Chasing Sunlight

One man's go-to gear for earning turns in Iceland’s darkest month.

 With the rise of campervan rental companies across the globe, ski touring in beautiful, remote places is becoming more accessible, cost-effective, safe, and most importantly, fun. That international ski trip you’ve been salivating about for years may finally be within reach if you’re willing to do the research, sleep in a van, and deal with daily “gear ‘splosions.”

For the holidays this year, I skipped the usual comforts associated with the yuletide season and set off to Iceland with my fiancé and her little sister. With far too much gear in tow, the ambitious plan was to circle the country’s famous Ring Road on a campervan-based ski touring adventure. On paper, the plan seemed dialed. In reality, we found ourselves swimming in a sea of variables, mainly extreme weather, 3-5 hours of daylight depending on our latitude, road closures, holiday closures, outrageously expensive food, and confused locals that looked at us in utter bewilderment when they found out we flew from the US to ski in Iceland in December, which only boasts about 5 hours of daylight each day this time of year. But isn’t that how any worthy adventure almost always pans out?

The author making turns in the Icelantic December light. Photo Credit: Alex Strauss

Thinking outside the box when planning a ski trip is often worth it, because cookie-cutter solutions like staying in hotels isn’t for everyone. I can’t stress enough how beautiful, rugged, harsh, and wild skiing in Iceland in the darkest month of the year is, and here’s the gear that proved invaluable on this humbling adventure.

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Petzl

Petzl Swift RL

MSRP: $119.95

Probably the most necessary piece of gear on our tours across Iceland in the darkest month of the year. With sunrise around 11:30 a.m. each day, dawn patrol at 10:00 a.m. was a welcomed shift in the usual routine but forced us to start each day by headlamp. Luckily, this beast boasts 900 lumens and weighs in at a measly 100g! The REACTIVE LIGHTING technology uses a sensor to adjust the beam based on your surroundings. Oh, and it’s rechargeable. Finally, I thought, a high-powered headlamp, designed for adventure, that’s as compact and mobile as the rest.

 

Photo Credit: The North Face 

Men’s Summit L5 FUTURELIGHT Jacket

MSRP: $650.00

 

Photo Credit: The North Face

Men’s Summit L5 FUTURELIGHT Full-Zip Bibs

MSRP: $600.00

I’m sure that innovation beyond FUTURELIGHT is imminent, but of the mountain apparel available now, this is the cream of the crop. Tested and trusted by Hilaree Nelson on the first descent of the Lhoste Couloir, this kit is designed to stand up the toughest objectives while still exceeding expectations in all outdoor pursuits. Its masterful combination of breathability and element impermeability makes FUTURELIGHT the best performing and most comfortable material I’ve ever experienced. The weather during our trip was especially nasty and only allowed us to enjoy 3 of our 8 planned ski days. I practically slept in this kit. Whether it was raining sideways or battling 100-mph winds during our first three days on the southern coast, my body was dry and happy. However, the cuff on the bibs is a little tight and requires some effort to get it over my F1 ski boots. A plus of the TNF Black is how effortlessly it blended in on the streets of Reykjavik.

 

 

Photo Credit: Smith Optics

Smith Wildcat

MSRP: $209.00

Some of my friends call me a ski-mo nerd, but I much prefer ski touring in sunglasses. The Wildcat, with its broad shield for goggle-inspired coverage on descents and maximum airflow on the uphill, is a true jack of all trades. The Chromapop Ignitor lens excelled in the dark days touring in Iceland without the need to change lenses when we were awarded a rare glimpse of the sun. Each pair comes with a hard-shell protective case and an extra clear lens for all you dawn patrollers out there.

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Garmin

 Garmin Fenix 6 Sapphire Edition

MSRP: $899.99

 I live in this watch. The newest iteration of one of the most advanced adventure smartwatches lives up to its glowing reputation. The new “Backcountry Ski” activity mode allowed our party to track our tours, toggling between climbs and descents, while accurately mapping our day in the digital realm. Its preloaded maps came in clutch in Iceland’s remote fjords, allowing us a birds-eye view when a white-out rolled in, and a safe path back to the van. A stylish, braided nylon band has a native aesthetic, regardless of your surroundings.

 

Photo Credit: Scarpa

Scarpa F1

MSRP: $700.00

An intelligent blend of uphill prowess and downhill performance. Its 62-degree range of motion while touring allows you to conquer any skin track with a powerful stride. The BOA closure is surprisingly effective, and with a quick pull on the dial, getting in and out is a breeze. And with the Vibram UFO Evo outsole, I had no trouble dealing with shallow, rocky boot packs when we faced the early season reality of skiing Mt. Kaldbakur. Transitions were intuitive thanks to the simple walk mechanism, which kept us moving during the persistent arctic winds. I always say that ski boots are the most important gear of any skier’s arsenal, and after the varied terrain, snow conditions, and whether we faced in Iceland, it’s safe to say that the F1 performs as I expected on ascents, without compromising the sough-after descent. 

 

Photo Credit: Hydrapak 

Hydrapak Stow 500 ml

MSRP: $14.00 

The perfect ski-touring companion that’s small enough to fit in your jacket pocket for on-the-go hydration on the skin track. An internal baffle provides rigidity when filling and drinking, and its crucial carabiner loop allows you to clip it to your pack or stow away compactly when empty. The harsh, Icelandic winter allowed us few stops during our climbs, so this hydration solution kept me moving, all without having to turn to one of those nerdy water bottle holders, as much as I love those. The drinking nozzle took me a few minutes of confused fumbling to figure out you have to suck to activate the flow. I guess we’ll call that user error.   

 

Check out this slideshow from our trip to Iceland. After all, it wasn’t just a ski trip…

 

Our burley campervan with 4x4 and studded snow tires. Photo Credit: Nat Houston

 

 

Svartifoss at sunrise. Photo Credit: Nat Houston

 

The sun reaching its peak over Iceland’s southern coast. Photo Credit: Nat Houston

 

Alex and Lauren start the ascent up Kaldbakur on Christmas Day by headlight. Photo Credit: Nat Houston

 

 

 

 Looking out at Dalvik and the mountains of the Trollskagi peninsula, just past Hrisey Island. Photo Credit: Lauren Strauss

 

 

The author and his fiancé, Lauren continue the climb up Kaldbakur with the help of the drawn-out sunrise. Photo Credit: Alex Strauss

 

Nat on the summit ridge of Kaldbakur. Photo Credit: Alex Strauss

 

Nat enjoying some speed on the mellow slopes at the base of Kaldbakur. Photo Credit: Alex Strauss

 

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Nat Houston is an outdoor loving, maple syrup slurping, East Coast native who grew up skiing at Bromley Mountain just outside his hometown of Landgrove, Vermont. After graduating from the University of Colorado in 2014, he stuck around Boulder for business and pleasure, working for companies like Freeskier Magazine and Dynafit, but mostly skiing and climbing in the vast mountains of the American West. Today, he lives in Berkeley, CA so he can explore the mountains of California and the Pacific Northwest, sample the local taco offerings, and write gear reviews for Warren Miller Entertainment.