Pro : Flo Orley & Manuela Mandl - Amateur : Darjan Andrejc
Text : Manuela Mandl - Photos : Klaus Polzer
The Volcanic Kingdom
Within the kingdom of fire and ice, polar winds and a harsh climate are king and mountain tops are shaped by volcanoes. Here, outdoor sport enthusiasts are in their element. Snowboarders Flo Orley and Manuela Mandl went to explore those remote lands, well aware of what awaited them. With them they took a guest to share their Icelandic adventures, in a land which was once known as the Gateway to Hell.
Manuela Mandl - Freeride or nothing.
This snowboarding coffee junkie from Vienna is an architect who's in love with the mountains. Even when she's not competing in the Freeride World Tour, she spends as much time as possible having fun with her friends in the snow. She's used to being the only woman, and has a personality that suits big adventures. (Warning: getting in the car with her is not for the faint-hearted. Her driving is insane!)
Flo Orley - The wiseman of snowboarding
Flo has spent several years on the Freeride World Tour, and is now a "freeride legend". He's highly motivated, and always positive and cheerful. The word "impossible" just isn't in his vocab. Alongside his career as a pro freerider, Flo also has other jobs, notably as a ski instructor. He lives in Innsbruck and is the happy father of two children. (A key figure of the snowboard world since the 90s, his age doesn't show, either in the mountains or when he's partying.)
The happy winner of the 2017 Julbo White Session
Darjan Andrejc (Drejc) – he may be 33 but he feels ten years younger.
Drejc takes everything in his stride and with a big grin on his face. In fact, it's because of his sense of humour and chilled-out attitude that he won the Julbo White Session Iceland. The Slovenian is a pharmacist in Ljubljana, and spends every moment of his spare time partaking in various outdoor sports. (He's also a keen cook, and has a very scientific way of making decisions.)
"Flo and Manu taught me to approach each situation in a very relaxed way and not to overcomplicate things." - Drejc
This merry team of five (three riders, a photographer and a videographer) met up in Iceland, all ready to spend a fortnight travelling across the island in search of the most stunning volcanoes. They had a mobile house in the form of a four-man motor home – where they kept so much equipment, they had to use the shower as a cupboard! Of course, the main point of the trip was to go snowboarding, after climbing mountains with the help of their calf muscles – and sometimes the heli-ski. But Iceland has so much more to offer than its snow-covered slopes. Also on the agenda was swimming in hot springs, cold-water surfing, sleeping under the stars (not to mention the northern lights) and sailing across the Fjords.
Drejc had a valuable opportunity to learn from two snowboard professionals about how to progress in unfamiliar and hostile terrain. He explained: “I was a bit worried at the start of the trip because the others didn't know how good I was at snowboarding, and it been a while since I'd done any. I've spent most of my time skiing over the last few years. But as soon as I met them I realised how chilled out they were. Flo and Manu taught me to approach each situation in a very relaxed way and not to overcomplicate things. And also to always stay calm, because everything turns out OK in the end."
A warm-up in one of literature's mythical spots
The trio's first outing was the hike up to the Snaefellsjökull volcano. It wasn't too challenging, but the group were lured in by the volcano's location on a peninsula surrounded by sea. It is also the mythical location where Jules Verne's characters start their “Journey to the Center of the Earth”.
After warming up on the easy slopes, the team headed north. Forced to wait for their heli-ski because of capricious weather, the trio made the most of being so close to the slopes. The snow reached all the way to the sea, with the ski corridors visible from the road (and therefore their “house”). The terrain was demanding; after a few curves of powdery snow, they quickly met narrowing corridors or rocky ground. This environment is full of little nooks and crannies, and managing runs is a meticulous task.
Opening up the Troll peninsula.
Flo Orley on the slopes of the Troll peninsula, the trip's climax. The size of the snowboarder compared to her surroundings gives an idea of how demanding this line is. At first glance Flo and Manuela didn't think this descent would be possible, because there didn't seem to be enough continuous snow. They managed to locate the line more precisely from the helicopter. Flo opened up a new route (according to the locals), and Manuela also threw herself into a new route, which she paid for with a big crash which frightened her team more than it did her.
Drejc was grateful for two professionals' experience. “I was impressed to see what lengths they both went to in order to find their lines. While we were travelling in the chopper they looked out of the window and were like: one, two, three rocks, then to the right, then to the left. I'd never seen that in real life. I lived the experience with them. I have so much more respect for professional freeriders now. When we got dropped off, I stood at the top of this mega-steep line that I'd seen from the bottom, and I knew I wouldn't be able to go down it.”
I have so much more respect for professional freeriders now.- Drejc
"I was impressed to see what lenghts they [Flo et Manu] both went to in order to find their lines from the chopper." - Drejc
Bivouac under the stars
What would a trip to the High North be without a night in a tent?
“We spent a lot of time outdoors in the evenings. The sunsets had an otherworldly beauty. But it did get a bit nippy, so we cooked our sachet food – as well as putting away huge amounts of cookies – inside the tent. Then we'd light another stove to keep warm. While we were brushing our teeth, a strange green curtain would extend over the sky. Could it be the northern lights? A few minutes later, the spectacle was in its full glory, with green flames dancing on the starry ceiling. The lights were changing shape at a remarkable rate. The northern lights are even more impressive than I thought they'd be." - Manuela Mandl
Kicker building to warm up.
"Green flames dancing on the starry ceiling. The lights were changing shape at a remarkable rate". - Manuela Mandl
An adventure by boat
Certain parts of Iceland are inaccessible by road and impossible to get to via land in winter. A boat is therefore needed. The team set out to find a captain and a boat. With that sorted, they set off from Ísafjörðu (Isafjordur) and headed to the Hornstrandir nature reserve. As if by magic, the swell calmed just as the boat entered the fjord. The horizon was made up of snow-covered mountains that were crying out to be skied. The team left the boat in the water and took to solid ground, where they carried out descent after descent, not once losing sight of the sea or sailboat.
You got it?
Here we go!
Surfing on snow... and water!
For Drejc and Manuela, Iceland was their very first experience of cold-water surfing. On this tiny island you're at the mercy of the elements, with weather conditions that change every five minutes. If the waves are good, you shouldn't think twice about launching into the water…which is at 6°C. In other words, make sure your wetsuit is properly adjusted! Thankfully, Drejc's heart warmed up immediately when a curious seal came to say hello.
What will the team remember most about this trip?
How hard it is to choose any one moment on such an extraordinary journey so full of surprises.
The fact that you don't necessarily need good weather or lots of space to have such an incredible adventure. What you do need for the perfect freeride trip is a close-knit team who get along well, and magical scenery. Flo, Manu and Drejc found these ingredients in Iceland.
Gratitude for the chance to witness the Icelandic spectacles of nature.
The desire to share their story and inspire others to go on a similar adventure.
Iceland - Travel guide
How to get there?
The quickest and easiest way of getting to Iceland is by plane, with flights leaving from major European cities. You'll arrive into the capital, Reykjavik, a remarkably well-connected small hipster city. If you want to escape straight into the mountains and go whale watching, book a domestic flight to Akureyri. You'll be thrown into Icelandic culture as soon as you step off the plane. There are also some nuggets in Icelandair's in-flight music and movie selection.
Those looking for something a bit more exotic may wish to travel to Iceland by sea. It'll certainly take you longer, but it means you get to take your car. The crossing from northern Denmark takes almost 65 hours and costs about €1000 per person both ways with a vehicle, if you book far enough in advance.
Whatever the season, you'll need a waterproof jacket, a woollen hat and underwear, waterproof walking shoes and a swimsuit. The weather changes constantly – it can be sunny skies one minute and snowstorms the next. Because of that, it's best to wear layers. For the absent-minded among you, if you forget anything vital you can always pick up supplies at Fjallakoffin, where you can also hire items out. This is a handy solution for bulky camping equipment. And the icing on the cake: this excellent service is provided by super-friendly staff. Shop in central Reykjavik, Laugavegur 11, 101 Reykjavík and online http://fjallakofinn.is/
What to leave at home
Your umbrella: the wind blows so relentlessly and violently that even the most sturdy umbrellas won't last.
The only way to explore Iceland properly is on your own, which makes car hire essential. The state of the roads varies hugely, and if you want to venture inland it's essential to have a cross-country vehicle with sufficient ground clearance. For regular traffic updates and weather webcams, go to www.road.is
What to do in Iceland?
Swim in a hot spring. This is great fun for central Europe dwellers, for whom being so close to volcanic activity is a something of a novelty. To put it bluntly: ouch, it's hot! There are many maps indicating the locations of Iceland's hot springs, but they're sometimes difficult to find once you're there. To avoid disappointment, most villages have public pools fed with water from the underground hot springs. Temperatures, which are indicated at the edge of the pool, are pretty high.
Go on an unforgettable Icelandic horse ride. Take a guided tour, where those who are new to riding will appreciate the steady and gentle pace of these horses. Just ask the locals where the riding centres are. If you see any of these horses roaming around the fields, please don't try to mount them as this can be dangerous. Icelandics can be unpredictable.
Discovering the incredible landscapes from the sea, and maybe being lucky enough to see a whale. Departures from Ísafjörður or Akureyri. In spring, you can go backcountry skiing with the help of a sailing boat. It won't suit all budgets, but many corners of Iceland are only accessible by boat, which offers the opportunity to experience a vast hidden playground.
Seek out some of Iceland's many waterfalls: waterfalls are always amazing, but those in Iceland, which are often located within extraordinary rock structures, offer an unparalleled spectacle of beauty. Perhaps the most incredible is Svartifoss, in Vatnajökull National Park, about four hours' drive east of Reykjavik.
Head upwards: explore Iceland by ski or snowboard with a helicopter drop-off. Let's not beat around the bush here: this kind of trip is for those with plenty of cash to spare. However, prices do include luxury accommodation, freshly cooked meals and access to a heated swimming pool. Viking Heliskiing is owned by ex-World Cup ski racers. The terrain around the Lodge in Ólafsfjörður is truly excellent and flight times are short, allowing you to fit in the maximum number of descents in your allotted time. And, unlike many companies in North America, they'll also take you to technically demanding spots. www.vikingheliskiing.com (prices from €4,600)
For freeriders wanting to avoid the fee, head to small ski resorts such as Skarðsdalur. Because it's so much more fun climbing the mountain in a rammer. With Arcticfreeride, a small, family-run business, you can catski on Múlakolla, a peak of 934m offering a wide range of terrains. You also have the option of venturing further out to find spectacular descents and alternative routes in Iceland's great outdoors. Trip price: about €80. www.arcticfreeride.com
Swim in the Blue Lagoon. Because Bláa Lónið is so close to Reykjavik, it attracts a lot of visitors. One to be avoided if you like a quieter time of it. But if you want to witness a truly successful marriage between business and well-being, it's the right place to go. The Blue Lagoon is fed with the water from a geothermal power plant and owes its incredible blue colour to the salicylic acid contained in the water.
Go snorkelling or scuba diving between the continents. A visit to the Silfra fissure, to the north-east of Reykjavik, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The water there is very cold – between 2 and 4°C – but the visibility is exceptional.
Go and have fun in Reykjavik. This is the most northern hipster city, and has many shops selling goods made by local designers, excellent restaurants and fascinating museums.