Between Norway and the North Pole is Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago and one of the most rugged and northern inhabited areas. With an average January high of 9 degrees and 24 hours of darkness, you might not expect this to be a tourist hot-spot. But the northern lights are drawing bigger and bigger crowds through Svalbard’s dark winter. The trick is making sure that the roughly 75,000 annual visitors don’t overwhelm the environment and culture of the archipelago’s 2,583 year-round residents. One strategy has been to spread tourism out over the entire year, and a new tactic is using electric snowmobiles to explore the area in a more sustainable way.
Off the Map Travel, based in England, specializes in Northern Lights travel. Its “Truly Green Aurora Holiday” package has developed the lowest impact Arctic northern lights adventure yet. The team has harnessed Arctic winds to power e-snowmobiles. Off the Map Travel offers the new activity out of Longyearbyen, the Svalbard town where the majority of the population lives. The company recommends this activity from November to January, when the skies over the islands are almost permanently black.
“Although the northern lights are a natural phenomenon and are never guaranteed, you need clear, dark skies to optimize your chances to see them,” noted Jonny Cooper, Arctic travel expert and founder of Off the Map Travel. “Svalbard’s dark skies and extended aurora viewing are due to the sun’s being at least six degrees below the horizon. This means it can be dark all day, so the northern lights can appear at any time. In effect, the sun never rises.”
In addition to the more eco-friendly nature of the e-snowmobiles, they are also much quieter. Unlike the roar of an average snowmobile, the electric variety allows visitors a peaceful and silent experience. “The quiet engine allows for gentle searching of the northern lights, reindeer, ptarmigans and polar foxes,” Cooper said. “Exploring some of the most uncharted areas of our planet has never been more eco-friendly.”
Image via Off the Map Travel