The life in the north with 114 dogs and a human puppy

Meet Audun and Mia at Svalbard Husky

“This is no place for me!” was the first thing Audun Salte from Svalbard Husky thought when he landed in Longyearbyen one July day in 2014. But after spending some time in the amazing wilderness surrounding Longyearbyen, he was in no doubt. This is where he wanted to live with his wife, 114 dogs and a human puppy!

Jarle Røssland

“The first thing I thought when I landed here was that this place looks like a desert. There were bumpy roads, people driving around in typical “Svalbard cars” that were barely in one piece and there was a sort of cowboy style. I then started the Arctic Nature Guide course, met those who worked here and saw the professionalism of what they were doing. I spent a lot of time in the wilderness that surrounds us everywhere. The longer I was here, the more I fell in love with Svalbard.”

By this time, Audun, who is from Rogaland in Norway, had been joined by Mia, who originates from just outside Gothenburg in Sweden. They had met in Alta, where she ran a dog kennel and Audun had worked part-time.

“I think Mia had the same first impression as me,” says Audun, laughing loudly. “She came in October, which can be a little grey and dark and, like I had, she mentioned that she would never move here. But after that, she fell in love with the place, too.”

Jens Juul

The couple both started working for Svalbard Husky and, when the owners decided to sell the business in 2017, they were given the opportunity to buy it.

“The owners wanted to sell it to someone who would run it privately on a slightly smaller scale. After discussing it, we said ‘yes’. I think it took a year before we fully understood the great responsibility we had taken on, but we have never regretted it.”

Everyday life as a kennel owner is by no means a holiday. Even though it takes a lot of time and it’s usually hectic from morning to night, it’s a meaningful job.

“We have always worked with dogs, so this provided an opportunity to have a stable life doing what we love doing. Being able to take guests on unique nature-based experiences where we can convey the nature and safeguard the environment in a completely different way than on trips involving snowmobiles is wonderful.”

Chut Janthachotibutr

In the summer of 2019, the couple got a very special “puppy” – their son Tore.

“I’ve started building a sled for him! He has already met some of the dogs and I think they will have a unique bond.”

The addition to their family coincides with a wish to adapt for families visiting Svalbard.

“In the past, most visitors to Svalbard were company groups, individuals and young couples. But we have noticed that more and more families are now visiting Svalbard. The families include children and grandparents, too. Some of the ordinary activities are not so suitable for children, so we want the dogs to be involved in ways other than just pulling a wagon or a sled. We wish to focus on quality products for families.”

Jens Juul

Audun highlights that they want to create an arena that is good for dogs as well as people, and he enjoys explaining to guests why they have become so fond of dogs.

“It’s fun to show guests how wonderful the dogs are. There’s no doubt that the dogs thrive here, but it’s nice to see that guests enjoying their company. We are proud to show off the dogs. They are our kids!”

Maintaining the company’s core values has always been important for Mia and Audun. They are constantly being encouraged to have more guests so they can earn more money, but they prefer to stick to their core values.

“We prefer small groups. We want to maintain the volume we have now and focus on increasing the quality rather than the quantity. We don’t want mass tourism in Svalbard. We would prefer the tourists to be spread evenly throughout the year. I think the dark season during the Polar Night doesn’t get the credit it deserves. You can have wonderful nature-based experiences at that time of the year. We would like to achieve year-round tourism. The best guests are those who really want to experience Svalbard and Longyearbyen; those who appreciate meeting the locals and getting an authentic product.”

Jarle Røssland

Svalbard Husky has between five and seven staff, depending on the season. Being a small business, Audun has plenty of contact with the visitors. That is something he appreciates, but he always finds it challenging when someone asks him to recommend the best time to visit them.

“In summer, you can walk around and see fossils everywhere. In the autumn, there is an eternal sunset, which is so beautiful. The Polar Night has its charm with the Northern Lights, stars and the moon. As soon as you start to get tired of the darkness, the snow comes and it’s a whole new world. Then the light returns, and you can see the glaciers and the wonderful landscape. Wow, it’s incredibly beautiful. What makes Svalbard so special is these continuous phases of fantastic seasons that are so different from one another. Back home in Rogaland, there is only one season – autumn.”

Written by Maria Philippa Rossi 

LP Lorentz

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