A group of skiers recently returned from a 10-day ski expedition in Svalbard, an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean in the northernmost part of Norway. Polar explorer Doug Stoup of Ice Axe Expeditions booked their home base on the Artica II, a 62-foot steel-hulled sailboat designed for breaking through ice. Ski mountaineer and Jackson, Wyo., resident Kim Havell led the diverse group of skiers on a trip to the Arctic. We spoke to Havell about polar bears, seasickness and Norwegian couloirs.
XGames.com: Most importantly, did you see any polar bears?
No. I really wanted to, though. We saw walruses, seals and arctic foxes.
Who made up the immediate crew?
Ice Axe Expeditions representatives Andrew Eisenstark and Brennan Lagasse, skiers Sam Smoothy, Brian Warren, Matt Reardon, Marcus Caston, Todd Offenbacher, Glen Poulsen, Pete Gaston and photographer Gabe Rogel.
How were the group dynamics?
It was the most awesome trip. Everyone was snow savvy. It was easy to split into groups and get a lot done. There was the older guard of accomplished ski mountaineers, there were younger freeskiers -- it was the most interesting collection. The age range was 24 to 55. Everyone learned a ton from each other. Someone would be impressed by a backflip and someone else would be impressed by someone's route finding. Everyone was very respectful of whoever was shining that day.
What was the goal of the trip?
We were hoping to go north and see what could be explored. Our captain had been sailing there since 1991 and based off his knowledge, we figured out what had been done and what hadn't. The area is relatively unexplored. The skiers who go there tend to ski the flatter foothills because it's more about the beauty of the area, but the depth of terrain there is endless. There are AK spines, Chamonix steeps, San Juan couloirs and more.
How did it go?
We flew into Longyearbyen, which is the biggest town in the area and a staging point for polar explorers and scientists. We sailed north up the west coast. En route north, we were in an area the captain had never been before and we looked across at this mind-blowing zone. They were some of the most aesthetically beautiful couloirs and they went as far as the eye could see. There were these big, open, steep faces above the couloirs, so you ski these open ramps before dropping into a 55-degree couloir. We all said the same thing, 'This has to be skied.' With 24 hours of sun, we could ski as many first descents as we wanted every day.
How was boat life?
When we started sailing north, we hit some rough water. About half the team went down due to seasickness. There was a group puke section off the back. It's a relatively small boat and we had a lot of people, but everyone got along. When you're on the boat, you're either eating or sleeping or drinking beers, so it's easy. It was nice to be able to get off the boat and Zodiak or paddleboard to shore.
Highlight of the trip?
The group. The whole crew could really ski. When you get a group who knows their stuff, there is this understood knowledge. You can keep moving forward instead of dealing with the basics. It was non-stop laughter. There were no close calls, just really good skiing and impressive mountaineering. There wasn't a tense moment the whole time. A couple of us had been there before, but for those who hadn't, a lot of the younger guys said it was the trip of a lifetime.