Meet the Svalbard guide

Meet the Svalbard guide

Arien Ramnefjell tells her stories from the fjords of Svalbard

Meet the Svalbard guide - Arien Ramnefjell

Guide Arien Ramnefjell has Svalbard’s majestic Arctic nature as her office. During the summertime she guides spectacular boat trips, both day trips and multi day trips. During the wintertime, you will generally find her cruising along on a snowmobile accompanying a group of tourists from all over the world. Arien works for Better Moments, a well established tour operator in Longyearbyen.

What did you think when you landed in Longyearbyen for the first time?

What hit me most of all was the cold arctic fresh air when I walked out of the plane. I also came the first time in February, so the light was beautiful. 
Another thought that hit me was that humans are not supposed to live in a place like this. But fascinating enough, our little city has everything one needs for a well functioning society.


Why did you want to work as a guide at sea, and what do you think are the biggest challenges and joys of your job?

The joys of working at sea are many. I get to cover large areas, so I see a lot of our beautiful island.
Roaming the seas up here also bring you close to the diverse marine wildlife. 
Then there is something about the perspective you get when you are out on the water. You can really see the big dimensions - deep fjords, high mountains and mighty glaciers.
Svalbard goes through incredible changes from season to season. From white mountains and iced fjords, to the bare landscape dressed in autumn colours.
The challenges are the days of bad weather and especially the days of poor visibility or change in destination. That's when you really have to show who you are as a guide. One might eventually develop a trait to turn something negative into something positive and focus on the things that are available. It's not every day you have sunshine, polar bears or whales. That's when it's important to show that the light, the mountains or the bird life may be just as good.

What is the greatest nature-based experience you have had in Svalbard?

You get many unique and nice wildlife experience after some time in the field. Last week I was paddling with guests in Trygghamna. While we were floating in front of the Harrietglacier, we had 5 harbour seals playing around our kayaks. A polar bear eventually appeared on the beach. She could smell us, she even stood up on her hind legs and observed. While all the attention was on the bear, a walrus popped up from the water, also curious on what we were.
True close contact with arctic wilderness!

Have you had a trip that was out of the ordinary?

Last year we paddled a whole summer season in front of the Svea glacier on the other side of the Isfjord. One of those days, the glacier really showed off its powerful side. Many calves and many mighty icebergs in the water that we could explore. One of these massive icebergs tipped over, 180 degrees, which sometimes happens when they melt from below and become unstable. The iceberg was as big as a house, so there was a lot of raw power involved. Very cool to observe from a safe distance.

Arien Ramnefjell 

Have you ever been guiding at sea in rough weather? If so, how was it?

Clearly this is exciting! Svalbard has days of flat sea and blue sky, but she is also brutal, moody and powerful. After all, this is the true arctic nature. 
Most of the time is spent trying to make sure that everyone is okay and that nobody feels unsafe or uncomfortable. But for most people, it's an adventure in itself, and often an unforgettable memory.

Can you tell us your most amazing polar bear story?

Me and my fiance were on a cabin trip last fall in Skansbukten. We had 3 polar bears visiting the week we were there, two of them already the first night. They were not easy to scare away, but after an hour of screaming, yelling and firing signalflares they gave up and swam until they were out of our sight. Since they were so determined to get closer to the cabin, we were prepared for them coming back. To prevent them from breaking in through the window, we blocked it with a table outside. 
They never came back.
But; in the middle of the night two nights later I woke up with what felt like the whole cabin shaking. I immediately realized it was a bear and reacted.
A few meters away from me stood a male bear, still with both paws on the cabin wall. He went down on all fours and hesitated. This moment, time stood still. I then fired a shot in the air and the bear ran away. My fiancée came running out a few seconds later with the flare gun, and stated that I was standing there in nothing but my underwear, so I guess I really did react quickly.
When the adrenaline calmed down, I had time to comprehend what had just happened. I have great respect for these predators and understood that this bear meeting was too closet to comfort. Fortunately, it went well for both me and the bear, I was just left with a pair of shaky legs.

What is the most difficult question a tourist has asked you? 

The most difficult questions are probably those who have no proper answers. For example, how Svalbard is and will be affected by the ongoing climate change. We all know that they are happening at this very moment, and we all know the consequences.
But formulating this into an answer that informs the guest in a real and informative way is difficult. Arctic and Antarctic nature is hard and brutal, but it is often forgotten how incredibly fragile it is. I want to give the cold hard facts straight, but I dont want to leave the guest feeling completely hopeless either. 
I find that many of those who visit Svalbard ask a lot about this, and are genuinely interested in how global warming affects our archipelago.


What do you think is the nicest destination along Isfjorden?

I have two favourite places in the Isfjord, one of them is the Tempelfjord, and the other Skansbukta. It is difficult to choose between them since they are both unique, but the Tempelfjord with its characteristic mountains and the active Tunabreen is quite unbeatable, summer as winter.

Boat trips are typical summer activities, and the majority of the trips take place in the period between May and October. Which season is your favourite? 

In the summer it is late August / early September. The sunsets are on their way back and the sky sometimes looks like it is on fire.
The same in winter when I am a snowmobile guide, February and March have the same beautiful light.

Do you have an insider tip of what to do in Longyearbyen?

I am a coffee person, so I always find it nice to go to a café to buy something hot to drink.
If you prefer something stronger, KB is also a nice atmospheric pub here in Longyearbyen.

What do you consider to be the most important task, being a guide in Svalbard?

Safety out in the field, definitely. Whether it's kayaking, snowmobiling, walking or by boat, it's important for me to make sure everyone is coming home safely. Safety always comes first!
But then I am also lucky to get to work with my passion. Having Svalbard's wilderness as an office and being able to show it to our visitors is a privilege.

Arien Ramnefjell 

Visit Svalbard Eco-Lighthouse

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