Snowmobile

ADVENTUREs

yann (at) polarhorizons.no

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TRAVEL WITH THE WIND

Join us on a journey wherever the wind takes us. The snowmobile zone on Svalbard is quite vast, it's called Management Area 10, and this is our playground. The best route is chosen according to the weather and snow conditions. We also look at the group's wishes and abilities - like that we travel at speed which is correct for the group and take breaks as many times as needed. All groups are private and locked to optimise the experience and safety.

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From late January until early May

Area Management 10

Day adventures

Spend the day out and come back to Longyearbyen in the evening.

Multiday adventures

Great way to explore the Svalbard wilderness

Snowmobile questions

Can anyone drive a snowmobile ?


Most guests coming to Svalbard have never driven a snowmobile before, and they very quickly get the hang of driving. A thorough briefing is given and then we slowly set off, then gain a bit of speed and confidence in order to get through more challenging terrain.

However, a snowmobile is NOT for everybody. Some people are simply afraid of driving machines or have no desire to try snowmobiles (you know who you are). If you are up for a challenge and some fun then that's great :) , but it is important not to overestimate yourself either. If the guide senses a person should not drive, then this decision should be respected (this has happened only once or twice in my guiding years!).

If someone cannot drive, then they might have to dump their scooter and become a passenger. And if there is a very tricky part in the terrain, then the guide will drive this section for everybody.

All you need is a spirit of adventure :).




Does everybody need to drive or can there also be passengers ?


Not everybody needs to drive. But if you like challenges and driving in general, then the recommendation is that everybody drives with an empty passenger seat. It is also a question of practicality - it is not unheard of to have snowmobile breakdowns in the middle of nowhere. We therefore need to have sufficient free seats available to bring everybody back home safely and comfortably. We also need to tow the broken machine back home (don't worry - if ever this were to happen, then it's all part of the adventure! ). So if you are a group of 4 people for example, the best arrangement is to have 4 snowmobiles with 4 drivers (excluding the guide and their scooter). This give the greatest flexibility. But it is also possible to have 3 drivers and 1 passenger. But it is not possible to have 2 drivers and 2 passengers - this is just too risky. The guide never takes passengers as a standard - their passenger seat must be free at all times unless it is required in an emergency.




Do I need a driving license or any other special license ?


You need a standard driving license (car) and that's it. It needs to of course be valid, and you need to carry it on you at all times when driving a snowmobile. The guide will check your license before we leave. Passengers do not need any driving license.




Is it difficult to drive a snowmobile ?


No it is not very difficult - the new machines are very responsive and comfortable. 99% of people who go out on snowmobile trips have never driven one before. You need to be active while on the snowmobile and move your body side to side depending on the terrain, so it involves more than just pushing a few buttons :) But of course a snowmobile is a powerful machine, and you must want to drive it in order to drive it safely. If you are afraid of machine/driving/ATVs and such things then maybe this is not for you :)




Is it tiring to drive a snowmobile ?


Depends on how far and for how long you drive, and what the terrain is like. At the end of the day it is very normal to be tired, you feel it in your arms and your back. Even the guide is tired. But the more experience you have driving a snowmobile the less tiring it feels :) But while driving you get lots of fresh air and we take lots of breaks. A nice cup of coffee in the morning is recommended.




What clothing do I need to take and what clothing do you provide ?


The night before a trip or on the very morning we pick up all the snowmobile clothing : - A warm and windproof snowmobile suit - Warm snowmobile boots (Baffin or Sorel) - Snowmobile mittens - Balaclava - Helmet with visor On your side, you will need to bring warm clothing : - Thermals, top and bottom (wool recommended) - Fleece tracksuit or other warm layers to put under the suit - Thick warm sweater (wool recommended) - A thin down jacket, depending on the temperature - Liner gloves always helps - "sandbag" hand warmer and feet warmers if you are used to freezing (recommended for passengers, they get more wind than the drivers) - Sunglasses (high factor) - Goggles (high sun factor)




Can I take a bag with me ?


Yes of course ! It is recommended to bring a small rucksack which has chest and hip buckles, like that you can attach it to the passenger seat. It's also great to put in your extra layer/extra hats/sunglasses etc, or any snacks you might want to bring. But a small warning : the bag tends to shake around a bit, so please don't pack any fine china !




How fast do we go :) ?


Polar Horizons guarantees that there will only be private locked groups. So if you are a group of friends or family, this is exactly what we like :) . And we can only travel as fast as the slowest person in the group. A nice cruising speed is 45-50 km/hour. It is possible to go slower, and it is possible to go faster (80 km/h is the maximum, but this is very fast and we rarely go this fast). The speed is decided by the guide according to the group's abilities.




Where can we go by snowmobile ?


Anywhere marked in yellow and blue basically. But this is all dependent on the weather, sea ice conditions, snow conditions and avalanche risk. We might want visit a glacier front or perhaps one of the Russian town :) . The exact route would be determined in the morning along with the guide - there is no point going West if the nice weather is on the East. The idea with a Polar Horizons trips is not to make any promises in regards to the destination - this is risky, and eventually means too high expectations and eventually disappointment. Trust the guide to take you somewhere interesting according to the weather and group's abilities and desires :). For example, going the East Coast is great - but it is very far and a long trip with not many stops. If you have a "slow" group then reaching it become unreachable. So it's better to simply go with the flow. All of Svalbard is spectacular :)




Do you take any breaks along the way ?


Of course we do - and we adapt to the group's wishes. Some groups want to take many stops and take many photos, whereas other prefer to move fast with few breaks. Since we guarantee private groups, then this is really the group's decision :)




Will we see a Polar Bear ?


Polar Horizons will never make the polar bear the aim of the trip, nor will we ever promise to see some. The reason being is that a sighting a polar bear is extremely rare, despite all the marketing from many other tour operators. Also, on Svalbard it is actually forbidden to seek or pursue a polar bear. These animals are extremely dangerous too. If ever we see a polar bear from a safe distance, then that is always a nice experience :)




Do we get cold when driving ?


This depends on the temperature outside. But after a long day driving, then it is only normal that you feel a little cold. To counter this it is important to eat and drink regularly and have suitable clothing under the snowmobile suit.

Passengers always get much colder much faster as they are less sheltered by the front windshield. Therefore passengers are recommended to wear extra clothing, and even use some warm warmers (the sand like ones) inside their mittens.




What safety equipment do you take on the trip ?


We always take an emergency sledge with us, with enough equipment to set up camp, melt some snow and have enough food for about 1 day or so, while we wait for help to reach us. We also carry a bit of extra clothing + an ice drill and axe to check sea ice thickness.

We carry a satellite phone and emergency beacon.




Who is the guide and how many guides will come ?


We will only take highly experienced and skilled guides on trips. At the moment you are mostly going to be a on trip with Yann, who has been a resident of Svalbard for 9 years with 8 years guiding experience, in all conditions. But as the company grows other experienced guides will be taken in. We want to keep the guide to guest level ratio as high as possible, to ensure to best safety possible. So we have decided to keep it at 1 guide for 6 guests (the current requirement is 1:10, which often is not even respected with other companies). So all-in-all, you are in good hands. More than 6 guests and you will have a second guide joining the group.




Is this a locked group , or will randomers join in also ?


Groups will always be locked and private. So if you are a group of friends/family travelling together, then this is exactly the type of group Polar Horizons is looking for. We will never suddenly put a randomer in the group, no matter how much they want to pay. This is our promise ! It will only be you and your guides.




Which snowmobile model do you use ?


As much as possible we try to use the Lynx Adventure ACE 600 snowmobiles, or their Skidoo counterparts. These are 4-stroke BRP machines and are really the best scooters out there for long distance travel. They are very easy to handle, comfortable, highly fuel efficient and so much less noisy/smelly than other machines.

If you already have lots of scooter experience then you might want to try another machine, like the Skidoo Renegade 900 which are fast and light. These cost a little more, and have a greater insurance excess (15 000 NOK). Only recommended for scooterboys and scootergirls πŸ˜‰

Polar Horizons rents out all snowmobiles (except the guide scooter) weeks in advance. And if for some reason we cannot get hold of the Lynx machines, then we will let you know. It would be horrible to be tricked into driving an old 2 stroke machine without any warning ! To put it simple, we only want to work with the best machines full stop.




How far do we drive and for how long ?


A day trip might be anything between 80km and 250 km ! There is really no definition. It all depends on what the group wants to do, their ability at driving, and what the weather and snow conditions are like. Distance is irrelevant when it comes to the experience. If we drive far, then we need to drive fast with few breaks.




Do I need to take any special equipment with me ?


- Goggles (lightly tinted in February, but high sun protection factor in March/April) - Sunglasses (in March and April especially) - Hand warmers (the sand type ones, not the ones you boil in water) - Chocolate to keep in your pocket - Warm water (1 L recommended) - Camera - Good spirit




What makes your trips different to your rivals ?


So many things !

First Polar Horizons is the only tour operators to only take private groups. There is no randomers who will join the join – it will only be groups or friends or family and your guides. There are so many benefits to having closed locked groups. It means fewer conflicts of interest in the group and overall a more enjoyable experience for both the guests and the guides ! I have been on countless number of trips and I am convinced this is the way forward – also to insure the best safety for the group.

All Polar Horizons trips are customised. Generally, you are in contact with the guide before the trip starts, by email and also in town the night before the trip begins. Like that the guide gets a feel for the group to understand their wishes and capabilities. And from this a route is suggested, and we go where the wind will take us. We are very flexible when it comes to where we go, what we do, when we start etc. 😊

We never make any promises on where we go, nor do we try promoting something which is unrealistic which is what most other tour operators do.

You will also have some of the most experienced guides on the trip with you, where safety and great experience are the two most important things.




Where do we go ?


Wherever the wind takes us. No itinerary is set in stone. The best thing is to look at the weather forecast in the morning and decide then which route looks best. Trust the guide 😊

There are plenty of places to visit, some close some further away. But we cannot promise to go somewhere if the conditions are not suitable on that day. But what we do want to provide is an unforgettable experience 😊 Take contact for ideas !




What if the weather is rubbish ? Do I get my money back ?


There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.

Ok joke aside, it does happen that the weather gets horrible. If the forecast is set to be terrible, then in this case even the guide will not want to go out.

Polar Horizons currently does not own guests’ scooters, these are all rented out in advance and entails costs. If a trip needs to be cancelled, then all monies minus the scooter rental fees (2000 NOK or less) will be refunded – and I am trying to find a way of removing this altogether. But this would be a very rare occurrence – we can always talk about it, so take contact if you have any concerns 😊




What insurances do you provide ?


We have 3 different insurances which we must use for snowmobile trips - SAR insurance (Search and Rescue) - Liability insurance - Damage insurance The Governor of Svalbard has required Polar Horizons to have a bank guarantee of 50 000 NOK, or alternatively an insurance which can cover this amount, in case a SAR operation and evacuation by helicopter is required. The guarantee is provided by IF Forsikring in Norway :) so that one is covered. Driving a snowmobile is a bit like driving a car. In case you crash into another scooter and damage that scooter or injure a third party, then we have insurance which covers the third party. This is a standard on all vehicles and it's impossible not to have this insurance :) Then finally there is damage insurance in case you wreck a snowmobile. If you damage the snowmobile due to negligence, then you must pay (up to) 6000 NOK ... but not more than that. After 6000 NOK the insurance kicks in. What is negligence ? Well if you decide to drive by yourself on a freeride and hit a rock, then that is reckless driving. The guide will always make sure all standard safety procedures are followed in order to avoid any potential problem. If a snowmobile has a genuine mechanical failure then this is of course not your fault. Any questions about this just let us know :)




Do I need to take out a special insurance ?


When travelling to Svalbard it is recommend to have a standard travel insurance, to cover things like delayed or cancelled flights, damaged personal belongings, loss, theft etc (although theft doesn't really exist on Svalbard ! ) Polar Horizons has insurances (see above) which will get you hospital in case we were to run into trouble. However the moment you are with a doctor, then you would be responsible for the costs here. If you come from Europe, then most likely your national health system will take over here. However having a medical insurance integrated with your travel insurance is highly recommended. Insurance companies get a little complicated in this regard. If you mention that you are travelling to the Arctic, then they get all stressed. You are technically only travelling to Norway since Svalbard is the kingdom of Norway. If your travel insurance asks if you need SAR (which is always the most expensive thing) then you say no because Polar Horizons covers this. Some travel insurance companies may consider driving a snowmobile as a high risk activity and not accept it - but most travel insurance companies are used to people driving snowmobiles. Once again if you have any questions about this then just get in touch, but this is actually your part of the equation :)




How do I book a trip ?


Take contact by email and we will get back to you :) We do not want any instant booking system which is completely impersonal. Call us old fashioned but we prefer to get to know/understand the guests before taking bookings - and also for guests to know what they are signing up for before parting ways with cash. Yes this might take a little more time to process everything, a few emails back and forth, but we really want to make sure we can actually provide you with a great experience and that expectations are realistic.

All trips can only be booked in advance, to make sure everything is ready upon your arrival. We do not take last minute bookings.




Are there any restrictions to driving a snowmobile ?


No drunk driving is allowed - checks are carried out all the time by the governor. And if the guide suspects someone is drunk (it's not hard !) then they will not be allowed to participate in the trip as a driver or passenger, and no refund will be given. It is a very big offence to drive under the influence of drugs/alcohol in Norway and ultimately the guide is responsible. The only other requirement is that you need a valid car driving license which you must carry on you at all times. Passengers do not need a driving license.




Is it better to go on a day trip or a multiday trip ?


Day trips are great introductions to the Arctic wilderness, and there are lots of options on where we can go. Then we come back to Longyearbyen by late afternoon.

However, booking a multiday trip means we have more time on our hands and can explore the landscape even further. Here we can use Barentsburg/Pyramiden/Isfjord Radio/Svea as stepping stone for overnight stay (in the warm, nice diner, no polar bear problems).

It is also possible to book a many consecutive trips, where we come back to Longyearbyen every evening.

Just take contact and we can discuss further 😊




When is it possible to drive a snowmobile ?


This varies from year to year, but typically between late January and early May. - January : pitch black outside, cold - February : dark at the start of the month, twilight mid month onwards. If lucky you see the Sun at the end of the month, cold - March : noticeable day and night difference, greater contrasts, Sun returns early March, very cold - April : 24 hour daylight, not so cold - May : snow starts to melt, 24 hour daylight, not cold

It is really difficult to predict when the snow will start to melt. The climate on Svalbard is changing rapidly, and the melt is coming earlier and earlier. Before the melt would occur mid-May, but this is now happening around early May now. So best is to focus on February/March/April.




Is there an age restriction to snowmobile trips ?


To be able to drive a snowmobile you need a full car driving license, and the age to obtain this is dependent on where you come from.

To be a passenger, there is technically no legal age limit. However, the younger a passenger is, the less recommended. Simply because is it uncomfortable for young children to sit at the back of a snowmobile over extended periods of time – they also cannot keep warm for so long.

However there are solutions: since Polar Horizons offers only private exclusive groups, then we adapt to each and every group. For example, is it possible to rent out a β€œsluffe” which is like a capsule on skis, dragged by a scooter. Inside we can easily put kids and they are sheltered from the wind. And we don’t have to drive fast or go very far in this case. Really anything is possible, but its best to take contact beforehand.




Is food and water provided on trips ?


Yes food and water is provided on all trips, and we take breaks throughout the day to remain focused and hydrated.For lunch we will often enjoy a dehydrated meal, or possible a homemade meal if we visit a place providing this (e.g. Barentsburg). If you have any allergies or specific food preferences this must be made known well in advance. However, it is always recommended to take a little extra with you (chocolate bars, bottle of water insulated with a sock!) so that you have something easily accessible at all times.