In May of 2016 I flew to Svalbard Norway to meet Willy Pell for the ski trip of a lifetime. Svalbard is a small group of islands about 600 miles north of mainland Norway. For a week 11 of us lived together on a sailboat cruising around eating gourmet food, scoping ski lines, bootin coolies and skiing our asses off. A typical day included one or two ski outings covering between 4,000 and 6,000 vertical feet. The video below was produced by our guide company Ice Axe. The pictures are a best of gallery taken by everyone on the trip.
Svalbard is a small group of islands about 600 miles north of mainland Norway. It sits at 79 degrees north. Our trip started in the coal mining town of Longyearbyn which is famous for housing the Doomsday Seed Vault.
Our home for the week was the third boat from the left ... the Arctica II. I shared a cabin dubbed 'The Man Cave' with Willy and Scott. It was savory.
The waters were calm and the skies were eerie on the fourteen hour sail north to where the skiing would start . We all did our best to sleep through the night.
In May it is light twenty four hours a day. The sun basically circles overhead. It often felt like we should be skiing under the midnight sun instead of going to bed.
On the first ski day we woke to bluebird skies. The sun was prisming color out of the ice in the water.
It was a total fantasy land... a completely different world from anything I have ever experienced. Water, ice, mountains and endless ski possibilities.
Todd and Helga loading the Zodiac. Helga is wearing a survival suit. Todd has an inflatable pfd. We all wondered if the pfds would actually work if needed.
Zodiac ski shuttle
The peaks jetted up 3,000 feet from the water
Reindeer watch curiously as we put on our skis. Later in the week... on Norwegian Constitution Day (May 17th)... we would eat reindeer steak for dinner.
My head was reeling... I couldn't believe how beautiful it was. The next day we would ski one of the couloirs across the water.
Anne topping out with endless mountains, snow, ice and sea
Andrew enjoying the first tracks of the trip
Alex making his first turn of the trip
Willy loving the perfect snow
We didn't have any issues with crevasses however the week after our trip our guide Todd took a "massive crevasse fall, which he miraculously survived completely unscathed".
From the boat we scoped out lines for day two
Day two started with boot'in our first coolie (Alex, John, Anne, Elizabeth & Scott)
Peaks and glaciers... the views were crazy.... felt like being in an Ansel Adams picture.
Svalbard has a population of 3,000+ polar bears. The guides carry guns for protection. Andrew collects the crew before skiing the next pitch.
Alex skiing above the couloir. The previous day we skied the tallest peak across the water (center).
Entering the couloir (John)
Willy taking it to the water. Homemade goulash was waiting for us on the boat.
Where is my girl?
Willy finishing strong
Between runs we would sail to the next ski objective. The scenery was endless.
Our next ski outing was the big bowl to the right of the flag. We climbed to the top/center... skied below the rock out croppings (center)... and did a second lap.
Anne & Scott
Todd, Elizabeth & Alex
Endless possibilities (Andrew, Willy & Anne)
Taking the high route paid dividends
Willy, Alex & Scott
Looking through the window you will notice a glacier at the bottom of the valley. (Scott)
Topping out (Alex)
The climb was rewarded with incredible views and a menacing shadow
How many opportunities do you get to ski something like this!!!
Looking down to the rest of our group transitioning
Stoked to be here. The views were unparalleled, the climb was fun and we had an amazing ski ahead of us. (Andrew, Willy & Alex)
Loaded like a freight train (Scott)
Taking in the views... the next image shows what had Willy's attention
not too shabby...
Reaping the rewards of a second lap (Scott)
Just another day at the office for Todd
Enjoying a solitary moment in a massive untouched snow field (Andrew)
Waiting for a cab
The stoke was high at the end of the second ski day. We didn't get back to the boat until nine or ten o'clock. Happy hour begins... don't want to go to bed... just want to ski some more!!! (John, Anne, Alex and Scott)
More sailing... more views
Approaching a massive glacier
Elizabeth on a pre-dinner paddle
Day three... figuring out what to ski
Choices, choices, choices...
Getting started on another coolie (Alex)
Firm and fun (Alex)
... and back to the boat
These two were amazing. Helga and Stein sailed the boat, ran the shuttles and cooked the most amazing food. Each meal outdid the last. Two meals of note were the reindeer and the whale. I also loved the brown Norwegian cheeses.
Noon or midnight?
Searching for our next ski objective
Could not have asked for a better group to spend a week with. We even survived 'Critical Thursday'. Right to Left: Todd (Guide/Tahoe), Elizabeth (Jackson/Nurse), John (Brooklyn/Ortho Doc), Anne (Brooklyn/Lawyer), Willy (San Fran/Engineer), Scott (Tahoe/Real Estate), James (Truckee/Lawyer) and Andrew (Park City/Pro Mountaineer/Outdoor Equipment Designer).
The crew begins booting what would be our steepest day
Steep climbing with axes and Whippets. Fun Fact: the Whippet was designed by Andrew
Silhouetted (John & Anne)
A view of the Three Crown Mountains named for Sweden, Norway and Denmark
We booted to just below the cornice right of center. It was fairly steep and Andrew shoveled out a couple of ledges for the group to transition.
Making some nice turns with an impressive glacier in the distance (Willy)
Skiing to the boat (Alex)
Topping out on would become know as 'Game On Couloir'. Notice the sea shimmering in the light at top right (Alex & Willy)
A view from the top of 'Game On Couloir'
'Game on Couloir' about to earn it's name (Alex & Scott)
Our last day of skiing. Fueling up and discussing options
Andrew finds a good spot to ski from. Scott and Willy close behind
Almost everything in this picture is un-touched and pure ;-)
Team Man Cave (Willy, Scott & Alex)
Taking a moment to contemplate the best way to tear this up! It was the last run of the trip. If you look close enough you can see the group at the bottom. (Scott)
Taking it from the top (Willy)
Heading back to the boat. I was sad that the skiing was over. (Andrew)
On the sail back to Longyearbyen we docked in the dilapidated Soviet coal mining town of Barentsburg . Barentsburg had a strange feel to it. It kinda felt like being in a Wes Anderson movie... quirky and weird. In the bar we listened to group of men singing Russian folk songs... they were impressive to say the least.
Andrew calls back to Longyearbyen to make party arrangements for our last night. These phones actually worked!
Andrew doesn't f*ck around when it comes to partying in Longyearbyen. We all went to a whiskey bar for our last night together. What a fantastic trip!!!