Svalbard – Longyearbyen

Svalbard Sharon Bader and Lee Lau

April 27 – May 5th 2023

Part 2 Noorderlicht


Tom Wolfe of Sawback Adventures hosted us for 10 days on Svalbard, or Spitzbergen, Norway.

Sitting in the Arctic Ocean, north of the Arctic Circle its uninhabitable land allowed only animals (including Polar Bears, Walruses, Seals, Reindeer, Foxes to name a few) to survive. Its first human visitors arrived in 1596 and decimated the abundant Whale, Walrus and whatever animal they felt entitled to hunt to extinction. Norway claimed the island in 1920, ‘shares’ it with Russia and, as result of a treaty, considers Svalbard to be a Neutral Territory open for residency by anyone in the world to have signed the Svalbard Treaty.

The main economic activities are Coal Mining, Tourism, Education and Research. Basically the economy is centred on the very Norwegian town of Longyearbyen and funded by ample government largess. Skitouring is still a small part of this puzzle

Some climate and geography

During the winter months Svalbard is shrouded in snow and darkness, come April the midnight sun sets alight and allows for 24hour days. This shouldn’t be surprising as Longyearbyen is, by far, the furthest north we’ve even been. To put it in Canadian terms, Oslo is as far north as Whitehorse. Trondheim is as far north as Dawson City. Tromsø (closest mainland Norway commercial flights to Longyearbyen is far north to Tuktoyaktuk).

Longyearbyen itself is at 78 deg latitude. That’s further north than the northernmost point of Baffin Island. It’s further north than Alert, Grise Fjord, Clyde Bay, and Resolute in Canada. Grise Fjord has a pop of approx 150 and averages -18 deg C throughout the year. Longyearbyen by contrast is 2 deg latitude further north, has a pop of approx 1800 and averages – 6 deg C.

Highest latitude civilian town in Svalbard is Longyearbyen at 78 deg. Highest in Canada is Grise Bay at 76 deg. Highest I’d been before in the NWT/YK border where we biked at just under 70 N so it feels surreal to be here.

Highest research places in Svalbard and Canada respectively are NY Ålesund and Alert respectively at 80 and 82 deg N

In Norwegian

-Fjellet. Smaller peak. Eg Lars Hiertafjellet
-Tind. Summit or bigger peak. Eg HelvetesTind
-Elva. River. Eg Adventelva
-Dalen. Valley. Eg Tverrdalen
-Toppen. Top. Eg Adventtoppen

The temperature difference is due to the effect of the Gulf Stream. The population difference is due to the emphasis Norway has placed on establishing permanent establishments north for territorial sovereignty. There is a lot of infrastructure in Svalbard and Norway’s “coastguard” ships have impressive anti-aircraft and anti-submarine equipment.

Why Sawback?

Tom runs three trips in this unique land, three days out of the town of Longyearbyen and 7 out of the sailboat the Noorderlicht. Tom is a long time friend. Also I really like his communication. He’s really good at answering questions and putting up frequently asked questions and trip planning. Plugging him via this link

  • The price was among the more reasonable between Ice-Axe Adventures, Seil Norge and Sawback
  • Itinerary seemed super solid. There’s 3 full touring days at Longyearbyen. There’s 6 full ski days on the boat. The boat potentially goes the furthest also ie past the N tip of Prins Karl Forlund on the NW side of Svalbard
  • I liked the size of the boat. 2 master at the Harbour. Not too big. Not too small
  • liked the guide client ratio at 3 to 18

The sailboat was the unique aspect of this trip which allowed us to berth off certain slopes and take a dingy to shore to ski in a new area every day as determined by conditions. The crew on this boat were hard-working and amazing. Marco the Captain, Lotte the first Mate, Albero the 2nd mate, Sarah the deck hand and Isabel the cook. Space is at a premium on the boat, Isabel did what she could with the food, but the quality could be best described as solid but “enough”.

Along with the crew were 20 staff and guests with a decent international flavour. (Tom [Canmore], Emilie [Revelstoke, Stockholm] and Heather [Salmon Arm] our guides, Matt from Milwaukee, Nic O’Conner from Chicago, Greg from Wisconsin, Brett from Detroit, Jonathan from Stockholm, Ralph from Washington, Ed from Vermont, Brodie, Emma, Matt and Spencer from Canmore, Dave from Aberdeen, Fardin from France, Vincent from Quebec, Bill from Colorado, Brage our Longyearbyen guide and Sharon and Lee. )


Upon Arrival in Longyearbyn we took the bus to our hotel, Mary Ann’s Polarrigg. The bus ticket also inclulded the return fare so keep your ticket! From there Tom and crew guided us for three days to some local slopes. After our trip ended on the boat, we again stayed at Mary Ann’s. If you do this make sure you book transportation from the docks to the hotel as this is not provided. The town is an easy walk from the hotel and has many fine restaurants.

Hot tip is to get your VAT-exempt beer at the local Svalbardbuttiken grocery store; this will result in considerable cost-savings. Bring your passport to prove your status.

We also visited the Svalbard Museum and North Pole Expedition Museum which was worthwhile.

Longyearbyen Section

Common Area

Cozy Room

Sled Parking!

Well Equiped store and good beer from Spitsbergen Brewery!

First day of skiing

Trollsteinen Peak outside of town

Ice cave in Longyearbyen Glacier

Skiing down to our Hotel


Last Sunny day ski outside Longyearbyen

Excelent restaurant

Travel Notes

We flew into Oslo on a flight that got us in in the evening. We then made a separate flight with SAS airlines from Oslo to Longyearbyen. Make sure you book with SAS DIRECTLY and try to get a direct flight from Oslo to Longyearbyen. We stayed at the Radisson Blu Airport Hotel. As you can see below the food was very expensive. On our return we stayed here again but ate dinner at Peppes Pizza in the airport which was very good.

I also got an Esim from Airalo which we’ll probably also use for our trips to the US.

I also had airtags on all our bags. As you can see you do need to wait a bit to make sure the airtag gets picked up in your location to make sure it’s there or not. Having said that, FLY WITH YOUR BOOTS. You can lose your ski gear and make do but boots are a problem if you lose them.

Other Miscellanous Longyearbyen ski pics in a photo dump – click here

SV Noordelicht and ski-touring on Prins Karl Forlund photo dump – click here.

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