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 (tel. 530-3000; www.skidasvaedi.is; day pass 1,700kr ($27/£14) adults, 500kr ($8/£4) children 6-16; Mon-Fri 2-9pm, Sat-Sun 10am-6pm), located 33km (21 miles) southeast of Reykjavík, off Rte. 417. Bláfjöll is the country's largest ski center, with 15 lifts, a snowboarding course, cross-country tracks, equipment rental, a snack bar, and a ski school on weekends. When Bláfjöll is open, one daily bus leaves for the slopes from the Mjódd bus terminal at Tþönglabakka 1 in southeast Reykjavík (Mon-Fri 5:20pm, returning from Bláfjöll at 9:05pm; Sat-Sun 12:40pm, returning from Bláfjöll at 6pm), and several buses connect Mjódd to downtown.
The two other notable ski centers -- both with equipment rental and cafes -- are Tungudalur/Seljalandsdalur (tel. 456-3793; www.isafjordur.is/ski), 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, Skútuvogur 1G, Reykjavík (no phone; www.isalp.is; firstname.lastname@example.org), posts ski touring information at its website, and can answer questions if you're planning an expedition on your own. The club also sponsors a Telemark skiing festival in March.
Borea Adventures, Hlíðarvegur 38, Ísafjörður (tel. 899-3817; www.boreaadventures.com), offers two backcountry skiing tours in the Westfjords. The first is a seven-day training course in winter mountaineering, starting each week in February, for 109,375kr ($1,750/£875); some nights are spent in guesthouses, and others are spent in snow caves or igloos that you construct yourself. The second, with six departures from March to May, is a 5-day trip into Hornstrandir Nature Reserve aboard a 18m (60-ft.) yacht, with daily excursions on cross-country skis, Telemark skis, snowshoes, snowboards -- whatever you like -- and the yacht stashes for exploring the fjords, inlets and sea cliffs. The cost is 144,375kr ($2310/£1155).
Ferðafélag Íslands, Mörkin 6, Reykjavík (tel. 568-2533; www.fi.is), 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 April to early June, From Coast to Mountains, Hofsnes Farm, Öræfi (tel. 894-0894; www.hofsnes.com), offers 6- to 8-hour cross-country ski tours across a dramatic stretch of Vatnajökull. From October to April, they lead extra-challenging 10-hour ascents of Hvannadalshnúkur, Iceland's highest peak, on Vatnajökull east of Skaftafell National Park. 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.). For either tour, departures are by arrangement, and the cost is 30,000kr ($480/£240) for one person, 40,000kr ($640/£320) for two, 45,000kr ($720/£360) for three, and 12,500kr ($200/£100) per person for groups of four to eight, including ski equipment.
Icelandic Mountain Guides, Vagnhöfði 7b, Reykjavík (tel. 587-9996; www.mountainguide.is), 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, Laugavegur 178, Reykjavík (tel. 562-1000; www.utivist.is), offers the best selection of well-priced cross-country skiing tours. Day trips from Reykjavík leave every Sunday from mid-January to mid-March, for only 2,900kr ($46/£23). Longer excursions -- scheduled from January to July -- head to Tþórsmörk, Landmannalaugar, Mýrdalsjökull, Drangajökull, Vatnajökull, and other popular destinations. The website does not list trips in English, but you can skim the Icelandic listings by clicking the "Ferðaáætlun" link.
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.