Svalbard / Spitsbergen, Arctic Sea, Norway
8 or 11 Day Boat-Based Ski Touring Expedition in the Remote West Coast of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard Island Group
Spitsbergen / Svalbard Ski and Sail Highlights
- Magnificent, remote mountain wilderness
- Spacious and comfortable 2 mast sailing yacht with double cabins
- Spectacular glaciated terrain
- Skiing in the midnight sun
- Amazing wildlife with photo ops
- Reliable snow conditions well into June
This is a truly exploratory ski touring expedition in the rugged mountains of Spitsbergen, the only (barely) populated Island in the Svalbard Island group of about 60 islands in the Arctic Ocean north of Norway at a Latitude of 79º. Few spots in this world are as remote and wild as Spitsbergen, not to mention all the wildlife and glaciated peaks that offer world class skiing.
We will be basing from a comfortable and spacious 2 mast sailing yacht, which enables us to sample the best ski touring spots along the west coast of Spitsbergen. Given the long days in spring, there will not be any rush as we never loose daylight and the midnight sun provides an amazing light that is unique to ski touring this far north. We strive to ski tour every day after lifting anchors in Longyearbyen. Our skiing days usually last from 5 – 9 hrs. Due to the presence of polar bears, the guides will be carrying bear deterrents and firearms during the ski touring days. All in all an amazing adventure – a trip of a lifetime!
For our guests who want to spend more time in this amazing area, we offer a 3 day pre-trip extension to do ski tours and / or a snow mobile tour based in the town of Longyearbyen, the main town of Spitsbergen. At 870 km distance to the North Pole, Longyearbyen is the northern most town in the world, has about 2000 inhabitants, several nice hotels, a small town center with bars, restaurants, shops and a great arctic history museum. Usually, we can put on our skis more or less at the hotel to explore near-by peaks and glaciers.
Day 1 (May 19): Arrival at the airport in Longyearbyen from Oslo (with SAS or Norwegian Airlines) in the early afternoon (usually one overnight required in Oslo). Transfer to our Hotel and time to check out the town including a visit to the “Polarmuseum”.
Day 2 (May 20): Ski touring day trip close to town and return to our Hotel
Day 3 (May 21): Ski touring day trip close to town or alternative a snowmobile tour to the town of Barensburg, as small Russian mining town.
Day 4 (May 22): Potentially another shorter ski touring trip from town or a visit to an ice cave (4 hrs). Arrival day for those participants who chose to participate in the boat trip only. Embarkation around 4 pm at the earliest, safety briefing, departure from pier usually around 6 pm.
Day 5 – 10 (May 23-28):
We usually only sail one hour to our first ski tour in the Isfjord; harbours like Ymerbukta or . From there, we continue to sail along the West Coast of Spitzbergen to sample the best ski touring and peak ascent the group of islands has to offer. In May and June the sun will be with us for 24 hours in Svalbard, which leaves a lot of flexibility for our departures. After each day of skiing we return from the shoreline by Zodiak motor boat back to our Yacht, where the smell of dinner will usually welcome us. We usually finish the day on deck with a glass of wine, enjoying the contrast of the sea and the magnificent mountainscape with the everlasting sun above the horizon.
Arrival back in Longyearbyen usually around 4 PM. Farewell dinner on the boat.
Day 11 (29 May):
We bid farewell to our Yacht and crew in the morning after breakfast and head back to the airport. Via Tromso we will fly to Oslo from where we can catch our international connections, which may require an overnight.
Detail and Logistics
Air Travel and Logistics
Longyearbyen on Spitsbergen is reached by scheduled daily flights from Oslo (sometimes connecting through Tromsø). The flight usually arrives in the early morning hours and depart mid day. Cost from the major European hubs range from €200-500 / person return and require an overnight stay in Oslo. Travel time from the airport to the town of Longyearbyen is only 5 km. There are about 10 hotels, several restaurants and bars, shops and a supermarket in this town of about 2500 inhabitants.
Best Season, Weather and Temperatures
Best season for “Ski and Sail” trips in Svalbard / Spitsbergen are April, May and June with May probably being the prime time. Earlier in the season, some of the fjords may still be frozen or choked with pack ice and some landing spots for ski touring may not be reachable by ship. Later in the season (commonly starting mid June) the snow at sea level has melted, requiring a bit of walking in order to get to the skiing in some locations.
The warmer North Atlantic Current influences the weather in Svalbard and keeps temperatures about 20 degrees Celsius warmer than in comparable latitudes in the continental polar regions of Canada and Russia, which keeps the open waters around Svalbard ice-free, except for the fjords which freeze during the winter.
Average temperatures in Svalbard for the month of May for the small settlement of Ny-Alesund along our sailing itinerary are highs of -1C (30F) and lows of -3C (26F). Generally, precipitation is frequent but falls in small quantities (about 400 mm annually) which means that there is a snow shower or two on most days but rarely is the weather really bad to where we can’t ski tour.
While the winter are pitch dark in Svalbard with cold temps (-13C- -20C) and often strong winds, the spring has 24 hrs daylight with pleasant, very moderate winter temperatures.
Participants need to be seasoned ski tourers, able to hold a steady uphill pace up to 1500 meters vertical rise every day. Our day packs will be relatively heavy, as we have to carry glacier equipment, lunch & beverages, group emergency gear, bear deterrents and at least one heavy rifle for the group. Participants also need to be confident skiers able to negotiate turns in challenging snow conditions and / or bad visibility without falling frequently.
Given that you will be spending a week together on a boat in the sparsely traveled waters of the arctic sea, you need to be comfortable sleeping in confined quarters under deck and sharing limited space on board with your fellow travellers. If you are easily susceptible to motion sickness, you may also be better off with one of our land based trips. If in doubt weather you have the required skills and fitness level, feel free give us a call to discuss your options!
We definitely do not recommend this trip for backcountry ski touring beginners!
Where can I find out more information about the s/v Noorderlicht?
The s/v Noorderlicht is one of the very best vessels for ski and sail trips, striking a perfect balance between spaciousness, intimacy, and a very classy design. Here’s a collection of 360-degree views of the ship (on our partner’s website) to give you a better idea of what to expect when you step on board this May. See for yourself why we are so excited to be offering another Noordlicht Ski & Sail trip this year!
Want to see deck plans?
What will the snow and weather be like?
May is the month for Svalbard Ski and Sail trips. The temperatures are mild and stable, with lows typically around -5°C and highs around +2°C. The snowpack is typically stable and skiing of the spring corn variety for the most part, although often Arctic Pow can be found on the steep norths.
“Will we get a chance to take photos of Polar Bears?” / or: “Will we be attacked by Polar Bears?”
The short answer to both questions is “No”. While it is possible we will see polar bears on this trip it is highly unlikely. Many tourists travel to Svalbard with the goal of seeing polar bears, and join trips that specifically go into the polar bear’s prime habitat — which is north into the pack ice. The goals of our trip are simple: to get the best possible skiing accessible by sail boat. This means sticking to the ice-free waters further south. As a result, I have to disappoint those of you hoping to see polar bears.
At the same time, polar bear safety is always an important consideration. There will always be at least one person in each group carrying a rifle as well as flare guns (a type of bear deterrent). Since we move from place to place and do not camp on land, there is also no chance of enticing a bear over time into our midst.
The reports we hear every couple of years about encounters with polar bears on Svalbard — the most recent being this July — are either with habituated bears close to the towns or far north with tour groups actually seeking out polar bear encounters. Unfortunately in each case the end result has been the destruction of a bear who is usually emaciated, desperate and close to death already.
References of prior guests: We will gladly put potential clients in touch with previous participants of each trip in order for interested guests to get more personalized references and their questions answered from a more objective point of view than what our office could provide.
“Jorg and Tom are true professionals. If you were on the fence about going on a trip and then found out that Jorg and/or Tom were guiding…you’d go. haha
General organization of the trip was great. I could feel Jorgs stress level decrease as we corraled everybody on the boat. Everything went as smooth as the sailing ahead of us. The itinerary was great. Every location we stopped and toured had its own special feel. I truly enjoyed every day in this region. The stop to see the walrus’ and the night in Barentsburg/midnight skiing rounded the days out into memorable side trips.
The Noorderlicht was wayyyy better than expected. The boat and the crew were a welcome site at days end. Gabrielle always had a snack/soup ready for us…beer fridge was stocked. What else could you ask for. The food was amazing…I enjoyed every meal. The only drawback to this trip is that it will now be the benchmark for all future similar excursions. I am always prepared to be a bit uncomfortable on ski/climbing trips but man, we were spoiled. One more thing to mention. Jorg barked at me for not having my skis strapped together tight…I swear they were Matty’s. hahaha
This trip was a 10 in my book. Throw in Jorg, Tom and our whole like-minded group…I could bump it to an 11. And thank you Heather and Kristine for fielding all the pre trip questions. You guys are great!” Glenn S., USA
Client / Guides
17 participants with 3 guides
- Day trips boat-based
- Peaks between 700m – 1200m asl
- Up to 1500 m climbs / descents / day
- Glaciated terrain
- Often variable snow conditions
2019 and 2020 Departures:
- 7 nights on board, 8 days with 6 prospective ski touring days:
22 – 29 May, 2019
20 – 27 May, 2020
- 3 day pre-trip extension ski tours town-based in Longyearbyen / Spitsbergen:
19 – 22 May, 2019
17 – 19 May, 2020
11 Day trip:
Please inquire for pricing for shorter trip duration (i.e. boat trip only).
7 nights yacht rental with crew, harbour fees, permit fees, UIAGM / IFMGA mountain guides, multi-course dinners and breakfast on board. Pre-trip extension: 3 additional days of town based ski touring and excursions, 3 x Hotel B&B in Longyearbyen.
Not included: Air travel, alcoholic beverages, dinners in Longyearbyen, hotel in Oslo en route