Epic Adventures North of the Border
Adventurers have been searching for unique ski destinations for many years. I have been guiding adventurers to the North Pole for over a decade and our disembarkation point for our these journeys have been Longyearbyen, Norway, which sits at 79°N on the island of Spitsbergen. Spitsbergen is 600 miles from the North Pole and 500 miles from continental Norway. What attracts me to these places is not the cold or the 24 hours of light. It is the remoteness and the pristine beauty of this untouched wilderness.
It has some incredible skiing with its maritime environment. The jagged and rugged peaks top almost 6,000 ft (1717m) and come right out of the fjords. The wildlife is off the hook with polar bears, walrus and seals. This past month I was lucky enough to lead the Warren Miller Film Crew to the Atomfjella Mountains. Our crew consisted of First Ascent athletes Reggie Christ and Lexi duPont, cinematographer Tom Day and Colin Witherill, and shooting stills was Will Wissman. I had visited this area with Ice Axe guide Glen Poulsen and Bernice Nootenboom in the spring of 2007 and we were amazed by the quality and quantity of objectives, and the amount of couloirs there were to ski. We spent a week in the area and didn’t even scratch the surface.
This April we returned for 11 days of incredible weather, great skiing and I have to say…it was one of the best expeditions I have ever been on. I am a bit jaded when it comes to expeditions, as a consistent comment on return from ICE AXE trips is “That was the best trip of my life”. We skied and climbed over 40,000 vertical feet in 11 days and the conditions were knee to waist deep AK blower. The sun continued it’s cycle around us for the endless day and we found ourselves putting on sunblock at 3 AM and skiing til 7AM in the morning, with very little time to rest and sleep as there was more skiing to be done. We also had snowmobile support at times whihc was able to get us to almost 80ºN. I believe this is the furthest North you can probably ski, as the mountains in Greenland, Canada and Siberia are further south. There might be some peaks in Frans Josef Land that might be skiable and certainly further north at 81°N.
After 11 days of epic skiing it was time to return by snowmobile to Longyearbyen, which was about 100 miles away. During the ride, we encountered a large female polar bear with her 2, three month old cubs. She got to within 100 feet of us before we shoed her off, as we did not want to cause any trouble after an epic trip. It was the highlight of an incredible 2 weeks in Spitsbergen with great skiing and new friends. I look forward to seeing the segment in this year’s Warren Miller flick. Ice Axe will be leading more trips to the Atomfjella next spring and has also chartered a 20 passenger, 100 year old, square mast sailing vessel the Noorderlicht, to sail into the fjords of Spitsbergen for skiing, kayaking, polar bear viewing, walrus and seal viewing and another epic ICE AXE adventure. Dates for these trips will be May 24-June 1 and June 1-8, 2011. –Doug Stoup
Please check out our Spitsbergen and Antarctic Peninsula ski cruises at: http://www.iceaxe.tv/cruises/.