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Embracing the Uncertain: Skiing and Sailing Iceland with Kim Havell

Skiing down to the sixty-degree blind rollover, I hoped the snow would remain the same carve-able consistency as I had been skiing above it. Surrounded by fjords, blue skies and eager guests, I was ecstatic to have a gorgeous clear day.

As I mentally prepared myself for a more conservative hop-turn to slow my speed in case of ice, the slope dropped off into more of the same perfect corn. I let my skis run. I’ve been chasing steep skiing my whole life; I live for these moments in both skiing and guiding. With my family ski touring below me, closer to shore, I had a solitary moment of freedom and bliss.

 

It was Doug’s idea to include my husband, Pete, and five-year-old daughter, Charlie, on a ski and sail boat trip I led in Iceland this past spring. He always looks beyond the horizon and sees what is possible. I met Doug Stoup by chance at the 2008 Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City. A strapping, blonde man with shining blue eyes, he revealed himself as an intrepid visionary explorer. We connected immediately and I soon found myself flying to Svalbard, Norway to join up with an exploratory ski and sail trip up the coast of the northern island with his company, Ice Axe Expeditions, alongside the likes of Tom Day, Noah Howell, Andrew Mclean and more. That first meeting with Doug led me down the path of opportunity and I now guide and open terrain in places like Antarctica, Argentina, Greenland, Norway, Iceland and India. Doug’s overall no-limits approach to adventure has allowed me to include my family on this same path.

Generally, our skiing and sailing pursuits involve enough uncertainty and inherent risk that it precludes bringing children. Mother Nature dictates most of the outcomes of these adventures, requiring more seasoned backcountry enthusiasts to enjoy all that they entail. But, there are trips and areas that offer a more predictable experience, ripe for introducing young minds to what’s possible. As our plans played out, a dear friend who I ski guide in the Tetons asked if she could bring her daughter, Everleigh, as well, filling the last two spots on the boat and rounding off our expedition team. Iceland has a long tradition of family values, embodied by the Icelandic owner of the Aurora Arktika, the sailing operation we chartered. Run by the exceptional single mother of three young children, the idea of two well-supervised children on board the boat was readily welcomed. I was excited at the thought of bringing these kids into our fold. Surrounded by a strong team of guides and parents, I was confident in managing their experience appropriately.

Of course, bringing my family along, my primary goal was their safety. But equally I wanted to provide exposure to a unique type of adventure—to show my girl what is possible and share what I love to do with my husband. Pete has a background in exploratory Alaska expedition skiing and kiting, but had never added the boat component. We both approach most situations without expectation. I learned from him early on that “it will either work or it won’t.” And, you don’t need to worry about “the won’t” until you are there. In April, we flew a small plane into Isafjordur, met our team and evaluated weather patterns for the week ahead. Working with a challenging forecast, we ski toured around the Isafjordur area on the front end and back end of the trip. When a narrow weather window opened up, we set sail from Isafjordur over to the West Fjords Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. With and without sun, we had a lot of fun. While I guided the adult crew higher on the peaks and traversed over to different fjords, gliding down to the water, the kids ski toured lower on the flanks, collected mussels on shore for dinner and built snowmen. Pete and our friend, Karissa, managed the youngsters and occasionally took turns ski touring themselves.

It proved challenging but worthwhile to compartmentalize my roles as a guide and mother of a young child. Despite the separation of roles, I was never off duty and sometimes on double duty, balancing both roles in the mornings and the evenings when back on the boat. We skied a maritime snowpack, managing warming temperatures and sunlit aspects throughout the day. The corn (sun- or temperature- softened snow) was superb on most days out. We started at the water, climbing up to high viewpoints before skiing back down to the water and taking a Zodiac dinghy back to the boat, where our crew awaited our arrival with hot drinks and snacks on board.

Come Easter morning, the Easter Bunny visited the boat and then, later in the day, flew over the local ski area where candy was dropped out of a small plane, battling the high force winds, all for the sake of the many children, including ours, waiting below. It was a special treat. As the trip wrapped up, our two families with our two five-year-old girls road tripped in a van from the West Fjords down to the capital, Reykjavik. Along the way we encountered rough, unpaved roads, plentiful natural fjord-side hot springs, beautiful changing landscapes and adjusted to a loose schedule on the road. For our girls, learning to adapt to change was one of the great outcomes from our journey. In a world where we have access to every detail available via the internet, books, maps and phones, I love these ski and sail trips for their high level of unpredictability. It is through the highs and the lows of the unknown that we discover our true spirit of adventure and, in most cases, build a little more character. If my daughter and her friends develop true grit through these mountain pursuits, learning from the dedication of those around them—watching them thrive through wins and losses, gains and hardships—then I will have done my job. Resilience is one of the best measures of personal development. As we build out our schedule for 2023 at Ice Axe Expeditions, I look forward to having my family join again on another great adventure. What new and uncertain journeys can we discover together, along with the many others who love to explore?