No one comes to Iceland solely for downhill skiing; the slopes just aren't good enough. On the other hand, the various forms of ski touring—cross-country skiing, Telemark skiing, backcountry skiing, ski mountaineering, and so on—are increasingly catching on.
Downhill skiers can find some perfectly nice diversions, and the scenery often compensates for deficiencies in slope lengths and vertical drops. (More cautious skiers may even appreciate Icelandic slopes' lack of trees to crash into.) The season runs from November through April, though conditions are most reliable from February to early April. Because of limited winter daylight, the major slopes are lighted and have extended evening hours.
Many smaller towns have a single ski lift on a local mountain, but few visitors would care to specifically seek these out. The best ski center in southwest Iceland is Bláfjöll, located 33km (21 miles) southeast of Reykjavík, off Rte. 417. Bláfjöll has a snowboarding course, cross-country tracks, equipment rental, a snack bar, and a ski school on weekends.
The two other notable ski centers—both with equipment rental and cafes—are Tungudalur/Seljalandsdalur, near Ísafjörður in the Westfjords, and Hlíðarfjall (tel. 462-2280; www.hlidarfjall.is), near Akureyri in the north. Tungudalur/Seljalandsdalur hosts Iceland's biggest skiing event, Ski Week (Skíðavikan).
The ski touring season generally runs from January through June, with glacier traverses more prevalent later in the season. Touring skis now come in a bewildering variety of forms, from traditional cross-country (aka Nordic) skis to heavier, wider Telemark skis and stubby mountaineering skis that convert into a kind of snowshoe.
The Icelandic Alpine Club posts ski touring information at its website, and can answer questions if you're planning an expedition on your own.
Borea Adventures offers backcountry skiing tours in the Westfjords.
Ferðafélag Íslands leads several cross-country skiing trips on glaciers in spring. Eyjafjallajökull is a likely destination for a day tour (6,000kr/$96/£48), while Drangajökull is a likely destination for a 3-day excursion (20,000kr/$320/£160, not including transportation from Reykjavík).
From Coast to Mountains takes skiers on extra-challenging ascents of Hvannadalshnúkur, Iceland's highest peak. If conditions are right, participants can ski all the way down from the summit almost to sea level—a total distance of 11km (7 miles), with a vertical drop of over 2,000m (6,562 ft.).
Icelandic Mountain Guides escorts the most epic cross-country skiing and Telemarking tours, with set departures in March and April. Possibilities include a 10-day expedition through Sprengisandur (145,000kr/$2,320/£1,160), a 9-day traverse of Vatnajökull (136,000kr/$2,176/£1,088), and a comparatively easy 7-day alpine tour of the north, with Akureyri as a base (119,000kr/$1,904/£952).
Útivist has the best selection of well-priced cross-country skiing tours. Day trips leave from Reykjavík; longer excursions head to Tþórsmörk, Landmannalaugar, Mýrdalsjökull, Drangajökull, Vatnajökull, and other popular destinations.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.