This trip was made infamous in the 2007 movie “Steep” due to the avalanche footage we accidentally provided. “I hope you got that, ’cause we’re not doing it again!”
This trip came about through my friendship with Matt Turley, who is/was a photographer and had been to Iceland in the summer. At the same time, the production of the movie “Steep” had begun and as a character in the film, I suggested that this trip could be part of it. I had been doing a lot of skiing with Dylan Freed from SLC, so Dylan, Matt and myself were the skiers with John Armstrong being the main camera man, Rob Raker doing second camera and sound and John Griber helping out on all things video related. This was my first trip with Gribz and my life has never been the same. ;)
Before leaving Utah, we planned the trip out, but used maps from 1942 for some reason. When we arrived, I was dismayed to find that the perfect little valley I had identified on the map had been discovered in the intervening 50+ years since the maps we were using were printed. In fact, there was an entire village, a small ski resort and all sorts of other development. From there on, the trip went into “Jazz Odyssey” mode (a term from the movie Spinal Tap referring to a total free-for-all) and we just started driving around until we found some good looking terrain outside of a town named Olafsfjorder in the northeastern part of the country.
Little did we know that Iceland is ruled by Vikings riding 1,000 hp turbocharged snowmobiles. Not that this was a problem, but camping five miles from town didn’t make much sense when you could get there in two minutes with a brip braaap of a machine. It turned out that the flat spot we picked must have been on top of a thermal vent (the entire country is packed with them) as the snow was literally bottomless depth hoar crystals which made digging down to firm snow for tents or tent anchors impossible. One night we had a big wind storm and Dylan ended up in a pile of nylon and stoves after trying to sleep in the cook tent.
This trip took place at the absolute zenith of Iceland’s overheated economy. Our first experience with this came after an all night flight into Rykevick when John Griber volunteered to buy a round of coffee and muffins for all six of us. When he returned from the counter, he chuffed “I’m not doing that again! This came to $110!” Since then the economy has gone down, but I still have permanent mental scars from the shocking prices.
I forget how we first met Tomas and Biggie, but they had hearts of gold and quickly became good friends. Originally, we somehow found them as snowmobile tour operators who helped haul all of the camera gear around, but later (when they made the mistake of telling us where they lived…) we did all sorts of stuff with them. At one point they brought out some pickled shark meat to our camp which provided a lot of entertainment, but none of us could eat it as it tasted and smelled like pure Clorox.
Skiing into the Ocean
The snow in Iceland went right down into the ocean and the coastline was covered with beautiful black beaches. One day we decided it would be fun to ski into the ocean, which was less funny weeks later when I realized I had almost ruined my bindings from salt corrosion.
This Machine is a Muthafugga
After retreating from our dismal camping, we stayed in small cottages at the edge of town which were run by a total character whose favorite American term was “muthafugger.” We did our best to encourage this, and soon everything, and every sentence involved muthfugga. One day, knowing that we all really liked the local cod, he asked if we were hungry and wanted some. When we eagerly agreed, without getting up from the couch, he yelled “HEY MOM! MAKE US SOME COD!” to which he got a very sleepy, annoyed response and we got some guilt ridden fish.
The avalanche that was featured in Steep was a complete surprise, and had I been a forecaster, I would have called the danger “low” with high confidence. After the fact, it was apparent that the arete we were climbing was actually a vertical wind lip more akin to a cornice, which had formed on an ice and wind burnished rib. It was perfect one-hit booting on the way up and when the whole thing pulled out it took me a few seconds to even comprehend what had happened. Contrary to appearances, the film crew, which was on the peak above us, had nothing to do with the slide and it only looked close as John Armstrong had a very long lens and the camera was set up on a tripod. But, from a cinematic standpoint, it couldn’t have been planned any better as it started out with a slow sweeping panorama, then just as the figures appear, the entire slope pulled out. As an added bonus, it was one of the few times when our wireless microphones, aka Lavs, were actually working, so it picked up all of our comments and the rumble of the snow. Seeing it in a theater with surround sound is as close as you can get to being in a slide while watching a movie.
Category: Trip Reports