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Travel: Make it Iceland!

If you have one dream trip to do in your lifetime, get to Iceland!
Iceland snow mountains snowmobiles ice cabin
We didn’t stay in a hut/house like this, but the opportunity is available for even more hearty adventurers. Totally off-grid, you can’t beat it!
Photo by Sigurdur Olafur Sigurdsson
“See that clear blue ice near the top of the rise off to our right? That’s where the edge of the crevasses begin. We will not snowmobile over there because it is dangerous, and we could break through and end up 300 feet below the surface of the glacier. We will also avoid any standing water because that could be an open lake which, likewise, could be 300 feet deep to the bottom of the glacier. Basically, do not stray too far from my trail.”

That was the warning given to us by our leader and guide Gylfi Saevarsson, the owner and manager of Snowmobile Iceland, before we travelled over snow and ice 300 feet deep on the Langjokull Glacier in Iceland.

My daughter, Elise, replied, “Don’t worry, Gylfi, I plan to stay right in your tracks … but I am not going anywhere if you suddenly disappear!”

Such was the start to an incredible experience snowmobiling in Iceland across the second largest glacier in Europe. There had been 3-4 feet of snowfall on the glacier in the few days preceding our trip, but our guide was somewhat disappointed because the snowfall had not been what he was accustomed to seeing. We were there in December though, and there was still plenty of snow! Riding on a glacier in Iceland, the land of Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” was well worth the 5½-hour flight from New York.

Gylfi took my wife, my daughter and me on an all-day adventure in the land of Erik the Red. It’s still hard to believe we were snowmobiling on land once walked by Leif Erikson (son of Erik the Red) and other early North American explorers.
Iceland snow snowmobiles ice glacier ride
After taking the monster truck in the background to the base camp, then gearing up, we were ready to ride.
Ride before the ride
We started out at 9 a.m. in Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik. Gylfi picked us up in one of his Ford Econoline/F-350 4x4 vans, modified with 46-inch wheels, 16.5 inches wide, with adjusted air pressure (5-25 PSI) to provide flotation for travel through the deep snow.

On the 2-hour ride from Reykjavik to the glacier, we passed Lake Thingvellir (meaning “Parliament Fields”), where the 9th Century Viking Parliament met to discuss major community decisions.

At Lake Thingvellir, just below the lookout site, we could see a deep, wide crack in the earth where the North American Tectonic Plate meets the Eurasian Plate. The tectonic action along these plates accounts for the earthquakes, geysers and volcanos which formed the Icelandic landscape.

Our last checkpoint before we arrived at our snowmobile base camp was the town of Geysir, a town reminiscent of a trip to Yellowstone National Park. It’s where Europeans first observed a geyser, as we call it. “Geysir” may have been the only Icelandic word we understood all trip, as most other Icelandic words seem to try to use nearly every letter of the alphabet!

From Geysir, we turned on to a road with an ominous warning  “Impassable” (OK, we knew two Icelandic words)! This road had yet to meet a snowplow, and it was illegal to drive on without a properly modified vehicle, such as the one we were in. After another hour of busting through two-foot snowdrifts, we arrived at the Snowmobile Iceland base camp. We entered a warming building, where Gylfi had all the snowmobile gear we’d need, and most-appreciated toilet facilities.

After dressing for the occasion, we boarded new 600cc Lynx snowmobiles manufactured in Finland by BRP. These are similar to Ski-Doo’s Grand Touring LE 600 ACE sleds many North American riders are familiar with, but with beefed up suspensions. The sleds were even equipped with the latest iTC throttle control too. Gylfi also has access to other kinds of snowmobiles, depending on what type of riding you’d like to do, but we opted for the warm touring machines.
Iceland snow ice glacier impassable sign
We don’t speak Icelandic, but there were a couple signs we could make out!
It still took very little effort to carve through the powder on our Lynx sleds, even for my petite wife and daughter. Remember, there wasn’t a huge elevation change, so we were still getting full power out of our little 4-stroke motors.

Riding the glacier

Langjokull is the second largest glacier in all of Europe at approximately 900 square kilometers, affording you plenty of miles to travel. The largest glacier in Europe is also located in Iceland, but it’s far less accessible.

For those of us who have spent our snowmobiling years traveling groomed trails of the pine and hardwood forests in the Midwest, the glacier experience in Iceland is completely amazing and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There are virtually no trees in Iceland. In fact, the native birch trees have nearly disappeared, and you’ll only find non-native trees that have been purposely planted in the city or around homes.

There’s no risk of run-ins with trees, but that also means there are no trees available for other purposes (if you know what I mean)! There were a few shrubs here and there, which Gylfi informed us were known as “Iceland’s Forest.”

Snowmobiling in Iceland is a year-round experience. Gylfi told stories of snowmobiling in t-shirts in June and July. Unless you’re from the Rocky Mountains, summer snowmobiling probably hasn’t crossed your radar, and any t-shirt riding you’ve done is probably because you lost a bet! With summer temps in Iceland reaching only into the 50s, and winters lingering around 20 F, it certainly does not get as cold as our brutal Michigan winters!

Snowmobile Iceland
Gylfi has more than 40 sleds available in his corral. “One of my favorite parts of my job is to experience snow and snowmobiling with people for their first time. Gylfi’s clients have included experts, beginners and celebrities. One woman even showed up to snowmobile in a miniskirt and high heels! Obviously, vast snowmobiling experience is not a requirement, but intermediate to expert riders will REALLY enjoy this playground too.

Snowmobile Iceland onducts tours year-round, but the best months to visit are March through May. The least satisfying months are August and September, but if that’s your only option, there is still exploring to be done.

While the company can accommodate as many as 50 people at a time, it prides itself on keeping each tour group small (around 2-10 people). Gylfi is specially trained in search and rescue with certified avalanche training, and he’ll proudly tell you that they’ve had no injuries through more than five years of business, despite being located in an area Danish folklore considered the “Gates of Hell.”

As an experienced and knowledgeable guide, Gylfi has the ability to not only improve and challenge your snowmobiling skills, but also give you an Icelandic history lesson (both fact and fiction) at the same time. His tours include multi-day snowmobile excursions with stops at waterfalls, hot springs and other scenic locales. Consider an overnight stay at an isolated mountain chalet heated by natural hot spring water, which consequently offers a unique relaxation station in its natural geothermal hot pool.

We recommend checking out the natural hot pools! The Blue Lagoon is a large natural geothermal pool in a volcanic area close to Reykjavik (where our day began). The warm, chest-deep waters condition your skin as you sip local cocktails at the swim-up bar, all with snow falling around you.

If you like to stay up late, consider a nighttime journey away from the city glow, where you can immerse yourself in the full beauty the Northern Lights. Or you can hit up the world-renowned Reykjavic nightlife! There are all kinds of wonderful ways to unwind after an exciting day on the snow!
ICELANDIC HISTORY 101
Early Viking Parliaments determined punishments, which sometimes included banishment. Such banishments led Erik the Red to flee Iceland and found Greenland. Consequently, a similar scenario in Greenland led to Leif Erikson discovering North America some 500 years before Columbus.
“Big city” lights of Reykjavik shine off newly fallen snow and in contrast to the Atlantic Ocean in the background.
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