Planning for Another Svalbard Ski & Sail?!

It’s 100F Outside!

During the worst heat wave of the Colorado summer, boat reservations, gun rentals, and hotel negotiations — all on the faraway island archipelago of Svalbard — have my head spinning. Arctic backcountry skiing and sailing in Svalbard?! I’m melting in the heat!

It’s that time of the year, though, when we lock down our two-masted schooner, the 150-foot Noorderlicht, book our favorite hotel, and get our documents arranged for Svalbard Ski and Sail 2020. Backcountry skiing under the midnight sun.

A guest skiing in Svalbard

How’d it Go?

We lucked out with weather and guests this spring. Svalbard Ski & Sail 2019 ended a fantastic success, with a polar-bear close encounter, numerous Arctic fox sightings, great sailing, and consistently good skiing. We only endured a day-and-a-half of low-vis skiing. We spent the rest of the nine-day mission under blue skies and riding enjoyable corn snow. Awesome!

By the time we had docked in Longyearbyen on our return leg, my colleague, Tom Wolfe, and I had committed to another year. Easier said than done, though, and now we find ourselves in the logistics grunt of making it happen. We’ll return to Svalbard May 2-9, 2020, I’m happy to say. Phew!

I shouldn’t complain — a bit of planning is nothing compared to the unbelievable adventure skiing we found in Svalbard. Check out an excellent slide show of the week on Tom’s site HERE.

The Noorderlicht

Adventure Skiing (and Sailing!)

What’s adventure skiing, you ask. Others may have different answers, but I guess I’d say if the wildlife, locals, landscape, and overall “scene” matter as much as the actual skiing, then you’re adventure skiing. Want deep pow and max vert? No sweat, meet us in Canada and we can make that happen. Adventure skiing, though, encompasses more than just awesome skiing. In fact, some adventure skiing involves almost everything but the skiing. Making turns from the summit of Denali? Probably heinous ski quality, but most likely epic adventure.

Svalbard falls somewhere between fantastic skiing and adventure skiing. On its good days, man, the skiing is primo. Endless glaciers, pristine summits, unforgettable 3,000-foot corn runs. Add to that, though, the polar bear tracks criss-crossing sea ice, seals lounging by their swimming holes, seracs tumbling into the Barents Sea, the near-abandoned Russian coal outpost of Barentsburg, sailing in the High Arctic with a crazy Dutch crew — and that’s Svalbard. So good!


This spring the team and I met in Longyear after long flights from Europe and North America. We toured for several days in Longyear before boarding the Noorderlicht. The world’s northernmost continuously inhabited town, Longyear offers a surprising array of good restaurants, shops, bakeries, and even a brewery. Caribou graze between houses. You can ski-tour from your hotel. It’s unlike any place I’ve been. I’m psyched to be going back!

Rob Coppolillo owns Vetta Mountain Guides, an international guide service based in Boulder, Colorado, and Chamonix, France. Tom Wolfe owns Sawback Alpine, and lives in the paradise of Canmore, Alberta.

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