Skiing under the Northern Lights: A Guide Chasing the Auroras

Posted by Garrott Kuzzy, Lumi Experiences on Apr 4th 2024

Skiing under the Northern Lights: A Guide Chasing the Auroras

With so much attention focused on the sky as many places in North America prepare for the upcoming total solar eclipse, it seems like a great time to highlight another solar phenomenon.

One of my favorite ways to extend the ski season is to travel north in the early spring, an ideal time to see the aurora borealis or northern lights.

Lumi’s ski season comes to an end next week in Iceland's Westfjords region for the Iceland-Fossavatn trip. Conditions are looking good for skiing the Fossavatn ski marathon after a recent, record snowfall in the host village of Ísafjörður. I hope the solar outlook will be in our favor too! Will we be lucky enough to look up and see ribbons of colorful light dancing across the night sky? There’s a decent chance, although since there are lots of factors that influence the visibility of the northern lights, there’s definitely no guarantee.

A brief astronomy refresher: the northern lights occur when a solar flare emits charged particles from the sun. When these particles collide with gasses in the earth’s atmosphere, they emit the light that we see as the aurora. Last week, Lumi trip leader Lilli spotted the northern lights from her home in Trondheim, Norway. Next week, will we be able to see them from even further north in Iceland? Maybe!

Here’s a recipe to increase your chances of seeing the northern lights:

  • Travel to a northerly location 65-70°N: Because solar flare particles have an electric charge, when they arrive in the Earth’s atmosphere, they catch a ride to the north pole (and south pole for the southern lights) along Earth’s magnetic field. This is why the northern lights are seen in places up north, in what is called the aurora oval zone around 65-70°N. Ísafjörður, Iceland (66.0749°N), home of the Fossavatn Worldloppet ski marathon, is within this zone! When the lights are particularly strong, they can be seen south of these latitudes too, like in Trondheim, Norway (63.4305°N) last week.
  • Seek out dark skies: There is plenty of time when the sky is dark enough during the winter up north. This is why many northern light photos you see are taken during the winter. It’s hardly ever dark enough during the night to see the northern lights in these places during the summer months. Being in a remote location that doesn’t have much light pollution like Ísafjörður, a small coastal town in the Westfjords, is another plus.
  • Look ahead for clear skies: Take a look at the local forecast. If you’re lucky to have a clear night during your trip, keep your eyes peeled for the northern lights after ~ 10:00 PM.
  • Check the aurora forecast: Another key factor that influences your chances of seeing the northern lights, but is harder to predict, is the weather in space. While there isn’t a constant stream, schedule or pattern of solar flares, scientists do monitor solar activity and predict when and where the northern lights will be most likely seen. You can take a look at NOAA’s Aurora Forecast to get a sense for where in the world you’re most likely to see an aurora on a given day. This changes day-to-day. This Tuesday, they were forecasted to be strong in Iceland, Wednesday in northern Russia.

Did you know that solar activity is on an 11-year cycle and predicted to be at its peak or “solar maximum” until the end of 2025? During this time, there’s a greater frequency of seeing the northern lights generally.

Is it on your bucket list to see the northern lights? Check out these Lumi trips to increase your chances of seeing the northern lights in 2025 (during the solar maximum!): Iceland-Fossavatn, Trondheim World Champs (2025 only!), Norway-Birken and Estonia & Finland (waitlist-only). Let’s ski and gaze at the night sky! Sign up soon and receive a $200 discount before April 30.

See you on the trail, gazing up at the sky,