Svalbard Ski & Sail
Explore the Fjords off the west coast of Spitzbergen from the s/v Noorderlicht
Backcountry ski touring and sailing expedition along the west coast of Spitsbergen, 1000 km from Norway and 1200 km from the North Pole. The Svalbard archipelago of over 60 mostly unpopulated islands is a wild and remote place, and at a latitude of greater than 79º it is level with Canada’s Ellesmere Island, or the northernmost end of Greenland. Our 2020 Ski and Sail expedition in Svalbard is a journey into one of the most unique and surreal ski touring destinations in the world with its juxtaposition of sea, mountain, and arctic environment. Yet, it is surprisingly easy to access, with three-times daily airline flights into the modern airport at Longyearbyen.
The west coast of Spitsbergen is protected by a long, thin island called Prins Karls Vorland, which protects an inner channel and allows straightforward sea access to dozens of fjords. The fjords harbour countless peaks rising 500 to 1000 m out of the sea, and offer outstanding ski touring opportunities. It is a land perfectly designed for skiing. Gaining access to these beautiful glaciated peaks is only possible by boat, as helicopter skiing is strictly forbidden in Svalbard. And a good thing, too: a sailing yacht is really the best way to visit this country, a tradition that has existed since whaling boats first made use of the area over 200 years ago. The s/v Noorderlicht, which we have chartered again this year, is also the best boat around for the job. At almost 50 m (150 ft) long it’s comfortable and stable and provides exceptional luxury with the classy lines of a gaff-rigged schooner.
Backcountry skiing – from a Sailboat!
Our Ski and Sail trips use a comfortable and spacious double-masted gaff-rigged sailing yacht, the s/v Noorderlicht (Dutch for “Northern Lights”). Our captain is Floris de Waard, who is also the owner and a wonderful and hard working host. Travel by boat enables us to sample the best ski touring and ski mountaineering spots along the west coast of Spitzbergen, Svalbard’s largest island. Given the long days in spring, there will not be any rush: around the clock the midnight sun provides an amazing soft light that is unique to ski touring this far north. Our goal is to ski tour every day after lifting anchors in Longyearbyen. Skiing days 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!
Longyear City – Ski out of your hotel
For our guests who want to spend more time in this amazing area we offer an optional 3-day pre-sail trip extension to do backcountry ski tours and / or a snowmobile tour based in Svalbard’s main town, Longyearbyen.
Longyearbyen, with a population of about 2000, is the northernmost town in the world and is the staging point for our trip with its airport and harbour. Despite its remote location, Longyearbyen offers exceptional amenities. It has a quaint town center with bars, restaurants, shops and two arctic history museums. We will stay at the Basecamp Svalbard hotel – a unique hotel with a remarkable ambience that warrants a visit to Svalbard in its own right. At this latitude, even in May, we can usually count on being able to put our skis on right at the hotel at sea level and tour up into the mountains above town.
Trip reports, Photos and an Online Topo Map!
To get a better idea of what to expect from our Svalbard Ski and Sail 2020 ski trip, please check out my Svalbard photo album and my Ski Touring in Svalbard blog post about our 2018 Ski & Sail adventure. A great resource is this topo map of Svalbard made available by the Norwegian Polar Institute. Finally, our 360° Virtual Tour is a great way to get a feel for what to expect when you step on board the s/v Noorderlicht.
Staff / Crew
Tom has been guiding since moving to Canmore in 1995, the place he calls home with wife, son and daughter. He guides year around, with winters being a mix of ski guiding at lodges, heli-ski operations, and remote backcountry destinations throughout western Canada. Tom is the owner of Sawback Alpine Adventures. He speaks English, German, and enough French and Spanish to get by. Tom will be on both NO20-1 and NO20-2 trips.
Larry has worked as a guide since 1986 and in the avalanche industry since 1981. He still loves the work and sharing the mountains with guests. Larry’s favorite trips are exploring new places with enjoyable people. South Georgia Island, Svalbard, Greenland, Kashmir, Namibia and Japan are on the list for the next couple of years. Larry will be joining us on the NO20-1 trip.
Joining us for our NO20-1 trip, Rob spent his 20s racing bicycles but eventually settled down to become the 98th American mountain guide. Rob speaks English, French and Italian and is also a freelance writer and the author of Holy Spokes: a Biking Bible for Everyone and The Mountain Guide Manual. Rob is the owner of Vetta Mountain Guides and lives in Boulder with his wife and their identical twin boys. Rob will join us for the NO20-1 trip.
Chris left a comfy university position for the vagaries of guiding a number of years ago. Research expeditions, tour guide engagements or private adventures have lured him to the Arctic and Antarctic at least for some time of each year ever since 1985. His engagements with Oceanwide Expeditions date back to 2003. He holds degrees in Geography, Geology and Cultural Anthropology. Research engagements for a Master’s degree investigated the impacts of industrial development on permafrost dynamics. His Ph.D. and later research emphasis, however, focused on Recreation Ecology of Polar Ecosystems – investigations on the environmental consequences of recreational activities at both ends of our planet. He will join us for both NO20-1 and NO20-2 expeditions.
DATES: NO21-1: May 1-8, 2021. Optional pre-sail ski touring: April 29-May 1, 2021. 2 SPOTS AVAILABLE.
May 8-15, 2021. Optional pre-sail ski touring: May 5-8, 2020. SOLD OUT!
PRICE: $7,995 CAD/person (Currently $6,014 USD / €5,437 / £4,766). Optional pre-sail ski touring included in this price; contact us for details on special pricing for trips without this component.
PAYMENT SCHEDULE: 30% payment secures your booking; 60% due September 1, 2020; balance (full payment) due February 1, 2021
INCLUDED: Pre-sail – 3 additional days of town based ski touring and excursions, 3 x Hotel B&B in Longyearbyen. Ski & Sail – 7 nights two mast sailboat rental with crew, harbour fees, permit fees, UIAGM / IFMGA mountain guides, multi-course dinners, breakfast on board as well as lunch supplies.
NOT INCLUDED: Air travel, alcoholic beverages, dinners in Longyearbyen, hotel in Oslo en route
- NO21-1 starts April 28, 2021 which is the day before our first pre-sail ski touring. You can arrive in Longyearbyen as late as early afternoon on April 25 as the boat departs around 17:00 PM on that day.
- NO21-2 starts May 5, 2021 which is the day before our first pre-sail ski touring. You can arrive in Longyearbyen as late as early afternoon on May 2 as the boat departs around 17:00 PM on that day.
Day 1 NO21-1: April 28, 2021; NO20-2: May 5, 2021): 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: Ski touring day trip close to town and return to our Hotel
Day 3: Ski touring day trip close to town or alternative a snowmobile tour to the town of Barensburg, as small Russian mining town.
Day 4 NO21-1: May 1, 2021; NO21-2: May 8, 2021): 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:
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: NO21-1: May 8, 2020; NO21-2: May 15, 2021)
We bid farewell to our Yacht and crew in the morning after breakfast and head back to the airport. We will fly to Oslo (Via Tromsø for a brief stopover if you fly with SAS; direct with Norwegian) from where we can catch our international connections, which may require an overnight.
Svalbard Ski and Sail Logistics
This year’s Svalbard Ski and Sail trip starts in Longyearbyen on Svalbard. There are at least 3 flights daily to Longyearbyen from Oslo, Norway.
If you choose to only participate in the boat portion of this trip, you must arrive in Longyearbyen at the latest on Day 4 (see Itinerary tab). We will be boarding the boat at around 4:00 pm.
There is an optional 3 days of ski touring offered (see above Itinerary tab for dates). If you arrive in Longyearbyen on Day 1 then you can participate in all three pre-sail ski tours, but you can also arrive later than that if you like. Please advise us of your intentions so we can make hotel bookings and other arrangements.
When you book your return flight, the best option is to fly with a morning or mid-day flight from Longyearbyen on Day 11 (see Itinerary tab)
Booking your flights & Oslo hotel
There’s no fast way to get to Svalbard. That said, I do have some hard won advice.
Finding a good deal on a good flight itinerary to Longyearbyen takes a bit of work. Book well in advance of your trip. Be careful of using the discount sites as additional luggage fees — charged for each leg of your trip potentially — can be pretty hefty. You will need two 20-kg bags so factor that into your planning.
Look for and spend a bit of extra money if necessary to get flights with shorter (<4 hr) stopovers and as few connections as possible.
I recommend you use one of the big airlines like KLM, Lufthansa, United or Air Canada all the way to Oslo, aiming to arrive in Oslo in the early afternoon.
Then overnight in Oslo and catch the next morning’s flight to Longyearbyen with SAS or Norwegian airlines.
In Oslo, the Radisson Blu Airport Hotel Hotel is a quick walk from the airport and very comfortable. The airport Best Western is a bit cheaper and has a great breakfast buffet but requires a $10 each way shuttle as it’s 3 km from the airport.
If you arrive a few days early, Oslo is a great world class city to visit.
On the way back, book a flight on the morning of Day 11 (see Itinerary tab for dates) to Oslo. If you are heading to a European city as your final destination you should be able to continue on same day. If you are heading across the Atlantic, plan to stay in Oslo again that night and catch an early flight back home, again with one of the big airlines.
Eating in Oslo and Svalbard
“Cheap” pizza at airport arrivals level, Peppes Pizza, grab it before you leave! Large pizza about 300 NOK ($42 CAD)
A few web resources
Svalbard Topo Map – Check out the amazing archipelago of Svalbard with this excellent online topo map. See the terrain that makes our Svalbard Ski and Sail so incredible.
Polarmuseum website – Everyone who visits Longyearbyen has to check this place out. The North Pole museum is old and run down and not very good but still probably worth a visit.
Photo album from our May 2018 trip – A collection of my best photos from this year’s trip
Blog post from our 2018 trip – A little blog post I wrote about the trip.
Norwegian Airlines – Norway’s “budget” airline that somehow also manages to offer world class service and free WiFi internet!
SAS Airlines – Scandinavian codeshares with United, Air Canada, Lufthansa, etc. for seamless itineraries.
Iceland Air – offers “free” stopovers in Iceland with flights between North America and Europe, as well as a slightly different time schedule that might work better for you than United / AC / Lufthansa connections.
You need to bring all of the following personal equipment. Please don’t bring extra equipment. If you have any questions at all about gear please do not hesitate to contact us.
Ski crampons are a must for spring ski touring on Svalbard. If you have any difficulty obtaining these please let me know. We have some spares and can likely set you up with a pair. If you have telemark bindings, G3 crampons have an attachment system that works well for most tele bindings.
- Wool or synthetic socks and liner socks
- Long underwear top – synthetic or wool
- Light fleece or wool sweater
- Wind shell – nylon or ‘Schoeller’ type jacket
- Waterproof breathable jacket
- Warm insulated jacket – down or synthetic
- Long underwear bottoms – synthetic or wool
- Multipurpose stretch nylon or ‘Schoeller’ type pants
- Waterproof breathable pants
- Warm hat – wool or synthetic
- Brimmed cap for sun protection
- Face warmer – scarf, neck tube or balaclava (optional)
- Light gloves – wool, synthetic or leather
- Insulated gloves or mitts with waterproof outer shell
- Spare gloves or mitts
- Handkerchief for blocking the sun (optional)
Snow Safety Equipment
- Avalanche beacon with good batteries (and spares)
- Probe (2.4m or longer preferred)
- Skis or split board
- Ski strap
- Ski or snowboard boots
- Climbing skins
- Skin wax (or a candle)
- Ski crampons (mandatory)
- Binding repair kit to fix your personal travel setup
- Ski helmet (optional)
- Pack (30-40 litres)
- Sunglasses (both orange and dark lenses help a lot for travel in all conditions)
- Goggles (orange lenses)
- Sunscreen and lip cream (SPF 30+)
- Head lamp with good batteries
- Insulated water bottle or thermos (1-2 L)
- Lunch bag or container
- Personal blister kit (i.e: Leukotape-P and Compeed/Second Skin blister pads)
- Pocket knife (optional)
- Camera (optional)
- Binoculars (optional)
- Harness – fitted for over your ski clothing
- Locking carabiners (x2)
- Non-locking carabiners (x2)
- Prussik cord – 5m x 6mm (optional)
- Sewn sling – 120cm (optional)
- Lightweight ice axe (optional, don’t bring if you don’t have one or don’t like steep skiing)
On the Sailing Boat & at the Hotel
- Duffle bag to contain your clothes in your berth
- High rubber boots for entering/exiting the dinghy
- Comfortable clothing
- Personal medications and toiletries
- Ear plugs
- Reading material
- Chargers & adapters for electronic devices (normal AC power is available as 220V Euro plug)
- Norwegian cash in NOK or Euros to pay for your beer tab, souvenirs, and tips/gratuities (for both guiding staff and boat crew)
Note the following are provided:
- Beer and wine are available to purchase on the boat at a reasonable price — but the selection may be limited. The local grocery store is well stocked with a good selection of local micro brewery beers as well as liquor and wine.
- Pillows, duvets, bed linen and towels supplied on the boat (& hotel)
Group Gear (supplied by the guides)
- Map and compass
- Snow study kit
- Snow and/or bush saw
- First aid kit
- Emergency tarp
- Emergency toboggan
- Group repair kit
- Radio & satellite phone
- Ropes for glacier travel
Risk-free quick booking
Our booking form takes about 60 seconds to complete. We will hold your spot until we contact you to answer any questions you might have. This is your opportunity to figure out for sure if this trip is for you, without obligation. Then we’ll get you to complete our Online Waiver and Application Forms before paying your deposit.
After you complete your Application we will hold your spot for seven days to give you time to make your deposit payment.
Before signing through these documents read through them carefully and make sure you are comfortable with what you’re signing up for, and have a look through the booking “fine print” below. If you have any questions at any time do not hesitate to contact us.
Payment and booking conditions
A deposit (typically 50%; see the trip description for the exact amount) to secure your place is due upon booking. Final payment of balance is due 3 months in advance of your trip start date unless specified otherwise on the trip information page and/or your invoice. You will be invoiced for your payments after you have confirmed your interest in the trip. Please note that deposits are absolutely non-refundable, and final payments (the remainder) are non-refundable after the final payment date.
- Pay in CAD: charges are made in CAD (foreign payments are converted to your local currency at your card company’s rate).
- Pay in your local currency: we advertise EUR, USD and GBP rates on our trip information pages. You can choose to be invoiced in one of these currencies, locking in at the rate advertised the day you book.
Pay by Credit Card
This is an easy way to pay; however, we charge an additional 3.5% fee for card transactions. If you have trip cancellation insurance for this trip indicate this on your application form and we will discount the convenience fee to 2%. Cancelled trips that are insured are much less of a headache for everyone. Please consider this option. Check your insurer’s print very carefully to make sure this trip is covered to your satisfaction.
Non Credit Card Payments from Canadian clients
If you live in Canada and do not wish to pay by credit card please pay by E-transfer if at all possible, sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. There is no additional fee for Canadian E-transfers. !
Non Credit Card Payments from outside Canada
You can choose to pay either in CAD or in the GBP, EUR or USD rate listed on the trip information page. Here are your options:
- Payline: I recommend this above all other ways of paying for your trip. It’s inexpensive (as cheap or cheaper than all other methods) and you get to deal with a real person, Ken Fukami from Payline here in Canmore. Indicate this form of payment and I’ll connect you with Ken who will guide you through the process. In short: Ken sends you a form to fill out, you return it, and he makes an electronic transfer of funds from your bank account and pays us. He makes his money through a fine margin on the foreign exchange. We’ve been using Ken for years and he’s awesome.
- Wire draft (bank to bank): Your bank wires our bank the money in CAD, USD, EUR or GBP. Normally there’s no fee for this on our end, but we reserve the right to charge a $20 CAD fee for receiving these payments in the event of surprise bank fees or other complications. See our Bank Transfer page for details.
- Cheque: in either CAD or USD at the rate listed on the trip information page on our website on the date of your booking. Please send cheques to: Thomas Wolfe, 234 Grizzly Cr, Canmore, AB T1W1B5, Canada. Only CAD and USD currencies are supported for cheque payments. No additional fee for cheques.
- Transferwise, Revolut, XE.com and other online payment services: If you wish to use one of these “new” payment services please see our Bank Transfer page. Use the information on this page to make bank transfer payments either using your online service or at your bank office. Again, there is normally no charge for receiving this form of payment but if there are any complications or suprise fees we reserve the right to charge a $20 processing fee. They work and they are a great bargain. But while these services might save you a few dollars on a $10,000 transfer vs Payline (see point 1. above) I think the advantages of using Ken are worth it.
- PayPal: PayPal transfers are charged an additional 4% fee due to the complexities of the bookkeeping and the high fees involved.
Booking Conditions Fine Print
READ CAREFULLY – BOOKING, RESERVATION, DEPOSIT: A deposit of 50% of the total price or private guiding fee is due with your booking unless otherwise indicated. Please provide us with your credit card details, do a bank transfer (account information on demand), send an E-transfer to email@example.com or mail me a personal cheque payable to Thomas Wolfe. Final payments are due 90 days before your trip starts. If you wish to pay in a currency other than what our trips are quoted in, please inquire with us for a quote in your preferred denomination. Euro payments are only accepted by bank transfers in Euro denomination. We also accept bookings from minors; however we do require the signature of BOTH parents or ALL legal guardians on both Application Form and Waiver. CONFIRMATION / TRIP INFORMATION: Upon receipt of this registration form we confirm your booking and you agree to pay your deposit within 7 days. Each trip we offer has a detailed trip information page (available on our website) with the trip details, equipment list, proposed itinerary and logistics, etc. Read through this carefully before completing your registration. TRIP (CANCELLATION / MEDICAL / EVACUATION / THEFT) INSURANCE: Once we you complete your registration, we enter into financial obligations on our side and we cannot refund payments or release you from your contractual obligations. Therefore, we highly recommend buying cancellation insurance to cover your losses for the case that you can’t participate or have to interrupt your trip “for any reason”. Also, all participants need to have internationally accepted health insurance for all activities pertaining to the trip, including coverage for emergency rescue and evacuation. If you already have insurance, please make sure that you will be covered for “roped travel” booking a technical trip including “Via Ferrata” trips. We gladly refer you to a travel insurance provider who offers “adventure travel insurance packages” and with whom our clients have had positive claims experiences in the past. Generally, you will receive the best benefits if you buy your insurance within 10 days of our booking confirmation. We strongly urge you to read our Insurance Information page carefully before booking your trip. CANCELLATIONS: If you need to cancel a reservation, please do so in writing (best by e-mail). Please see the trip information package for details on your trip’s Cancellation Policy. CANCELLED PROGRAMS: Once we confirm your booking, we guarantee your trip departure. However, we do reserve the right to change guides, particular lodging or the itinerary should unforeseen circumstances (guide sickness, hut or route closing etc.) force us to do so or should the physical condition of the participants (see below), weather or mountain conditions make a continuation as planned too risky. We will not be deemed to be in default for any delay or failure to perform our obligations under this Agreement resulting from acts of God, the elements, war, acts of government, civil or military authorities, natural calamities, catastrophe, fire, flood, accidents, epidemics, shortage of transportation, or any other like events beyond our reasonable control. PERSONAL FITNESS and GROUP TRAVEL: Our programs rely heavily on the integrity of each individual to assess his or her skill level and physical condition accurately. It is the responsibility of each participant to be aware of the necessary skill and fitness level for a particular trip. When in doubt, please call and discuss this with us! For the protection of yourself and other group members, we reserve the right to deny participation to any unprepared participant at any time of the trip, in which case we cannot offer a refund! In order to accommodate diverse levels of ability and ambition as well as diverse personalities, the decision making of the guide has to be geared towards safety and finding a consensus within the whole group, which may not please each individual participant at all times.
We have chartered the s/v Noorderlicht through Oceanwide Adventures. The Noorderlicht is the ideal vessel for a ski and sail trip. It is 50 m (150 ft) long and has a capacity for 20 passengers and 5 crew. Not too big but also not too small either. Spending a week on a boat it’s nice to have lots of room to move around and a variety of friends to mingle with throughout the week.
A captain, second mate, third mate, cook and expedition coordinator are Oceanwide’s staff who will ensure a successful and safe voyage.
A very interesting resource is our Virtual Tour of the Noorderlicht. It provides 360-views of the decks, lounge and dining areas, and three of the berths. Definitely check it out — it gives a really good feel for what it’s like on board the yacht.
This is categorized as a Classic Pace trip.
- Day trips boat-based
- Peaks between 700m – 1200m asl
- Up to 1500 m climbs / descents / day
- Glaciated terrain
- Often variable snow conditions
Our Trip Ratings Page outlines more specifically how we rate our trips.
How difficult is this trip?
- Day trips out of Longyearbyen for the first 3 days; remainder based out of the sailing boat.
- Tours range from sea level to 800+ m ASL,
- Tour lengths are 1100-1500+ m and 10-20 km travel/day.
- Glaciated terrain
- Ski mountaineering
What is included with the trip fee?
Included: 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, lunches and dinners in Longyearbyen, hotel in Oslo en route
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.