Locals explore fjords, skiing in Iceland | AspenTimes.com

Locals explore fjords, skiing in Iceland

The vast fjords of northwest Iceland stretch out in front of the 60-foot sailboat Aurora during Aspenites Ted Mahon's and Christy Sauer's recent trip. (Courtesy Ted Mahon)

Aspen’s Ted Mahon has been immersed in traveling lately, so much so that he’s hardly home long enough to do laundry or sort photographs chronicling his latest adventures.In the nearly two months since Cache Cache closed, the waiter and mountaineer has been charging up Colorado’s fourteeners – he’s now climbed and skied more than 50. He and friends Neal Beidleman and Chris Davenport tested their resolve and confronted the elements on bold climbs and ski descents of Middle and Grand Teton outside Jackson, Wyo.Mahon and Davenport also skied Mount Rainier and Mount Adams in Washington’s Cascade Range. “I think I made the most of my time off,” Mahon said Wednesday. “Offseason gave me a chance to escape for a while – a lot of people take advantage.”Mahon’s exploits weren’t confined to domestic locales. He and girlfriend Christy Sauer participated in a rare 10-day ski adventure. Aboard the 60-foot sailboat Aurora, the duo, a group of friends, two guides and ship captain Sigurdur Jonsson pushed off from the sleepy Icelandic fishing town of Isafjordur in late April. From there, they explored the fjords of northwest Iceland. They skied in the vast Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, where slopes as high as 700 meters rise directly off the shore.The trip was Mahon’s third to the island country – he first visited in 2003 as part of the TV show “Global Extremes.” In May of last year, he visited Isafjordur on the northwest coast as part of his expedition to Greenland to climb 12,100-foot Gunnbjorns Fjeld, the tallest peak in the Arctic.

A return for the third time almost didn’t happen. Mahon, who was preparing an assault on California’s highest peaks with Davenport, initially turned down friend and Icelander Heidar Gudjonsson’s offer. It became clear in March, however, that unseasonably dry conditions in the west would make such a project futile. Mahon quickly contacted Gudjonsson, who helped plan the Greenland trip, and asked if there was still room for him – and Christy.”There was no way I could go for a third time and not bring her,” Mahon joked.Sauer, a contemporary art and outdoor enthusiast, said Reykjavik’s established arts scene intrigued her, and she had always wanted to visit. She finally had her chance.No roads provide access to the extreme northern reaches of the Westfjord Peninsula – it’s accessible only on foot or boat. “That’s where the novelty lies,” Mahon said. Remnants of old fishing villages provide a hint of the area’s past. The only inhabitants are the occasional ptarmigan or arctic fox darting across the solitary landscape.Untouched snow-covered hills dwarf the smooth waters of the Jokulfirdir – the reserve’s main waterway – and the narrow fjords. The land, resembling a group of outstretched fingers, extends into the Greenland Sea, pointing toward the Arctic Ocean and the North Pole.Choosing where to ski was as simple as pointing to a slope from the Aurora’s deck. The Zodiak, an inflatable motorized watercraft, would then shuttle the group to shore. Then skinning would commence. “It was like a big playground out there – it was unreal,” Sauer said. “Here, it’s more of a point-to-point trip where you go up and come down. There, you’d go out and ski for eight hours, skin up, ski down, then go to another place. It was so different, so off the beaten path.”

It was common for group to ski nearly 5,000 vertical feet each day on a variety of different slopes covered in thick corn snow. There was no need to worry about avalanche safety or choosing the right aspect, Sauer said, for the wet maritime snow stuck to every surface. Mahon relished the good skiing and the relaxed atmosphere – a stark contrast to Greenland.

“This was a bit more civilized,” he said. “Greenland was a cold, expedition-style trip that was tense. Here we had a comfortable boat and good skiing. But it was about more than just good skiing.”

While they waited for the Zodiak to make a return trip to shore to pick them up each afternoon, the group collected mussels on the shore. “I’m from Colorado, so that was a huge treat,” Sauer said. Back on board, they delighted in good food – often local game birds and fresh Cod – good wine and good company. And of the jokes exchanged, many centered on guide Jokul Bergman from the port city of Akureyri – the literal translation of his name is glacier mountain man from ski valley. Despite being the only woman on board, Sauer said she felt right at home.”They were all real sweethearts and were actually quite tame,” she said. “If they said anything real dirty, they said it in Icelandic. I had some good stories, so I could keep up.”

Because the sun didn’t set until midnight, the night’s festivities often included another run – the perfect close to each day. All told, the group spent six days and five nights aboard the Aurora, cruising pristine waters and taking in the stunning views. Then they set sail for a return to Isafjordur.From there, they headed back to Reykjavik to take in some contemporary art. The entire 10-day experience was one that satisfied even the loftiest of expectations, Sauer said.They’re already planning to return.”Usually you have an idea in your head that is different than what reality will be,” Sauer said. “This was everything I ever thought it would be.”I don’t think Ted will be able to go alone again.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com

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