This is all about winter light. Auroras, alpenglow, extended twilight, dark nights, long shadows. It is a magnificent, and rare, time to be skiing in a polar environment
Although we don't see the sun on this expedition there's plenty enough light to ski during the day, taking in superb views of glowing mountain tops, ashen valleys and sombre glaciers that are locked into the starkness of winter. Nights are long, twilight is longer, auroras fill the sky and sleep is plentiful. An expedition of replenishment.
This unique expedition is out of the ordinary and should be chosen by those comfortable in moving to the rhythm of the Arctic winter.
Photos © Heath Jamieson, Eric Philips
Meet at Lagerservice warehouse at 4pm with your expedition clothing and equipment (see Getting There).
You require accommodation in Longyearbyen for this night.
Prep day - tutorials on stove lighting and tent pitching, food packing, ski practice.
You require accommodation in Longyearbyen for this night.
Oversnow transport to start, approx. 2 hours. Begin expedition.
Our route will be dependent on snow and ice conditions but we will be traveling in expedition style - skiing and towing sleds, covering 10-15km per day depending on terrain, conditions and available light.
Ski to the outskirts of Longyearbyen and bus shuttle into town, end of trip.
(You will require hotel accommodation unless you fly out immediately. Do not book a flight out earlier than 2pm if you want to depart the same day)
You require 2 nights accommodation at the beginning of the trip and another at the end if you decide to stay the night.
Our Svalbard Winter Light expedition is a special program for those wanting to experience something different .
We meet in Svalbard’s capital Longyearbyen, on the island of Spitsbergen (Norway). After two nights and a full day of preparing equipment and packing sleds and a couple of technical seminars on equipment and navigation, we travel by oversnow transport to Eskerfossen waterfall. We ski only an hour or so in the afternoon before camping, using the remaining light to pitch tents and make a secure camp
The following day we begin skiing at around 11am, as the buried sun makes its way west below the horizon, casting light onto the mountain tops above us. We quickly realise why this is a special time as Svalbard shows us colours that only winter can bring. It's breathtaking.
Temperatures can drop to -35c so do not underestimate the severity of this trip. After the sun sets the cold descends on the camp and only stoves, polar sleeping gear and high-energy food can keep you warm. With proper polar clothing and equipment and the best guides in the world you will learn not only how to survive but how to thrive.
Over the next few days we move across the ice-scape, towing all we need in sleds, skiing through snowy valleys, onto frozen glaciers and over mountain passes.
We are almost assured of seeing auroras at night (though of course we can't guarantee it). Either way, the winter light of Svalbard will leave you spellbound.
This is not an expedition for those wanting to prepare for South Pole, a Greenland crossing or solo journeys. You should join a later trip where we cover more ground and spend more hours on the trail.
We wake at 7am to maximise our usable hours. First thing we do is light the stove to bring some warmth to the tent and begin heating water for breakfast and drinks. We also make sure that our thermoses are topped up with boiling water. A quick look outside reveals the perimeter wire connected to flares, our alert system for polar bears, and beyond a magnificent landscape of sharp snow-capped mountains, and the glacier upon which we are camped.
By 9.30 we are outside and ready to pack sleds, put our skis on and move into the snowy wilderness. We travel in single file, the trail-breaker (usually the guide) doing most of the work, the team following in the tracks to conserve energy. And if you want to lead the group for a while we fully encourage it, in safe and uncomplicated terrain. In spring most of the glacier’s crevasses are filled in and pose no problem, but we always carry glacier travel equipment if the need arises to rope up.
On skis we continue across the deep valley floor, watching as the red light swims around the surrounding peaks. A quick break to drink from our thermoses and eat from our snack bags before we find our stride once again and lock into the polar plod, listening to the glide of our sleds, the swish of our skis and the rhythm of our hearts. Everything is in sync.
Lunch is a scenic spot, perhaps overlooking a glacier. We sit on our sleds or foam seats, eating hot ramen noodles, cheese, salami and crackers and a collection of nuts, dried fruit and chocolate. We never go hungry.
The afternoon brings some additional excitement as we reach a pass between the mountains after which we can straddle our sleds, skis on either side, and toboggan down a long slope. The ride is exhilarating as we glide down the incline, using the ski edges to steer and the rope traces thrown under the sled as a quick brake if needed.
Down in a broad valley we pass fox tracks and see small herds of reindeer grazing on invisible grass. Polar bear sightings are rare but we are always prepared, armed with flare guns and firearms. It is not permitted to travel in these areas without them.
The sun begins to sink in the afternoon and the temperature drops a few degrees as we march through the giant shadows. An hour later we ski into the fading light, our shadows long and golden across the valley floor. In the last light we set up our camp, securing the shelters to the ice and snow using tent stakes and ice screws, and shoveling snow onto the tent flaps to prevent any drift snow entering the tent layers. The guide rigs up the perimeter fence and we climb into our tents to light the life-giving stoves. Slowly the interior gains some order as mattresses, sleeping bags, kitchen and belongings find their place. Soon enough we are enjoying a hot soup followed by dinner and some saved chocolate.
Something you will never be short of on an Icetrek Winter Light Expedition is sleep, we allocate a minimum of 8 hours every night so that you recover adequately for the day ahead. A weather forecast predicts light winds and blue sky, another perfect day in paradise. Sweet dreams!
There are flights with SAS and Norwegian Air almost daily from Oslo, Norway to Longyearbyen. Flights are not included in the price.
A visa is not required for Svalbard.
When you arrive at Longyearbyen airport you can either take a taxi or the shuttle bus to your hotel, both accept credit cards. If you are staying at an AirBnB tell the driver the address or show him a map of the location and you will be dropped at the nearest hotel or convenient location.
Accommodation in Longyearbyen is not included in the price. There are many hotel and hostel options and some AirBnB’s. Use your preferred accommodation booking service to find the wide range of establishments in Longyearbyen. Some popular options include:
Radisson Blu - close to town centre, 5 minutes walk to warehouse where we prepare
Funken - 10 minutes walk from town, 20 minutes walk from warehouse
Svalbard Hotell/Lodge/Vault - in town, 10 minutes walk from warehouse
Mary Anne’s Polarriggen - 10 minutes walk from town, next to warehouse
Coal Miners’ Cabins - 15 minutes walk from town, 25 minutes walk from warehouse
Guesthouse 102 - next door to Coal Miners’ Cabins
Finding the Lagerservice warehouse
Svalbard Winer Light Expedition is a 7-day ski and sled hauling expedition on Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago. It occurs in late winter when the days are short, fiords are frozen and the mountains and glaciers are covered in a thick later of snow.
What will be the temperature on arrival in Longyearbyen and during the trip?
The temperature will be anywhere from -10ºC to -35C, 14F to -31ºF
Where do we meet?
We meet at our warehouse, 'Lagerservice' at 4pm two days before the start of the trip.
Can I leave bags in Longyearbyen?
Yes. We have a secure storage facility in Longyearbyen where you can leave bags.
How heavy will my sled be?
For the Svalbard Expedition program your sled will be 45 to 50 kg, 100 to 110 lb.
What if I am not a skier?
Some of our customers have never been on skis before. It is useful to have prior experience but not mandatory as we will train you at a manageable pace while you are on the ice.
What is the Guide to Client ratio?
Will there be any crevassing?
Svalbard glaciers are crevassed though this time of year they are still mostly filled in with snow. However we always carry glacier travel equipment - ropes, harnesses, rescue gear - and use it when necessary.
What type of sleds do we use?
What type of tents do we use?
We use Hilleberg Keron 4-person tents for two people. There is plenty of room to get comfortable but small enough to warm up quickly once the stove is operating. You are responsible for setting up, managing and taking down your tent.
What type of sleeping bags and mattresses do we use?
We provide you with a roomy synthetic outer sleeping bag to use over the top of your 4-season down sleeping bag. The combination will be rated to -40. We also provide an inflatable and foam mattress combination with a minimum 6+ R-Value. We also provide you a protective mattress sleeve that converts to a chair to sit up and rest comfortably in the tent.
What will we eat on the expedition?
You can find our menu here
Who cooks the meals and melts the snow for water?
You do! This is a normal part of expedition life. We train you in how to use the stove.
What if there is an emergency and how will we communicate with the outside world?
We carry an Iridium handheld phone and an Iridium modem, we can use both to call services in Longyearbyen and post daily updates and images to our Iceblog. We also carry a tracking beacon with emergency function and a Personal Locator Beacon which can be activated in an emergency. Signals from both are received by emergency services and relayed to Longyearbyen rescue services. We are also in mobile range for much of the trip.
How long do we ski every day on the Svalbard Winter Light Expedition trip?
We ski for around 5 hours each day. We break this into hourly sessions with short breaks between and an extended lunch
Where can I find more information about Svalbard Polar Expedition?
Once you have signed onto the trip you will receive a Svalbard Trip Information Booklet which has full details of how to plan for your trip.
Feel free to submit your own questions.