Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Svalbard Sail/Ski 2014

Today, I repair the core shot from the only rock I hit in Svalbard, Norway during the last week of May. I was lucky enough to accompany 5 good friends and clients to Svalbard, Norway on the Aliega, a 65 foot sailboat based in Svalbard, Norway.

The beautiful Aleiga in Krossfjorden, PC: Ron Kase

Svalbard is an island outpost east of Greenland, north of the Arctic Circle. Svalbard had no permanent residents until the turn of the century when coal mining was discovered by an American, John Longyear, who founded the Arctic Coal Company in 1906. Coal mining continues to this day to be the biggest industry in Svalbard. Tourism and scientific research have begun to expand the local economies and, of course, skiers have followed suit. 

Svalbard, at 79 degrees North, offers vast ski terrain with cold powder snow late into the Spring. Access is a bit of an issue—the mountains north of Longyearbyen hold the best snow—so snow-machines or sailboats prove useful to get you skinning and booting in the mountains.
This May, I teamed up with American-Norwegian guide Seth Hobby of Northern Alpine Guides who had found a Swede named Niklas Gerhardsson, owner of Spitsbergen Sailing and Captain of Aleiga a 65’ sailboat based out of Longyearbyen. The largest settlement in Svalbard, Longyearbyen claims to be the northernmost permanent settlement in the world.

Longyearbyen, the northernmost permanent settlement in the world, PC: Doug Workman

On May 19, Niklas, Seth, myself, and five friends from New York, California, Telluride, and Milano met in Lonyearbyen to embark on a week long sail/ski expedition along the north-west coast of Spitsbergen—the largest island making up the territory of Svalbard. With a forecast for a coming storm, we opted to blast through the night for 16 hours of motoring to make it to the protected fjord of Krossfjorden where friends had told us of 2000’ couloirs skiing into the sea.

 Another seldom scene couloir on Spitsbergen, PC: Ron Kase

The Aleiga, at home in the ice of Spitsbergen, PC: Seth Hobby

Doug, Simone, and Erlend taking it all in. PC: Seth Hobby

 Enjoying a fresh coat in Mollerfjorden, PC: Seth Hobby

The storm arrived as forecasted, but not before Niklas had sailed us to the safety of Mollerfjorden. Thirty centimeters of fresh snow fell in the first two days giving the northern mountains a fresh coat of Spring powder. For the first 4 days of the trips we skied couloirs and faces in prime Spring conditions. We skied faces in Mollerfjorden, and couloirs in Lilliehookfjorden. There were some ski runs that others have probably skied before us. And there were others that probably had never seen a descent. All of the runs we skied, however, were new to us and will be remembered for the blessed conditions we got to ski them in.

Lance McDonald, of University Peak fame, punching up another coolie. PC: Doug Workman

Topping out on another powder filled couloir, PC: Doug Workman

 Atop an unnamed summit in Spitsbergen, PC: Ron Kase

 No shortage of terrain in Spitsbergen, PC: Ron Kase

We saw Polar Bear tracks to make us thankful for the 30-30 Winchester we had to carry while ski touring. We saw Arctic Fox, Minke Whales, Fin Whales, Walruses, Harp Seals, Harbor Seals, and birds including Eider, Skua, and Puffins.

Polar Bear tracks validating the heavy Marlin 30-30 Win
 we lugged around on our tours, PC: Ron Kase

After several days in the Krossfjorden area we began to return south towards Longyearbyen where the snow was not as deep but we found steep corn skiing in prime conditions in St. Jonsfjorden and Trygghamna.

We were all so lucky to get the opportunity to visit this incredible landscape. I will definitely be going back.

The requisite Arctic Plunge at 79 degrees North. PC: John Delmonte

The crew enjoying life aboard the Aleiga. PC: Doug Workman

A special thanks to Captain Niklas. Be sure to look him up next time you find yourself at 79 degreed North.


Captain Niklas Gerhardsson

 Seth Hobby, Mountain Guide

Doug Workman, Mountain Guide

 Erlend Bo, all smiles, requisite Norwegian skier and adventurer

The Usual Suspect, John Delmonte PC: Doug Workman

The Milano Maffioso, Simone Blei

 Lance "The Shaman" McDonald. PC: Doug Workman

Ron "Caribou" Kase, PC: John Delmonte

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