Do you remember that famous saying by Ned Stark in Game of Thrones? “Winter is coming.” Well, I can tell you with certainty that winter is not coming — winter is here. Iceland is experiencing one of its coldest and snowiest winters in quite some time. It’s been chaos everywhere. Roads have closed all around the country and those who dare venture out anyhow have found themselves stuck in the crazy winds and snowstorms. The silver lining? It’s the perfect conditions to swap your car for a snowmobile.
December 27, 2022, was a freezing cold winter day. The thermostat showed -15°C. Another snow storm just swooped in on the North. After a three-hour car drive in very challenging conditions, I arrived in Mývatn and the old sheep barn that had been transformed into the base camp of Geo Travel, a small local company with three Icelandic guides.
It was shortly before 14:00, just in time for the snowmobile tour to start.
Before the adventure could start, there was the small matter of ensuring nobody would turn into an ice sculpture by the end of our trip. Thankfully, Geo Travel has a rack of snowsuits to prevent that from happening. Finally, our guide Birkir handed us helmets with visors and advised us to cover the rest of our faces with scarves to block the icy wind.
We were a small group of snowmobile adventurers, with just myself and a French couple under Birkir’s guidance that afternoon. Birkir briefed us on safety instructions and explained how to drive our snowmobiles. It sounded pretty easy — or, at least I thought.
We were off on our Lake Safari tour. I wasn’t sure what to expect, never having driven a snowmobile before, but I was excited. Instantly, I realised operating a snowmobile is quite different from driving a car. The steering is a lot stiffer, and you must lean into the turns to help the big machine move in the right direction. You also have to get a feeling for the throttle. Though I had a couple of close calls with the French couple in front of me, I soon got the hang of it and really started enjoying myself.
It took my French companions a little longer. They drove up a little hill and then fell sideways. Luckily, crawling along at maybe 10 km/h at that point, nobody was hurt. Crossing a street was the last big challenge before the adventure truly began.
No Risk, No Reward
Motoring through the snow-covered nature. The icy wind in our faces. We were beyond the wall now, in the land of Wildlings and White Walkers.
It’s absolutely fascinating how snow can change the whole setting of an area. If you’ve never been to Mývatn in winter, I highly recommend doing so. It will take your breath away.
It was a fun and bumpy ride, circling bushes, driving up and down little hills. In the forest, a little white rjúpa, or rock ptarmigan, crossed our path. As soon as it saw us coming, it flew off into the distance.
Slowly, I started realising why the tour was called “Lake Safari”. In the summer months, the area we’re snowmobiling over consists of many little ponds. In the winter all of them are frozen, offering a perfectly even track for snowmobiles. This is where we could test the limit of our machines, topping them out at 40 km/h. This might not sound a lot to you, but I can promise it was a pure adrenaline kick.
I started losing track of time while flying over the frozen lakes with the wind at my back, until… our snowmobiles got stuck and began sinking into the wet snow. Though some curse words were uttered, Birkir managed to pull them out of the sleet and, five minutes later and with slightly wet feet, we continued driving carefully over the lake’s slick surface, which sent my snowmobile and I into a series of pirouettes.
Never did I think snowmobiling could be so adventurous!
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