WINTER IN THE ARCTIC: A POLAR ADVENTURE IN THE SVALBARD ARCHIPELAGO
Miles and miles of virgin snow, mountain peaks caked in ice, landscapes dotted with giant glaciers and populated by families of polar bears, and a celestial spectacular played out nightly in the wide open sky: all this, and much more, describes what you’ll experience on an Arctic getaway in winter. The Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard—a remote collection of sparsely populated protected islands in the Arctic Circle, located 400 miles from the mainland—boasts an incredible array of national parks and natural reserves, along with a profound geography of mountains, fjords and glaciers, and an active population of native animal, bird and marine life. Svalbard’s winter runs February through June, and beckons to travelers with a slightly wild streak, who wish to experience the sheer exhilaration of outdoor activities that test the extremes of climate and nature, in a part of the world that remains largely uninhabited, unvisited and untouched.
WHAT WE LOVE
- Dog Sledding Safaris: Imagine gliding across the frozen landscape—between glaciers, through valleys and along mountain passes—in exactly the same way as the original explorers of the Arctic: in a sled, being led by your own team of dogs, where the only sounds you’ll hear are the rush of wind and the slicing of snow. Most overnight excursions require camping, as well as feeding and taking care of your dogs, which stand guard outside the tents at night to warn of any visiting polar bears. Sledding Safaris are not only an outstanding way to explore the polar landscape, you will also have the chance to form a bond with the friendly, obedient canine guides that will lead you on the adventure of a lifetime.
- Off Road on a Snowmobile: With only a small percentage of the archipelago accessible via paved roads, the preferred mode of transportation in Svalbard in the winter is by snowmobile. Easy to master and fun to ride, snowmobiles allow travelers to cover a lot terrain in a short period of time. Our preferred tour operator uses only the most energy-efficient snowmobiles, which run with a quiet-exhaust technology so you can travel to the most remote corners of the Arctic while leaving the lightest footprint possible.
- Ski Exploration: Early Arctic adventurers explored the depths of the snowy terrain on skis, while pulling behind a pulk (sled) loaded with their equipment—and not much since has changed. Slipping on a pair of skis remains one of the most exhilarating ways to discover the dazzling beauty of the vast polar wilderness, and for the physically fit and super adventurous a ski safari is absolute Arctic must-do. Nights are spent in tents on the glacier fields and meals are prepared by the group, so a familiarity with winter camping is useful, and the opportunity to bond with your travel mates in much the same way as the first Arctic expedition teams is unmatched.
- Ice Caving: After spending so much time on the glaciers, why not take a look inside? Ice caves are formed by melted water that has run through the rock caves that underlie the glaciers, creating a surreal world of beautiful frozen formations, massive crystal columns and dazzling dangling icicles. Ice caves are best explored with a guide, who can lead you safely into the depths of this magical natural winter world: It’s a photographer’s dream!
- The Northern Lights Live: One of the most captivating natural spectacles ever witnessed, the Aurora Borealis illuminates the Arctic night sky with an amazing organic interplay of light, color and movement. Svalbard’s remote northern location and sparse population make it a perfect spot to view the lights in intimate isolation, whether from the seat of a snowmobile, the back of a dog sled, or solo on a pair of skis.
REST & REJUVENATE
- Winter Camping: Sleeping under the stars takes on a whole new meaning when the northern lights are dancing above your tent. Certain expeditions include overnight camping, and travelers set up tents and help prepare meals—not much of a sacrifice when you consider that you’ll be sleeping on a glacier and experiencing the primeval charms of the Arctic up close.
- Radisson Blu Polar Hotel: A touch of luxury in the polar wild, this full-service hotel in Longyearbyen celebrates its enviable location with a design inspired by the magnificent nearby mountain, Hiorthfjellet. The Restaurant Nansen, shaped like a mountain peak, provides panoramic views of Hiorthfjellet, as well as a menu of gourmet Arctic fare. The hotel is also renowned for its eco-friendly initiatives and socially responsible business practices.
- Barentsburg Hotel: With a distinctly Russian feel, this unfussy hotel complements the Soviet-era buildings in Barentsburg, a coal-mining town usually explored on snowmobiling expeditions. Enjoy a healthy dose of Russian hospitality at the property and its restaurant, which serves up Russian specialties, hearty breakfasts and, of course, great vodka.
- Spitsbergen Expedition Lodge: This four-bedroom cabin nestled on a remote hillside is a cozy refuge within the frozen landscape and provides an excellent home base for expeditions—as a well as an awesome location from which to view the Northern Lights. Spitsbergen Lodge offers homey, intimate shelter from the extremes outside, and pull up by the fire after a long day in the cold, and enjoy a chef-prepared meal while swapping stories with fellow guests about the day’s adventures.
- Spitsbergen Hotel: This historic hotel sits on a hill overlooking Longyearbyen and the Lars and Longyearbyen Glaciers, and offers superb views of the town and surrounding mountain peaks. Rooms are decorated with colorful historic details, and the Funktionærmessen Restaurant is renowned for a delicious and inventive menu of Arctic-influenced French cuisine.
- Spitsbergen Guesthouse: This communal yet comfortable accommodation in the upper part of the Longyear Valley is situated in a complex of buildings that once housed area miners, and is used by guests as a “base camp” from which to organize day and multi-day group excursions. The Guesthouse is within easy reach of local mountains and glaciers, and offers a number of opportunities to participate in snowmobile, skiing or hiking trips, and is also a beautiful short walk into town.
- Trapper’s Hotel: This popular 16-room hotel in Longyearbyen is situated among the town’s restaurants, pubs and shops, and features a creative design scheme using trapper mainstays of driftwood, sealskin and slate. Trapper’s Hotel is somewhat unique in the area for its emphasis style and quirky sensibility, but it also offers proximity to a number of excellent ski expedition routes, and is the northernmost back country ski lodge in the world. After an active day of breaking trails, relax at the hotel’s Cognac Loft, a rooftop lounge enclosed in skylights that offers amazing views of the Arctic night sky.
WHAT TO KNOW
- The polar night, during which the sun never breaks the horizon line, lasts from mid-November to early February, while the 24-hour midnight sun arrives by the end of April and illuminates the landscape until late August.
- Winter temperatures can reach as low as 20 to 30 degrees below zero, and trip routes may be altered or cancelled due to weather conditions.
- Most trips require a guide, and Epic Road will alert you ahead of time as to what level of experience and equipment is required.
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