Adventures in the Arctic

We’re stoked to introduce Fridrik Pall Fridriksson, the founder and owner of Skiarktis, an incredible adventuring outfit about as far away from civilization as you can possibly imagine. Skiarktis runs its operation primarily from Svalbard, the remote island that’s part of Norway and a just short stroll to North Pole. They operate custom ski and backcountry tours in this remote part of the world, and we’re proud to have Fridrik and his team as part of our Explorer community. The following story comes directly from Fridrik as he tells us a bit about himself, what it’s like to live in such a remote place, and most importantly–what it’s like to adventure in this truly incredible environment. Take a look at all of this photos–they’re remarkable, and stop by his website (www.skiarktis.com). What a treat!

Icelandic born and bred, I grew up in a town called Hafnarfjörður. I was always involved in some sort sports such as soccer, basketball and judo, but the real outdoors didn’t come into play until I went to a boarding school in Norway. There I got the opportunity to rock climb, kayak and wander in the forest, quite exciting since we don’t have that many trees in Iceland. Later I spent a year in Tasmania, Australia and traveled extensively with a friend, hiking and camping. We also went to the South Island in New Zealand for the same purpose, which really opened my eyes to mountaineering above the snowline.

When back in Iceland I got involved in the local search and rescue, going through their training program while studying business at the university. My experience in the search and rescue gave me a deeper desire for the outdoors and I put my business studies on hold to work and look for a study in Norway more suited. The outdoor culture in Norway is a far more developed than in Iceland, skiing and going on a weekend trip to the family “hytte” (hut) is built into the Norwegians psyche. They also have many schools that offer outdoor education at university level, something that was not found in Iceland a few years ago.

I ended up getting work in Svalbard, a small group of islands at 78° North, far up in the Arctic and a part of Norway. The main town here is Longyearbyen, with around 2000 inhabitants and almost as many snowmobiles. Svalbard is a place of extremes in many ways, one being that during winter it is pitch-black darkness for almost four months and in the summertime the sun shines 24/7. I really found myself in Svalbard with mountains and glaciers all around. I had been skiing a bit at resorts before, but in Longyearbyen the longest ski lift is about 50m (165 feet), the rest is all backcountry! My first winter here I got hooked on ski touring and skiing the backcountry mountains. The pure freedom of stepping out your door, dropping the skis down and start heading up the backyard mountain was amazing and skiing down the slope itself exhilarating. Making your own tracks and feeling challenged by nature.

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After my first winter season I applied for a study in Svalbard known as Arctic Nature Guide (ANG) and started the yearlong program in the fall. There I further developed my Arctic survival skills, going on long skiing trips with a pulk sled, dealing with frigid temperatures (such as -30°C/-22°F), serious glacier travel and rescue, as well as learning how to deal with the local predator, the polar bear.

I got the idea for Ski Arktis after the first winter season in Svalbard. I wanted others to experience the freedom of skiing in Svalbard, where it is all backcountry. It wasn’t until after I had finished my ANG studies that I felt I had the experience and confidence to start it. With the contacts I have in Svalbard, mainland Norway and Iceland I wanted to build a network of qualified guides that have a desire to take people out on amazing skiing experiences.

Currently with Ski Arktis I want to offer as far as possible a customized experience, anything from a half a day trip in the local mountains to a multi-day trip. I want to work with people coming up to Svalbard to plan their ultimate backcountry trip and making sure it is done in a safe manner. Skiing in Svalbard is a serious winter expedition, even short daytrips are challenging because of the temperatures, especially early in the season. The season runs from around early February (when it is still dark during daytime) to early June (when the sun shines day and night) and to get around you usually need to have a snowmobile so there are some logistics involved if you want to get deep out into the terrain. When outside of town safety is paramount, so as a guide I need to bring with me always a big game rifle (.30-06), flare gun, GPS and satellite phone. This makes for a slightly heavier ski pack.

Svalbard is not a very known skiing destination, but interest has been growing, especially since ski film production companies have been coming up to shoot some segments here. A recent big movie called Supervention featured a segment from Svalbard. There is also a skiing festival called Toppturfestivalen Svalbard, which is arranged late in the season and people from all over come to ski some amazing lines. This year I will be one of the volunteers taking people out skiing during the festival.

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Weather and seasons in Svalbard vary extremely. While the winters are dark, cold and dry, the summers are sunny, cool and wet. Spring and fall are somewhere in between and during that time there are some amazing twilights with deep blue colors in the spring especially. Temperatures range from -30°C/-22°F in the winter (though can be colder and there is always additional wind chill) and the summers are very cool, between +5-10°C/+41-50T°F. In the winter you can be driving your snowmobile out there somewhere with blue skies above and the sun shining and then all of a sudden you end up in a white out an hour later in the next valley. In the summertime you might be doing the same thing hiking, but all of a sudden blinding fog rolls in. You really have to be prepared for anything and surviving in the wild very much depends upon how good your equipment is and how prepared you are.

Even though this place is a bit extreme, almost everyone that comes here is captivated and feels compelled to stay or come back another time. My time here in the Arctic has given me some great experiences and will continue to do so, I am sure of that!