Sporting events of the Westfjords

Apart from the endless opportunities for hiking, biking, kayaking, and camping, there are specific sporting events that have become indispensable parts of the Westfjords calendar.

The Fossavatan Ski Marathon

The oldest ski race in Iceland, the Fossavatn Ski Marathon traces its Isafjordur history back to 1935, and in 2014 it became part of the coveted Worldloppet circuit. The Worldloppet series is a list of the top 20 cross-country ski marathons in the world.

Back in April 1935, a grand total of seven skiers took part in what would eventually become a draw for skiers around the world. The initial race was 18 km long and crowd control reportedly went very smoothly indeed. The race subsequently grew in popularity, running for five years until 1940, before returning as a regular feature since 1956.

For the first few decades the distance was always around 20 km and the starting point was Fossavatn lake, from which the race takes its name.

In the late 1980s two shorter distances were added to increase participation to include both children and beginners. The organisation was again ramped up to a more ambitious scale when, in 2004, the 50 km distance was skied for the first time.

The most successful athlete since its inception in 1935 is a local skier named Kristjan Rafn Gudmundsson, 12 times winner of the Fossavatn Ski Marathon in the 1960s and 1970s. The most prolific competitor is another local named Sigurdur Jonsson who first competed in 1938.

It’s not just the race that gives you a flavour of local culture and ethos but also the buffet and parties that are so much fun and bring diverse people on a single platform.

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Hlaupahatid or the Running Festival, is an annual event in the Isafjordur area, held in July each year, that includes a half-marathon run, 10 km run, wilderness run (45 km, 24 km and 10 km) alongside open-water swimming and mountain biking.

The half-marathon and 10 km runs take place on a scenic course which starts in Sudavik and ends in the centre of Isafjordur. The wilderness run, meanwhile, goes along a rough trail on the peninsula between the fjords Arnarfjordur and Dyrafjordur. The mountain bike race goes along the same track as the 45 km run, although with an added 10 km at the end, making it a 55 km race.

This is not just a test of your endurance and athletic abilities but also a wonderful chance to run, bike and swim in one of those rare places on earth where the air is truly sparkly clean and fresh. So, do stop to catch your breath while the imposing mountains and silent waters look on. It rarely gets more energising than this.

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Easter Ski Week

While Isafjordur is pretty much ski town any time enough snow falls, despite the lack of daylight in midwinter, the Easter Ski week is quite something else. Skiers and snowboarders come out of the woodwork to take part – with ski obsessives and those who rarely dabble rubbing shoulders on the busy slopes, by Easter already bathed in many hours of natural light each day.

As the name suggests it’s held every Easter with an utterly out-of-the-box itinerary of outdoor activities and local culture, culminating in the Aldrei for eg sudur (“I never went South”) rock festival. Started by Isafjordur musician and national icon Mugison, this widely attended free festival has been held for the last 20 years. Both music and skiing have benefitted from this unusual but wonderful mix, even as visitors ski by day and let their hair down at concerts by night.

The Westfjords Way Challenge

In keeping with the decidedly challenging nature of many of the above events, and for those who prefer their sports wheeled and (mostly) on asphalt, there’s the Arna Westfjords Way Challenge each July.

This gruelling-but-rewarding cycling event is about as far from a cosy bike ride in the countryside as you can get.

Participants usually decide before the end of their nearly-thousand-kilometre-long route around all the ups and downs of the Westfjords ring road that they will never, ever consider doing anything so outrageous ever again. Then, after reflecting on the camaraderie, the utterly breathtaking scenery, and the satisfaction of a challenge so convincingly conquered, most of them end up changing their minds and signing up for the next year.

The event, while always growing and welcoming new cyclists from all over the world, has become something of a chosen family; united by their struggles against the wind, against the steep, steep inclines, and against the odd snow shower here and there (even though it’s mid-summer).

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