Unforgettable

Antarctica Ski & Sail

Yacht-based ski adventure to the
wildest place on earth

Now booking 2022

We are partnering with Ski Antarctica to provide an unforgettable trip of a lifetime to Antarctica by sailboat.

Our trip takes place late in the Austral Spring, which means abundant around the clock light. The skiing, sea kayaking and photography opportunities are unparalleled.

Skiing in Antarctica is spectacular and immensely rewarding. There is something for everyone, from gentle slopes to steep faces, from established classics to first descents. You can undertake day-trips from the comfort of the yacht, or embark on a multi-day tent-based adventure.

This is a high-end trip using the Icebird, a 60’6″ single-masted yacht, around the Antarctic peninsula. We favour the use of comfortable expedition yachts since they provide the flexibility to tailor a trip according to a group’s desires and abilities, and ensures that we have the mountains to ourselves. They also enable us to reach places that are not accessible to larger vessels, and to go where we want, when we want and for as long as we want.

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Q&A: Phil Wickens, Director of Ski-Antarctica

This interview might answer a few questions you may have about our trip. Phil will be the expedition leader. Tom and Phil have worked together on a number of Arctic trips in Svalbard; this will be their first time working together in the Antarctic.

Q: Where are you based out of?
Phil: Although I live on the edge of the Peak District National Park in England, our trips start from either Ushuaia for Antarctica, or Stanley in the Falkland Islands for South Georgia.

Q: What can guests expect?
Phil: Our guests can expect to have an adventure of a lifetime, and the unique experience of being part of an expedition team that sails and skis in one of the most spectacular places on earth.

Q: What are the tours like?
Phil: Every member is an active member of the expedition team. Our focus is on adventure and safety, under the guidance of the most experienced team of sailors and skiers operating in Antarctica who enjoy sharing their love for Antarctica and the experience of traveling there with like-minded adventurers. Our tours are challenging, but immensely rewarding. The skiing that we do is in a very spectacular setting, and on all types of snow, from deep fresh snow to spring corn. Most people find the level of glaciation quite overwhelming since it is like no-where else on earth; virtually the whole coastline comprises ice cliffs, and almost every inch is covered by glacier. That is where our experience and knowledge comes in. We encourage guests to camp ashore at least once since that gives a very different perspective to Antarctica, and to truly experience its vastness and silence. We also encourage guests to use our sea kayaks. It is a great option when the clouds are low, and a great way to experience the wildlife and icebergs.

Q: How did you get into this? What’s your background?
Phil: After completing my PhD in biology, during which I had organised and led numerous climbing and skiing expeditions to remote mountains around the world, I worked for the British Antarctic Survey as a field guide and safety officer in Antarctica for 3 years, including two full winters. I dreamt of returning by yacht to ski and climb with friends, and we did just that, doing it on a shoestring budget and without any creature comforts. The seeds were sown…during that expedition I met the owners of Icebird and Spirit of Sydney, and realized that together we could organise expeditions to Antarctica with much more comfort. Our first expeditions, for the Alpine Club, the Eagle Ski Club and for a descendent of Roald Amundsen, proved to be so successful and rewarding that we decided to offer the same experience to skiers and climbers who have the same love of adventure.

Q: What was the inspiration for Antarctica, South Georgia, and the use of a yacht?
Phil: Antarctica and South Georgia are, quite simply, two of the most incredible places on earth. The landscape is spectacular, the wildlife is in your face, and the history of exploration of these areas really brings them to life. Travelling by yacht and in small groups gives the freedom and flexibility that is impossible otherwise, and allows us to tailor our trips according to the aspirations and abilities of the guests. Using yachts also makes it a much bigger and more rewarding adventure, and closer to the original spirit of adventure of the pioneers of Antarctic exploration. Since everyone is involved with the sailing and running of the yacht we become a close-knit team, and everyone comes away with a fantastic sense of achievement.

Q: Do people love it or find it challenging?
Phil: Both. Everyone will be challenged at some point and this makes the experience richer all the more rewarding. Many people who join us have no previous sailing experience and so learning new skills and heading out into the Southern Ocean is obviously a big challenge, but it is something that most people are more than capable of doing. Others will find skinning uphill a challenge, particularly if we are heading out with tents, but the rewards make it well worth it. Challenge is a good thing, and means that everyone comes away with an enormous sense of achievement. Everyone falls in love with Antarctica, but it is difficult to say why. That is why I keep going back, and that is why so many of our guests keep coming back.

Q: Where are the majority of your guests from?
Phil: Our groups are very mixed, with guests from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, Turkey, South Africa, Italy, Switzerland, Norway…

Q: What has been the best adventure?
Phil: That is a very hard question to answer indeed! There has been no single best adventure, more a collection of amazing experiences, and we have those on every single trip. I know that all sounds a bit corny, but because I always have something new up my sleeve, of exploring somewhere that others have never visited, it is hard to put any one adventure above the rest. I loved being the first to explore and ski the mountains around Cierva Cove, of summiting the virgin summits that overlook the Lemaire Channel, and of pioneering a route to reach the untouched mountains of the Kiev Peninsula, and what really made each of these trips so great was the fantastic teams that I took with me. The best adventure is that of traveling back to Antarctica, gradually exploring new areas and skiing new mountains, and sharing the place and the experience that I love with others.

For the complete interview see this 2014 article!

Antarctica on the Icebird Photo Album

Photos courtesy of Phil Wickens (Antarctica Expedition Leader) used by permission.

Skiing in Antarctica

Antarctica Ski Photos

The Icebird Yacht

Antarctica Icebird Photos

DAY 1: EXPEDITION PREPARATION – DAYS 1 TO 2

Day 1: Arrive in Ushuaia. Meet team and spend night in cabana/hotel.
Day 2: Day in Ushuaia. Prepare equipment and practice glacier crossing and crevasse rescue skills.

DAY 3: SAILING THE DRAKE – DAYS 3 TO 5

Come aboard, meet the crew, stow your gear and take in the briefings before we set off to sail down the spectacular mountain lined Beagle Channel in relatively calm water. Your Captain and crew will have been carefully watching the weather for a few days prior, so we may either visit an anchorage to wait…. or we may head out into the Drake Passage to commence our 560nm ocean passage, where landfall will be the snow, rock and ice of the Antarctic Peninsula. We are sailing the “furious fifties” with landfall in the “screaming sixties”, but thankfully modern weather systems aboard Icebird enable us to negotiate the deep lows the Drake Passage is legendary for. Often we are able to choose weather windows that provide a safe, comfortable and fast passage across and you’ll find that with the routine of watches at sea, the time passes quickly.

Icebird is a tough purpose built aluminium high latitude expedition yacht with creature comforts like central heating and a climate controlled pilot house that allows you to take in the 360 degree views while insulated from environmental extremes. Her powerful Aerorig, a freestanding rotating carbon rig, facilitates fast, simple and exhilarating sailing, an exhilaration matched by the soaring flight of the albatrosses as they lift off the wave tops and soar above the yacht. As we arrive at the Antarctic Convergence, our albatross companions leave us. There’s a definite chill in the air, and excitement mounts as we start to look for our first iceberg.

DAY 6: LANDFALL IN ANTARCTICA

High jagged peaks, overhanging seracs, huge glaciers dropping newly formed icebergs into the ocean…… and everywhere life abounds in this icy paradise. Perhaps your first impressions of Antarctica will make you feel that you have entered an alternative reality! …and that impression will be amplified as we sail into a volcano! As we enter Port Foster on Deception Island through the narrow Neptune’s Bellows, the sunken caldera opens before us and we sight the remnants of what was once a bustling whaling industry at the turn of last century, with fleets of whale catchers and factory ships anchored in the harbour and more than a few interesting anecdotes and shenanigans to relate!

DAY 7: TIME TO SKI !

We land on the black volcanic sand beach where steam rises eerily and habituated penguins enjoy a warm bath! Skinning up the snow slopes rewards us with stunning views of the sea cliffs and “Sewing Machine Needles” rock formations…..and the incredible sight (and smell!) of penguins as far as the eye can see. Deception Island is home to half a million chinstrap penguins.

DAY 8: TWO HUMMOCK ISLAND

We make an early start in the Antarctic dawn, threading our way back through Neptune’s Bellows and out into the Bransfield Strait. We head south for Two Hummock Island, sailing through iceberg littered waters and dodging humpback whales. On arrival we tuck into a tiny cove surrounded by towering ice cliffs and tie the yacht securely in to rocks on shore.

DAY 9: PORTAL POINT

A morning of spectacular skiing up both summits with views over to the jagged mountain range of the peninsula. In the afternoon we pick up our lines and make the short sail over to Portal Point on the mainland, where we lift the keel to make our way into a shallow anchorage and tie in securely for the night.

DAY 10: SKI THE SEVENTH CONTINENT

Today you Ski the Seventh Continent with an ascent of Igloo Hill and a fast ski back to the yacht. Perhaps an afternoon kayak among grounded icebergs, seals and penguins.

DAY 11: WILHELMINA BAY

We sail south through Wilhelmina Bay, dodging humpbacks, and make a ski ascent of Spigot Peak, a dramatic rock spire, flanked by a snow slope behind. The exertion is rewarded by unbelievable views ranging from the interior mountain chain of the Antarctic Peninsula, across the Gerlache Strait to Brabant and Anvers Islands. Evening finds us tucked into another shallow anchorage on Cuverville Island which is home to a frenetically busy gentoo penguin colony.

DAY 12: PARADISE HARBOUR

Today we sail to Paradise…Harbour! – a spectacular cruise down Errera Channel which you may paddle if you wish, then across the head of Andvoord Bay into the eastern arm of Paradise Harbour. Again the keen paddlers are invited to take to their boats and paddle through this beautiful waterway which often affords close encounters with humpbacks, seals and penguins…even orcas sometimes! It’s a favourite spot for pods of orcas to hunt the crabeater seals lazing on floating sea ice.

We tuck into tiny Skonthorpe Cove for the night, a small amphitheatre in the ice cliffs and a favourite of the old Norwegian whalers who frequented these waters 100 years ago. The sense of tranquillity and overpowering majesty of the towering peaks is often broken by the roar of avalanches or cracking and crashing of ice falls as Avalanche Glacier continues its inexorable advance into the sea. As we go exploring in the zodiac or kayaks, it’s wise to be prepared for waves generated by the massive chunks of ice falling into the sea. Interestingly, the towering ice cliffs are actually floating on the sea as an ice shelf.

DAY 13: MT BANCK

Today’s objective is Mt Banck. As we skin up the 970m mountain we negotiate our way between deep crevasses and get a chance to peer into their mysterious neon blue depths. From the summit it’s a fast ski back to the waiting yacht, visible as a few pixels far below.

DAY 14: BRUCE ISLAND

An early morning start and we head to Bruce Island for a 3 hour 400m ski ascent with the reward being a fabulous ski back to the zodiac.

DAY 15: BASE CAMP ICEBIRD

We take a brisk sail across the Gerlache Strait to enter the Neumayer Channel and as we make our way down this narrow cut between Wiencke Island and Anvers Island we’re likely to see orcas who often range through this beat. Tonight we tie ourselves into the ‘Ice Marina’, the vestiges of winter sea ice which fill Port Lockroy at this time of the year. Using ice screws and other anchors we tie the yacht securely alongside the ice and enjoy some true ski in ski out yachting from ‘Base Camp Icebird’.

DAY 16: JABET PEAK

We drop our skis straight off the yacht onto the sea ice and skin over to the tide crack from where we ascend onto Harbour Glacier and traverse across to the base of Jabet Peak. A three hour climb rewards us with spectacular views, Thunder Glacier to the north with the Fife Brothers range towering above, and across the Neumayer Strait snowy Mt Francais, the highest peak on the peninsula at 2760m, rises majestically above all else. A fast ski down to traverse the glacier once again, and back home to Icebird.

DAY 17: PORT LOCKROY BASE

A morning visit to historic Port Lockroy Base better known as the Penguin Post Office where the United Kingdom Heritage Trust has carefully preserved the historic base dating from 1944. Port Lockroy was pivotal to the early days of exploration and of fascinating Operation Tabarin, a secret wartime initiative to counter Nazi intelligence. The carefully preserved artefacts, even tins of food and antiquated risqué paintings of 1940’s temptresses, contribute to an acute sense of time warp. For the afternoon – a quick ski over to Dorian Bay and a visit to another historic hut which was used as a refuge for ski plane operations to Port Lockroy in the 1970’s.

DAY 18: MINARET PEAK – DAY 18 & 19

We untie from the Ice Marina and as we steam towards Canty Point on Anvers Island the team prepares for a 3 day ski tour to Minaret Peak. This is your chance to experience Antarctic snow camping and the near 24 hour daylight with spectacular sunsets that merge into sunrises and keep the mountains glowing pink for hours.

DAY 20: LEMAIRE CHANNEL

After three days in the mountains, the ski team breathes a sigh of relief as Icebird appears amongst the icebergs and the smell of fresh baked bread and delicious food wafts across to those waiting for pick up on the beach! After a hearty meal, back aboard base camp Icebird, a brisk sail across the Gerlache Channel takes us to Cape Reynard and the entrance to the famed Lemaire Channel where the dark waters of its narrow channel are overhung by precarious seracs and snow cornices that make us hesitant to sail too near the rocky cliffs.

DAY 21: PETERMANN ISLAND

A day to explore Petermann Island and the resident Adélie and gentoo penguin colonies. Perhaps a circumnavigation by kayak.

DAY 22: ASCENT OF MT SCOTT

We make an early start, land our gear and crampon up the initial ice slope to easier snow slopes. If conditions are right this is a 4-5 hour climb, and from the summit the yacht and climbers can see each other! Those who prefer sea kayaking can explore nearby Pleneau Bay often known as The Iceberg Graveyard where currents and shallow water combine to trap and break up the ice monoliths. It makes for interesting sea kayaking, when the spectacle of hundreds of tons of ice grinding on the sea floor is likely to explode into fragments. So it’s wise to observe the rules relating to iceberg approach!

DAY 23: VERNADSKY

Ice conditions permitting we head south down the Penola Straits, which were named by Australian John Rymill of the winemaking family when he led the British Graham Land Expedition in 1932. A fascinating story of success and competence, and perhaps ‘The Expedition’ which marked the post heroic age of polar exploration. We thread our way into the rocky maze of the Argentine Islands, home of the ex-British base ‘Faraday’, now Ukrainian “Vernadsky” where the original instrument used to establish the existence of the ozone layer hole is proudly kept, and atmosphere research continues to this day. Often we are invited to join the scientists for an evening of merriment. For the afternoon, nearby ice cliffs provide an excellent opportunity to try out an ice climb with technical ice axes and top ropes. The kayaks are also deployed to explore the maze of islands and grounded icebergs.

We tie ourselves into a tiny rock-pool at Port Circumcision on Petermann Island where the French explorer Charcot spent a winter on the ‘Porquoi Pas’ in 1909. From our anchorage we can study Mt Scott directly across the Penola Straits, although much of its ascent route is hidden from view.

DAY 24: WORDIE HOUSE

We take a morning visit to Wordie House, a well preserved historic hut harking from the days of the British Graham Land Expedition, and we spend the afternoon preparing the yacht for sea.

DAY 25: CAPE HORN – DAY 25 TO 29

We head out through French Passage into the Drake and set our course and sails for Cape Horn 600nm to the north. As we cross the Convergence the air temperature warms, layers come off and a turn on deck to watch the albatrosses is very inviting.

Cape Horn and Land ho! As we round the Horn the obligatory bottle of whiskey comes out…. a toast to King Neptune and the rest for the crew! Perhaps we’ll land and visit the monument which evokes the souls of lost sailors, with its interesting sculpture that sings hauntingly in the wind.

As we sail through the Cape Horn Archipelago and into the Beagle Channel, the verdant green magic of Patagonia with its lush Antarctic beech forests, sun dappled mountains and cascades will delight senses accustomed to sea ice and snow.

DAY 30: USHUAIA

A return to relative civilisation, but Ushuaia’s claim to ‘el Fin del Mundo’ will leave you sceptical, as like most people who travel to Antarctica, you will be forever haunted by the landscapes and thriving inhabitants of ‘that other world’…….that lies to the south, bound by ice but rich in life.

Notes:

The proposed itinerary is given for indication only; the actual itinerary will vary depending on weather, sea ice and snow conditions.

This itinerary proposes single-day tours only. 

Multi-day ascents are possible for groups who would like establish a high camp on a glacier (see below).

MULTI-DAY ASCENTS

Multi-day ascents are possible for groups who would like establish a high camp on a glacier and ascend peaks from this high camp. This involves hauling camping equipment in sleds to the proposed camp location. For the extra effort, I feel that the benefits make this extremely worthwile:

–        Access to higher peaks, and often much better snow

–        Access to less frequented or even unclimbed peaks

–        Away from the coast you get a true Antarctic feel

–        The experience of space, silence and timelessness

Many people are naturally reluctant to camp in Antarctica. The most common feedback I receive is that people wished they had camped more!

Tour No. of days Notes
Mt Francais 5 The highest peak and incredible ski descent – a demanding trip so fitness is essential
Mt Parry 4 The 2nd highest peak – fitness is essential
Cierva Cove (northern Peaks) 3 5 lovely ski peaks up to 1300m
Cierva Cove (southern Peaks) 4 5 beautiful summits up to 1700m
Andvord Peaks 3 8 smaller ski peaks up to 1000m
Mt Rennie 4 A number of worthwhile summits overlooked by the mighty Mt Francais

The Icebird is owned and captained by Cath Hew. Cath combined her passion for ocean sailing and Antarctica when she purchased the yacht ‘Spirit of Sydney’ in 2003 and realised her dream of providing expedition support in one of the most beautiful and interesting places on earth. Cath grew up racing dinghies and then built her own yachts. Between 1993 and 1997 she sailed around the world and competed in many major ocean races in Australia, including the famous 1998 Sydney-Hobart Race. After visiting the Antarctic Peninsula by ship in 2000 she knew she had to return by yacht in order to travel freely and to explore its more interesting and less explored areas. There is nothing she likes more than to share this with other like minded and interesting people. During her first sailing trip to the Antarctic Peninsula in 2003-04 trips Cath was joined by an experienced ice skipper; she then took up the reins as skipper and they sailed double-handed across the Drake Passage to make their rendezvous, on time, at King George Island with the Steve Irwin and his film crew to complete a very successful season. These days, after 12 seasons and many varied and exciting trips, Cath revels in helping people to realise their dream of exploring Antarctica safely, and loves to see her guests return to Ushuaia with wonderful memories of Antarctica and of the excellent food and wine provided on Icebird.

The Expedition Leader is Phil Wickens. Having made almost thirty first ascents and ski descents of previously unclimbed Antarctic mountains, over 650 days of skiing in Antarctica, and ten seasons of sailing yachts to Antarctica, Phil is keen to share his love of Antarctic skiing, sailing and the wildlife with other like-minded individuals. For Phil, Antarctica is the most stunning place on earth, and somewhere that all serious skiers should dream of making tracks. Phil studied biology at Imperial College in London, England. After completing his PhD in plant pathology, he worked for two winters and three summers as a field guide for the British Antarctic Survey, combining his passion for natural science with that of mountain exploration and photography. He has led numerous climbing and skiing expeditions to Antarctica, Tibet, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Peru, East Greenland, the Caucasus and Canada, and was Vice President of the Alpine Club in 2006-7. Phil works as a freelance photographer, polar guide, expedition leader, naturalist and lecturer in expeditions, polar geology and history. He also runs the our glacier training sessions.When not working or playing in far-flung places he lives in England on the edge of Peak District National Park. Phil is on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.

The expedition mountain guide is Sawback’s Tom Wolfe (UIAGM/IFMGA). Tom met Phil in the Arctic, doing ski and sail trips around Svalbard.

Icebird Technical Specifications

Length: 18.43 metres / 60’6”
Breadth: 5.1 metres / 16’6”
Draught: 1.9 metres to 3,4 metres
Speed: 14 knots
Cruise speed: 9 knots
Passengers: 9 berths in 4 cabins, 2 bathrooms
Zodiac & RIBs: 3.7m rigid hull inflatable
Electrical Outlets: 240V and 110V
Classification: Small Commercial Vessel CAT-0
Bow Thrust: Yes
Ship Region: Antarctica

Our Antarctica Trip is in a different category than any of our other trips. Snow conditions and trip length will vary greatly. There may be days when we don’t ski at all, but spend the day exploring the ice-fringes shores of the Antarctic Peninsula by foot or by sea kayak. Other days will be spent sailing from one venue to another. When conditions are right we’ll put the hammer down and try to get a big day in, but normally as a group taking into considerations the abilities of our team as a whole.

There will be Relaxed Pace days and Classic Paced days. We’ll try to accommodate everyone as much as possible, but recognize that sometimes you might have to push or hold back at times.

Our Trip Ratings Page outlines more specifically how we rate our trips.

DATES: Nov 16 to Dec 16, 2021

COST: $26,900 USD per person ($33,500 CAD / €22100 / £19650)

DIFFICULTY: Classic Pace

GUESTS: 7 total

SAILING VESSEL: Icebird (see description for specifications)

INCLUDED: Land-based pre-sail: 3 additional days of town based ski touring and excursions ( 29 days Ski & Sail: includes crew, harbour fees, permit fees, UIAGM / IFMGA mountain guide, group gear, multi-course dinners, breakfast on board as well as lunch supplies.

NOT INCLUDED: Transportation to/from South America, accommodation and food in Ushuaia, personal equipment, gratuities.

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