Now I see what he meant. Tom Wolfe, my great friend and colleague, messaged me the moment he returned to port in 2018---”You’ve got to come next year. It’s unbelievable!”
Having skied all over North America, Europe, and Japan, Tom has a pretty good barometer on what qualifies as great skiing. I listened up and came to Svalbard this year, working with Tom aboard the 110-foot Noorderlicht sailboat during the last days of May.
Tom, like me, is an IFMGA-certified mountain guide, though he earned his pin in Canada, while I did my training in the US. He’s a blast to work with, always relaxed, and has that characteristically Canadian approach to guiding--collaboration, cooperation, fun, and safety. I love working with him.
He wasn’t joking, either. Despite being a spendy trip, the landscapes, adventure, wildlife, untracked summits, and skiing were fantastic. By week’s end, Tom and I had booked the Noorderlicht for 2020 (May 2-9!).
We had a couple low-vis days, which presents a problem on Svalbard because there are no trees and with decent snow coverage, using rocks and gullies to gain perspective was tricky, too. We made the most of it by touring for fun, sneaking in a few turns, and enjoying the boat.
The majority of the week, though, we were blessed with blue skies and unbelievable views. Topping out on peaks, we could see 40km up glaciers into the distance and behind us were huge stretches of the Greenland Sea, reflecting the sun 24 hours a day. Touring on peninsulas, we’d top out to look down into yet another fjord, with seracs tumbling from a glacier and polar bear tracks criss-crossing the sea ice.
Skiing and sailing on Svalbard delivered unparalleled experience. Yes, parts of the coast of Norway are just as beautiful, but you won’t see polar bears. Visiting the Russian coal mining village of Barentsburg was a mind-blower, too--it was like returning to a Soviet camp in the 1950s, with cinder block construction, busts of Lenin, and rugged coal miners staring at us as we walked by in ski gear and goofy colors. Unforgettable.
I’m hoping we can figure out a way to get Rebecca, Luca, and Dominic up to Longyearbyen (the “capital” on Svalbard) at the end of our May trip. I’d love for them to see the dog sled teams, seals, Arctic foxes, caribou grazing in town, and do a boat tour to one of the nearby fjords. It’s a place they should see!
Now I’m home and time to rock climb--uh oh, it’s been a while!