Svalbard Ski Touring

Svalbard Ski Touring: Guns, Bears, and Chocolatiers

Beautiful ski run Svalbard.jpg

Svalbard, perhaps the ultimate in adventure-skiing in an exotic location. You start/finish in Longyearbyen, the world’s northernmost permanent settlement. Who knew? Must be pretty happening, too: TripAdvisor indeed has restaurant and hotel reviews of the local establishments in Longyear, including a chocolatier (375 reviews, sounds good, I’ll report back). One little detail I hadn’t considered, though, when my friend and colleague, Tom Wolfe (, and I put together a trip there was the gun requirement.

Guns, you say? Well, with one of the densest populations of polar bears on the planet, the Svalbard archipelago requires a bit different strategy for ski-touring than, say, Rogers Pass. Those friendly Canadian brown bears tend to bed down for the winter, while on Svalbard, the polar bears have zero innate fear of humans and love to come have a look. By law, ski guides have to carry bear guns … just in case.

Damn, last thing in the world I want to do is have to shoot a bear, let alone tour with a gun. A German boat captain had to kill a bear last summer, when a tourist strayed into trouble while on the shore. Heartbreaker.


Not being a hunter and having shot a .270 fewer than ten times in my life … a larger caliber rifle sounded like a bad idea. OK then, how about a 12-gauge shotgun with slugs? At least I’ve (unsuccessfully) hunted with a shotgun a few times. I mentioned by thinking to a buddy of mine who used to be a sniper in the Marine Corps’s special forces unit. He offered to give me some pointers, more as an insurance policy I don’t blast my own foot, I think. I’m taking him up on the offer.

A tree-hugging mountain guide, an ex-Marine, and firearms. Sounds like a bad joke.

Tom and I don’t plan to have any near misses, ursine or otherwise, so we’ll play it safe. We’re over there May 22-28, 2019, and will be returning in 2020, with a stop in the Lyngen Alps, too! Joking aside, the skiing looks fantastic, the wildlife wonderful (from a distance!), and our boat—the Noorderlicht—will be awesome. Can’t wait!