Pros and cons
Svalbard stretches from 74° to 81° north, in the Arctic Ocean, north of Norway. Originally settled by Europeans as a whaling outpost, Svalbard now hosts wildlife enthusiasts, researchers, coal miners, and a few adventurous skiers every year. The luckiest of those may see polar bears and Arctic foxes while touring, but everyone who comes to Svalbard gets to see reindeer, walruses, and countless birds. They’ll also take in unforgettable scenery and the unique experience of locally brewed craft beer in the world’s northernmost permanently inhabited city, Longyearbyen.
While ski touring out of Longyearbyen is easy (leave your hotel, step into your skis, and away you go), getting deeper into the Svalbard wilderness takes some planning. Internationally certified mountain guides like Rob Coppolillo of Vetta Mountain Guides and Tom Wolfe of Sawback Alpine Adventures book sail-and-ski adventures yearly, taking guests to the remote fjords and peaks of Svalbard’s islands.
“We run trips on a 153-foot schooner called the Noorderlicht. The boat sleeps up to 25: four crew, a chef, a couple guides, and a bunch of hearty guests who love ski touring, good food, and epic scenery,” says Wolfe, a Canadian mountain guide based in Canmore, Alberta.
Guests arrive in Longyearbyen, where they have the option of arriving early and settling in for a few days before boarding the boat and sailing to the remote corners of the archipelago. Surprisingly good restaurants keep everyone fed while in Longyearbyen and guests can day-tour over to a throwback coal mining town inhabited by Russian expats.
“It’s like something out of the Cold War,” says Wolfe. “We toured over to the bar at midnight under full sun. We went inside to find people smoking, drinking vodka, and passing time in a dark, Soviet-era building. Way different than the Norwegian side of the island!”
All aboard the Noorderlicht!
After some touring and rest in Longyearbyen, everyone boards the Noorderlicht and sails to remote, peaceful fjords, with glaciers descending to the sea and two- to three-thousand-foot peaks soaring into the blue, Arctic sky.
“The skiing can be variable, but typically it’s a mix of ‘Arctic Pow’ — soft, recrystalized cold snow — and perfect spring corn-skiing,” says Coppolillo, who lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife and their twin boys, Luca and Dominic. “The blue sky and ocean, interrupted by this spectacular, snowy landscape is unbelievable. Add that to the skiing and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip. So good!”
Svalbard is largely glaciated, so guides carry crevasse-rescue kit and guests must be experienced skiers. The terrain, though, is remarkably accessible. Gradual, scenic climbs give way to long, beautiful runs back to the water. And best of all, the warm, comfortable boat awaits tired skiers at the end of the day.
“For anyone looking for a little more adventure and the unknown on their next trip, Svalbard is a bucket-list destination,” says Wolfe.
Wolfe and Coppolillo plan to offer a Lofoten, Norway trip in 2020, as a stand-alone or in conjunction with their Svalbard dates. Email either one of them for more information and to get started planning and training for your Arctic adventure!