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When Iceland Beckons

One of the best parts of being the editor of jans.com is that I get to live vicariously through our Experts who, quite frankly, make my penchant for the written word seem downright boring. With the utmost humility, my fellow team members regale me with tales of their exploits such as shredding our Gold Level trails on their mountain bikes, or hanging by a thread (okay, a rope) off the side of a cliff while rock climbing.

Mike Schirf just happens to do both of those things, in addition to being an amazing skier – thanks to his former ski racing career on the Park City Ski Team and at the University of New Hampshire. Even though he exhibits the same amount of prowess as our Experts, Mike’s role at Jans is to capture them in action with his award-winning photography. His strength as a photographer lies in his ability to capture the natural landscape in a way that makes the person looking at the photo catch their breath. Case in point, his photos in our Jans Adventure blog, 30 Hours of Solitude.

One of the reasons that Mike is such a stellar outdoor photographer is that he travels extensively, to exotic locales, to hone his craft. I sat down with Mike to talk specifically about a recent trip to Iceland, his second time there in only a few years, and what it is about this remote location that keeps him going back.

Skier Descends slope at dusk
In the U.S. we call it corn skiing, but the the Icelandic people call it Creme Brulee. Marcus Caston, catching some of both, at sunset near Nordurfjordur.

The photo at the top of this blog ran in Outside magazine, tell me about that.

MS: It was part of a two-page spread in Outside’s Exposure section, which was really cool because it was the first time I had ever sold a photo to them. The same shot also ran in National Geographic Adventure and is on the homepage of my website.

Close up of Icelantic Horse
Icelandic horses look like ponies, but don’t mention that to the locals. They are easily offended about their diminutive horses.

What other places have you photographed?

MS: I spent a season in Chamonix, France and have shot in Greece, Turkey, Antarctica and British Columbia. For my next trip, I’d like to go climbing in Sardinia, Italy.

Skier climbs hill with boat in the background
Eyeing the Aurora, our floating home for a week, near the Hornstrandir nature reserve.

You’ve been to Iceland twice, what was the impetus for the initial trip?

MS: I’d seen photos and it had been on my list of places to go. A friend of mine, who is also a photographer, had been a bunch of times so I went along with him. The first time we were there for three weeks and the second time we were there for two weeks. It’s actually pretty accessible; only a six hour plane ride from Denver.

Skier treks uphill with ocean in the background
Boot packing up from the tiny town of Flateyri, located on the tip of the peninsula in the background.

What made you decide to go back and shoot again?

MS: It’s a pretty magical place and the people are amazing. Icelandic is a difficult language to learn, so the people there really make effort to speak English. That makes it easy to get around, and the locals are very friendly.

A skier jumps a river with skis on his shoulder
Heading home after a long day of skiing near Flateyri.

Did you stay in one place for the whole time?

MS: We mostly stayed in a small town of about 2,600 people called Ísafjörõur and flew in on a little prop plane. The town basically had a restaurant, an airport, a hostel and some houses. We actually stayed in an apartment with a couple other people, including a guy from Australia, a girl from the U.S. and a British guy. It was kind of like we had our own mini hostel.

Skiing high above the town of Isafjordur, Iceland
Marcus Caston flashing a turn above the town of Isafjordur.

Your images are powerful and depict the raw beauty of the country. How did you get those shots?

MS: Part of the time we stayed on a sailboat that would dock in a fjord. We’d tour up, taking photos along the way and then we’d ski over to the next fjord where the sailboat would pick us up. The peaks were about 1,200 to 1,500 feet high. After the sailboat we did a road trip to Nordurfjordur to get different types of shots. It was kind of frustrating because you could see where you needed to go in a straight line, but to get there the roads went in and out of the fjords. This added to the mileage and time to get from one location to another.

Skiing toward the ocean near Flateyri, Iceland
There’s nothing like the feeling of skiing down to the ocean, with the town Flateyri in the distance

Where was your favorite place to shoot?

MS: The day we skied just outside of the tiny town of Nordurfjordur, where I got the shot at the top of this blog. It was a kind of unsuspecting day and we came over a little ridge in the saddle and I saw how beautiful it was. I made a game plan for the shot and got what’s become one of my favorite images that I’ve ever taken. Being a ski photographer, I’d always dreamed of having the opportunity to take a shot like that skiing to the ocean. It’s one of those shots that you aspire to and when it comes together it’s really cool.

Road Trip though Iceland to Nordurfjordur."
When you’re road trippin’ through Iceland there is really no such thing as a straight line. The roads force you to drive in and out of the fjords to get where you want to go.

What was the greatest challenge shooting in Iceland?

MS: There is beauty everywhere you look, but Iceland doesn’t always let you see it. The weather can get pretty nasty which makes shooting quite challenging.

Skier doing a cartwheel in ski boots near Isafjordur, Iceland
You can’t help but be happy and do cartwheels after an amazing day of skiing in Iceland

How do you think traveling to different countries makes you a better photographer?

MS: A lot of photography is just putting in the work. A great shot isn’t just going to fall into your lap. You never know when the next best shot is going to happen, so you have to keep looking for it.

Liz Yokubison, Editor, jans.com

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