Svalbard — The skalar way
Written by Hans-Marius Engebretsen, Head of Growth at Skalar
Video edited by Jens Bringsjord, Product Designer
Grab your keys, lock up and run to the plane! We’re going north, far north, to a place which is not familiar, even for those who grew up with snow and mountains. It’s a special place. It’s Svalbard.
Not the first place I would visit after almost two years of Covid restrictions and a lack of sunlight. That was my thought, and it was shared by some of my colleagues. “It’s late October, why would we go somewhere even colder than Oslo?” I heard across the office. Healthy scepticism it seems runs through Skalar, and who would not be sceptical of a place where you need to carry a rifle at all times. To us sun deprived, it seemed mad. When we flew over the nature of Svalbard, saw the spiky mountains that gave it its original name Spitzbergen, we understood.
Just before we flew, I saw a post on social media made by a local in Svalbard. In the post she waved goodbye to the sun this year. A ceremony had taken place where the locals took leave of the sun for four months. I did not know what to expect. When we landed I saw what daylight for us would be, a crimson sky with shades of blue and pink. A sun not yet risen nor set, just in limbo. The different shades of blue would change from deep dark to a light baby blue which highlighted at the middle of the day. We landed at two in the afternoon with the sun at our back during the flight, illuminating the wings of the plane. Once we landed it was gone, we would not see it for four days.
What do you do when you have flown for four plus hours and just arrived at Svalbard? You step onto another form of transportation. An old bus with black registration plates covered in soot to show some resonance of the mining-heritage of the island. We drove along the only road on Svalbard, a 45 km. stretch which goes from the airport to the weather stations and around the city. We saw the still operating mine which supplies Longyearbyen with coal and thus power. The only place in Norway supplied by coal. Towards the world-famous sign of a polar bear, with the warning “pay head — polar bear threat all over Svalbard.” We were excited; imagine if we saw a huge white bear, capable of killing in one blow.
Svalbard is full of nature, you could go there to be inside — but then you would miss the point. Nature there is haunting. It sits on top of the world as a white buzz cut. Small yet abundant pointy mountains dominate the landscape. With peaks rising from the shoreline along the fjords, they form into ridges and mountain chains that dot the entire landscape of the archipelago. There is not a single natural-growing tree on Svalbard. Making it an arctic desert. The landscape there is so fragile that if a truck were to drive on the tundra the tracks remain etched in the land for up to half a century. Nature is in an uneasy balance, one so fragile that it can’t really support human life.
But the people who live there know this. They try to live in harmony with the wild, and to show love to the fragility of the island . Most of the people who live at Svalbard work in some way with nature. The mines which were the mainstay of Svalbard give way to tourism.
The first night we got to settle in — learn the history of Svalbard and about the fauna. The following days we got to see it and live it. We drove, sailed and walked into the wild escorted by armed guides leading us to see reindeer, huskies, birds, whales and the elusive bear. We drove up to a plateau overlooking the Advent-fjord and Longyearbyen. Overlooking most of the civilization living on the island, we got to see abandoned settlements and a small city full of life.
Svalbard is cold, there is no doubt — and we knew that. Most of the people at Skalar prepared well. A panic of “have I brought enough” took us at first, but after a day we had gotten the swing of things. Walking, boating, or scooting around became second nature. The rifles not so much. Some of my colleagues at Skalar are hunters, but not quaint with the trapping of polar bears.
The walks we took in the arctic tundra were special, they brought us close to nature, close to the essence of what Svalbard is. Awesome sights and sensations. It is not a normal place, most things there are extreme, so it would make sense that what we saw was so. From big mountains hugging around Longyearbyen to the deserted Pyramiden, an abandoned Russian/Soviet mining town left to freeze. We saw the different ways people coped with the arctic, and played some basketball in a gym that last saw a real match in 1997. All in a day’s work.
Why do people decide to live so far north? That was the question we all wondered before we came. We concluded, there must be some common insanity among everyone who settle on the island. People who would choose away the night for four months, and total night for four more. They choose away safety — and choose the chance of becoming prey to a huge white killer. But after visiting Svalbard for only one long weekend. We, the people of Skalar, can honestly say that we at least can understand their choice. Not to say that I want to move there, but we got the appeal. If you like nature, if you want to spend your days outside and see something special and new each day — Svalbard is the place. The cold of nature reflects the warmth of the locals, which are the most inclusive “Norwegians” you will find. Svalbard is a fantastical place — one you should be sure not to miss.
Originally published at https://www.skalar.no on November 29, 2021.