Sea to Ski in Iceland: A Family Affair


IG: @mck_p

I come from a family of fishermen and skiers. We seek excitement and aren’t afraid of hard work. We are comfortable on top of high peaks in the dead of winter and traveling through the rough seas of the Pacific. We are not sailers. For as much time as we have spent navigating the ocean, we are collectively clueless when it comes to harnessing the power of wind to propel a vessel.

Naturally, when the opportunity arose for my family to jump on board a sail boat in the East Fjords of Iceland, we didn’t hesitate. The promise of adventure and challenge lured us overseas. As an added bonus to learning how to sail while in the East Fjords, we would be accessing remote skiing along the way.

Cold North Atlantic rain and heavy East winds pummeled the town of Reyðarfjörður, Iceland as we arrived at the harbor. We could see that it was snowing in the mountains but the town was wet and dreary. Byr, a beautiful 25m ketch rigged sailing vessel and our home for the next week, was tied to the dock. Her lines snapping taught and falling slack as she swayed with the wind.

Upon arrival, we settled into our bunk rooms and decided to brave the weather to head out for a ski. Fresh snow and an evening break in the storm awaited us at the top of our 1,000 meter ascent. An exciting and enjoyable ski brought us right back down to Byr for a delicious dinner of lamb stew and fresh bread.

The next morning, we let go our lines and sailed out of Reyðarfjörður destined for the adjacent fjord to the North. In moderate winds and lightly choppy seas, we shut down the engines and lifted the sails. The quiet serenity of the sails filling with wind invoked a peaceful calm and slowing of time. We sailed around the cape, heaving and adjusting the sails to alter our course and keep the heading.

The physical work of moving sails to match the environment and the ship is as challenging as it is rewarding. We fell into a flow and, for a while, the idea of a destination escaped my mind. I wanted to keep sailing, moving with the cadence of the swell and feeling the power of Byr. We could go anywhere.

With the coastline of Iceland’s East Fjords being scarcely populated, it felt rugged and undeniably desolate. We were alone. The worn rock spires were intimidatingly beautiful and the contrast of fog on the deep blue ocean left a feeling a mystique. A portal had opened into a world that was new to me and I wanted to see it all.

Topographic maps aided us in finding our next ski destination. We chose a cirque with decent vertical relief and dropped anchor at the base, the plan being to hike and ski in the area for the next few days before setting sail again.

A warm sun and long hours of daylight softened the snow, providing excellent ski conditions. We climbed couloirs, dodged rocks and made hero turns in perfect corn snow. We ate lunch next to waterfalls and took mid day naps on islands of moss. We laughed together, told stories from the past and connected over our collective ‘awe’ of the landscape over which we were traveling.

I felt overtaken by immense gratitude for my family; for their sense of adventure and willingness to dive into the unknown with humility and intrigue. We were learning how to sail, soaking in every bit of information and following our instincts to make the right moves at the right time. We were traveling through new mountains on skis, utilizing lifetimes of experience to navigate the terrain and find ourselves the best snow. We worked together, communicated, and allowed each other’s joy to amplify our own experience.

There is nothing more profound than sharing a life changing experience with family. A grand adventure for us all.