Ice Axe Expeditions Svalbard Trip Report 2018
for more information visit: Ice Axe Expeditions
The Arctic Circle.
Snow, 24-hour sunlight, glaciers, icebergs, fjords, ocean, polar bears, guns, boats, mountains, ski paradise.
Immersion in a fierce way. You go from cruising through your normal, everyday existence to being 100% dependent on a 62-foot sailboat, its accompanying 16-foot inflatable dingy, the captain’s navigational skill, and your group’s thirst for stunning ski descents in one of the most remote wilderness areas on Earth. This dramatic life modification happens within a mere 48-hour window and there’s no way to mentally prepare for it. You’ve been completely removed from everything you know and thrust into a dreamlike world full of polar bears, ocean, snow, and never ending daylight.
The human reaction to this wild place is powerful and profound. The remoteness of Svalbard hits as soon as we set sail up the rugged northwestern coastline. We sit on deck an revel in the expansiveness, the crystal clear water, the jagged peaks, the wildlife, the desolation, the sun’s perpetually hard, winter-like angles, and the fact that this unknown land has become our new playground.
Elation occurs the second you set foot on land. Our inflatable dingies (Zodiacs) drop us off in the most unimaginable, roughhewn places. Our guides safely escort us to dreamscape peaks only to look back down on an arctic ocean full of icebergs, wildlife, and our home – the Arctica II.
When you fly into Longyearbyen, Svalbard, the first thing you notice is the mind-bending scenery outside the window of the plane. This land was made for skiing and riding.
The second thing you’ll notice will be people walking around this quaint, 2,000-person town carrying .30-06 rifles over her shoulders as if they were umbrellas or walking sticks…
What’s going on here?
Well, you should know the 3 very important laws in Longyearbyen, Svalbard.
#1. It’s Illegal Leave Town Without A Gun
- You have to have a rifle if you leave town. It’s the law. Why? Polar bears… Over 3,000 of them.
#2. It’s Illegal To Die
- Death is against the law in Longyearbyen. They only have a small graveyard that stopped accepting new burials over 70 years ago. Why? Because the bodies never decompose… Scientists found the bodies perfectly preserved due to the permafrost… If you get sick or are close to death, they literally ship you back to Norway. Tchau!
#3. It’s Illegal To Have A Cat
- Dogs rule, cats drool. Why? Svalbard is home to a huge Arctic bird population that nest on the ground. Cats kill the birds and now they aren’t allowed anywhere in the archipelago.
Quick Svalbard background:
- Longyearbyen is the furtherest north city on Earth at 79º latitude
- Svalbard isn’t owned by any one country – there are Norwegian, Russian, Chinese, and more operating there
- The sun doesn’t set in Svalbard for 4 months
- Longyearbyen was founded by an America named John Longyear
- Some of the richest coal deposits on Earth are found in Svalbard
- Svalbard is home to one of the highest concentrations of Polar Bears on earth – 3,000+ in the archipelago
May 2018 was my 3rd time guiding this ski trip to Svalbard with Ice Axe Expeditions in the past 3 years.
In my 3 trips to Svalbard, 2018 was the furthest north we’ve gone and this far north zone had some truly stunning terrain.
Touchdown in Longyearbyen, met the crew, moved into my room at the Radison in Longyearbyen, ate dinner, and quickly found myself in a NYC style whiskey bar drinking fine imported bourbon with a group of people from all over the world. The next twist came when we rolled out of the dark, musky, windowless bar into the blazing sunlight at 11:30pm.
The Arctica II:
The 62-foot Arctica II sailboat – a seaworthy ship captained and first mated by Heinrich & Uni. Our team consisted of 6 clients, 2 guides, the captain, and first mate. Downstairs, the boat has a galley, small living space, and 5 rooms (each with a bathroom) that slept all 10 of us comfortably. Upstairs is the bridge and a common room for dining and hanging out. On the back deck there is open area with benches for relaxing and catching some sun. This was our happy home for next 7 days.
Sailing & Skiing The Arctic Ocean:
It’s surreal to be in a small sailboat charging around these massive peaks and fjords with the sun drawing circles in the sky. The sun never set, never rose, just spun around in wide arching circles playing games with our shadows from every direction.
During our 5 days sailing in the high Arctic, we skied 6 zones, 5 glaciers, 1 island, and even had 2 powder days. We sailed through 4 bays, 2 fjords, and reached a latitude as high as 80º North – the furthest north or south I’ve ever been. The skiing was fun every day we skied and we certainly found some long, sustained steep runs that got the blood pumping.
Great skiing, reindeer everywhere, ghost towns, icebergs, sea ice, crystal clear water, walrus, seals, a 5-star floating hotel, the constant threat of Polar Bears, not going anywhere without two .30-06 rifles, delicious meals, all the IsBjorn beer you could drink, and the heart stopping polar plunge made this trip nearly too much fun to fully psychologically understand.
2016 SVALBARD TRIP SKIING DETAILS:
Day 1: Transit From Longyearbyen
- Everyone aboard at about 2:00pm local time, did the safety briefing with Heinrich, had pizza delivered, drank a couple of IsBjorn beers, and we sailed out of harbor. Unfortunately, about 30mins into our sail, we experienced a severe oil leak and had to return to port for repairs.
Day 2: From Longyearbyen to the Extreme Northwest
- The oil leak was fixed in the early morning and we were sailing by midday. We sailed all day and through the night deep into the far north and we anchored in Magdalenefjorden.
Day 3: Penktoppen Peak in Magdalenefjorden
- We climbed up a peak named Penktoppen in low light. Visibility continued to get worse as we climbed. We stopped before the summit to avoid walking into a complete whiteout. The skiing down was good, slushy, and smooth.
- Weather this day was cool, windy, occasional snow flurries, overcast, low visibility up high.
- We sailed even further north into Fuglefjorden.
Day 4: “The Playground” & “The Plug” in Fuglefjorden
- Fantastic powder skiing this day and the entire group was fired up. We all skied two laps in “The Playground”, ie Larusfjellet peak and threw some smokey powder into the air. After the 2nd lap, we returned to the boat and had a hearty lunch then moved over to ski “The Plug” or Jarifjellet peak. The views from the top were stunning on this day. This is one of most beautiful, remote, awe inspiring places I’ve ever seen. Fuglefjorden is gorgeous. We skied a steep run straight down to the sea that had everyone buzzing.
- Weather this day was cool, overcast.
- We stayed the night in Fuglefjorden.
Day 5: From Fuglefjorden to Kennedybukta Via Högstaustus Peak
- This was a cool day in that we hiked up Högstaustus peak from Fuglefjorden via the Rissabreen glacier then descended down the other side into Kennedybukta bay and the Arctica II sailed around and met us there. This day was very cold with low clouds. As cold as 15ºF with a stiff wind blowing all day. We climbed over the saddle from the Fuglefjorden drainage to the Kennedybukta drainage and make our way nearly to the summit of Högstaustus. We stopped short of the summit due to the whiteout conditions above. The snow coming down was crunchy, corny, and fun. The views were impressive down low. No one enters this bay due to the challenging navigation. Kennedybukta is untouched, wild, and constently fed small icebergs via the large, calving Kennedybreen glacier.
- Weather this day was very cold, windy, occasional snow flurries, overcast.
- From Kennedybukta, we moved the boat to Bjornhamna bay.
Day 6: “Chamonix North” – Reushfjellet Peak
- Skinned up, then boot packed a long way up to the top of “Chamonix North”, ie Reuschfjellet. The headwall on this thing is steep – over 40º. The top section was dreamy, 35º powder. The headwall was steep with a bit of powder snow on harder snow – basically perfect conditions for steep skiing. We all ripped down this headwall hooting and yipping. Highlight of the trip for me.
- Weather this day was cold, occasional snow flurries, overcast.
- Sailed from Bjornhamna to Engleskbukta bay through the night.
Day 7: Murdochtoppen Peak on Prins Karls Foreland Island
- Sailed from Engleskbukta bay to Gordenpynten point on Prins Karls Foreland island.
- A separate French guided group somehow ended up choosing the same zone we chose. We rarely see other boats on this trip and never see other skiing groups. As we were riding in the inflatable boat to shore to ski near the French group, we watched one of their guides ride down the slope in an avalanche. The avalanche wasn’t large, but it took him for a long ride. We modified our plans due to the obvious avalanche instability and skied happy mellow, sunny slopes on the lower flanks of Murdochtoppen peak. We skied 3 laps in this zone on perfect corn and we had a blast. Views were spectacular this day.
- Weather this day was sunny, warm, windless, dreamy.
- Sailed to Longyearbyen through the night.
Day 8: Longyearbyen & Home
- We packed up, bought souvenirs, and got on flights headed towards home.
I can’t express enough how sublime, intense, wonderful, luxurious, and unique this trip was. Sublime views and skiing, intense weather and wildlife, luxurious anytime we were on the ship, and a relentlessly unique experience full of firsts, once-in-a-lifetimes, and no ways. There’s simply nothing like Svalbard. Svalbard is a world unto its own.
Ice Axe Expeditions will be cruising to Svalbard to ski again in May 2019. I’ve been invited to guide the trip again and I’d love to share this experience with you and yours.
If interested, please email me here for the ski trip of a lifetime:
There’s really nothing more that I can convey to you in words about this place. I’ll let the 42 photos below tell the rest of the story.
Many of the photos below are from our great clients.
Thanks to everyone.