adventure, why not try a guided Ice Climbing Tour. Ice climbing is very similar to rock climbing, but it takes place on the ice.
Ice Climbers use specialist equipment like crampons and ice picks to help them climb up the difficult terrain. Just like rock climbers, safety equipment like helmets and harnesses are used. Ice Climbing is considered an extreme sport because of the sub-zero temperatures and the potential risk of avalanche.
However, the guided ice climbing tours in Iceland are very safe and can be catered to all levels of experience. Your guide will make sure you have all the safety equipment that you need, so you can just worry about having a fantastic time.
Where and When to Go Ice Climbing in Iceland
Thanks to dependable thick ice, you can go Ice Climbing in Iceland at any time of the year. In Winter, it is also possible to climb up frozen waterfalls!
Most Ice Climbing takes place on the Sólheimajökull and Svínafellsjökull glaciers in the South of Iceland. However, climbers also love taking a trip to Falljökull, an outlet glacier of the famous Vatnajokull icecap. The sharp edges and other-worldly ice formations make this a perfect place to take an extreme Ice Climbing Tour.
Snowmobiling in Iceland
Iceland offers a unique, snowmobiling experience.
Snowmobiles are 200 horsepower all-terrain vehicles, specially designed for the snow and ice. You can drive these adventure vehicles right across a glacier, speeding along on the ice sheet, which hides the sleeping volcanoes beneath.
The most popular place for snowmobiling in Iceland is Lagjökull. It takes about two hours to drive there from Reykjavik.
Snowmobiles are an essential part of the Icelandic culture. Not only are they a lot of fun, but they allow the search and rescue team to save lives in the most extreme weather conditions. In the depths of winter, they also help the more isolated Icelanders to keep working on their land.
Make sure you dress in plenty of warm clothing. Tour companies provide helmets, glasses, specialist gloves, and overalls. You can expect to be given a quick driving lesson and safety briefing at the meeting point before setting off on the ice cap. Some tours even include a visit to the local ice caves!
Ice Caving In Iceland
An Icelandic winter isn’t complete without a visit to one of the Ice Caves!
There are two types of Ice Cave in Iceland. The first is a cave that is made of rock, which includes Iceland’s amazing lava caves. The extreme winter temperatures transform these caves into something magical. The strong walls get covered in a thick coat of ice and form beautiful icicles that hang from the ceiling of the cave. These are quite rare in Iceland.
The second type of Ice Cave is found in the glaciers. Glacial Ice Caves are a spectacular glittering blue color and draw visitors from all over the world. They are formed when melted water flows through the glacier in summer. The meltwater opens new chambers that get frozen solid again when Winter returns.
In Summer, Ice Caves are too dangerous to enter. They are unstable and could collapse. In winter you can enjoy a tour of some of the ice caves. Each year, the ice caves are entirely different. They even change shape throughout the winter season, so you can never enter the same Ice Cave twice!
The best time to go on an Ice Caving tour is between November and March. However, it is still possible to get under the glacier in Summer. There is a manmade glacier tunnel at Langjökull, which can be visited all year round.
It took over a year to carve out the 500-meter glacier tunnel, which is 7 meters high and 10 meters wide. Budding engineers and architects will be blown away by the science and craftsmanship that went into creating this tunnel.
Walking beneath 25 meters of Ice in the largest glacier tunnel in the world is not something that you are ever going to forget!
Read this article for more information about Caving in Iceland.
Glacier Kayaking in Iceland
In the Summer, some of the glacier ice begins to melt. This makes activities like Ice Caving and Ice Climbing more difficult in places. Luckily, the glacial meltwater forms beautiful blue lagoons. Visitors can enjoy a spot of Glacier Kayaking instead!
The best time to kayak in a Glacier Lagoon is between June and September, though it may occasionally be possible outside of these months. Kayaking on a glacier lagoon is a truly magical experience. You can paddle right up to floating icebergs, and navigate your kayak to visit a local seal colony.
It is possible to kayak in several different Glacier Lagoons in Iceland. Heinaberg lagoon is perfect for those who want to get away from the crowds and enjoy a very peaceful kayak surrounded by nature. Beginners can go along too, but a reasonable level of fitness is required.
For the safety of everyone involved, there is often an age limit of around 14 years to participate. Don’t worry if you haven’t done much Kayaking before. The tour guides are used to helping beginners find their confidence and can provide wider, sit-on-top kayaks which are safer and more stable for beginners.
You will be given a dry suit to go over your warm clothes. If you are overweight, it may not be possible to find a dry suit that fits you. It is a good idea to check with your tour company in advance if you have any doubts.
Glacier Boat Tours in Iceland
If you prefer to sit back and relax, you could consider taking an amphibian boat tour at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. You will still be able to get up close and personal with the floating icebergs, enjoying fantastic views and the expert knowledge of your tour guide. This is an excellent option for people who are less fit, or who just prefer to spend their holidays relaxing!
An amphibian boat can move over land and water. You will roll towards the glacial lake in the safety of the boat, before sliding straight into the pristine icy water.
You will be provided with a life jacket, before taking off to sail in between the floating Icebergs. The Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery, which is sure to take your breath away. Don’t forget to visit the nearby diamond beach after your tour!
This spectacular beach gets its name from the huge chunks of ice that escape the lagoon and float into the sea. They then get washed up on the beach, creating the impression of glittering diamonds as they melt on the shore.
Husky Dog Sledding
Last but not least comes the perfect excursion for animal lovers! Husky Dog Sledding is a very recent addition to the Icelandic snow scene.
The Icelandic sledding teams are made up of a mixture of Greenlandic, Alaskan and Siberian dog breeds. These amazing animals are incredibly athletic. With the help of an expert musher, you can take part in an epic dog-sledding adventure during your visit to Iceland!
Dog Sledding is available all year long. In winter months you can expect to be pulled over the ice by a team of 8 -16 dogs wearing adorable little snow boots. In the summer, you are more likely to have a smaller team of 4-8 dogs pulling an off-road cart with wheels.
Most tour companies have a minimum age of 7 years and a weight limit of 95 kilos. It may not be possible to join a sledding adventure if you are pregnant. To clarify any doubts, it is best to ask the specific tour company when booking.
Skiing and Snowboarding in Iceland
Skiing and snowboarding are relatively young sports in the Icelandic context. However, Iceland has a wide variety of ski resorts and backcountry skiing for snow worshippers to enjoy.
You can expect to enjoy a once in a lifetime adventure, as you carve beneath the Northern Lights and stop to enjoy panoramic views of the spectacular Icelandic Scenery. Ski equipment can be easily hired at the resorts and specialist shops, so you don’t have to worry about flying in your equipment.
Cross-Country Skiing in Iceland
Cross-country skiing is particularly popular in Iceland. Visitors come all from all over the world to enjoy the fantastic landscape by ski. It is always safer to go cross-country with a guide, but expert skiers can also head out solo.
You can even take a 5-day guided cross-country skiing trip in the Icelandic highlands. Based in a cozy mountain hut, you will spend the day time exploring lava fields and canyons by ski. In the evening, you will relax in a natural hot spring beath the Northern Lights!
Insider Tip: You must bring an avalanche transceiver, probe, first aid kit, and shovel if you plan on going cross country without a guide. You should also tell someone you trust when you expect to be back, so they can alert the authorities if you have not returned at the designated hour.
Downhill Skiing and Snowboarding in Iceland
For those who prefer downhill skiing, you are in luck. There are several ski resorts in Iceland, offering slopes for beginners and experts alike. You should know that the Icelandic ski facilities are usually pretty basic, but the extraordinary views of glaciers and volcanoes more than compensate.
The Ski resort you choose will probably depend on your experience level and how much time you have available. Skiing and snowboarding are much more exciting in the North of Iceland, but there are also some decent resorts in the South West. These are much easier to reach from Reykjavik, so you might prioritize these Southern resorts for a shorter stay.
Here is a list of Icelandic ski resorts that you might like to visit:
- Blafjoll Ski Resort: This is the top-rated ski resort in Iceland. It is set in the Blue Mountains, very close to Reykjavik. It has 16 lifts and plenty of floodlighting to keep you safe in the darker months. The passes and equipment hire offer excellent value for money, and the scenery is spectacular. When the ski resort is open, there are public buses that go directly to the resort!
- Siglufjördur Ski Area: For a fantastic skiing experience right on the edge of the arctic circle, you should head to the Siglufjördur ski area in the Northeast of Iceland. 70% of the slopes in this area are rated as easy, so it’s a perfect place for beginners. You can stay in the village of Siglufjördur when skiing in this area. The settlement was originally a shark fishing village. It has lots of buzzing restaurants and is rich in cultural history.
- Hlidarfjall Ski Resort: For skiers and snowboarders with a lot of experience, Hlidarfjall might be the one for you. You can expect the most scenic skiing in the whole of Iceland, dependable, high-quality snow and nail-biting slopes to take your skiing to the next level. It is situated near the town of Akureyri, the capital of Northern Iceland.
- Isafjordur Ski Resort: This ski resort is known for the longest and steepest runs in the country, plus some fantastic backcountry routes. Isafjordur is situated in the Westfjords, lying between two beautiful valleys. Isafjordur has a lot more skiable terrain than most Icelandic resorts. 50% of the terrain is suitable for beginners, but there are 2 km of runs that are designed especially for the more advanced skiers and snowboarders.
- Dalvik Ski Resort: This Resort is based in the North. Particularly popular with snowboarders, prepare to be impressed by some gorgeous powder chutes. You won’t find any black runs at Dalvik, but 60% of the runs are for intermediate skiers and snowboarders. It’s a good place for relative beginners to step up to the next level.
- Tröllaskagi Peninsula: For those wanting to take the adventure to the next level, you should consider taking a heliskiing tour at Tröllaskagi Peninsula. Here you will find some of the best helicopter pilots in the world, who will fly you up to an excellent spot on the ‘Troll Peninsula’ and let you ski back down to civilization with an expert guide. This exceptionally beautiful peninsula is the legendary home of the Icelandic ‘hidden people.’ The hidden people are the invisible elves of Icelandic folklore and an important part of Icelandic cultural heritage. Heli-skiing does not come cheap, and you can expect to pay over $5000 for a 3-day tour. This would typically include accommodation and meals, but may well be out of the price range of the average snow lover!
When to go Skiing in Iceland
Due to its climate, the Icelandic ski season is much longer than in the rest of Europe.
The ski resorts can open as early as November, and they sometimes don’t close until June. In June, the snow is not as good as around March time, but it is still possible to sneak in a few good runs.
The Icelandic winter is extremely harsh, and even the most experienced skiers can be shocked by the low temperatures. Make sure you have plenty of good quality layers to keep you warm.
The best time to ski in Iceland is usually between March and Mid April. At this time the temperatures are less extreme, but you can still expect some fresh powder on the slopes.
See You Soon!
To sum it all up, Iceland is home to some of the most exciting ski and snow tours in the world! There is some amazing skiing to be enjoyed from November to June. In Winter, you can enjoy activities like Ice Caving and climbing up frozen waterfalls! In Summer, you can head to the meltwater lagoons for some glacier kayaking or boat tours.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article about Ski and Snow Tours in Iceland. We look forward to welcoming you for some epic Winter Sports in the land of Fire and Ice.