Portrait of the guide Kristin

Meet the Svalbard guide

Kristin Eriksson is ready to take you on an adventure

Meet the Svalbard Guide - Kristin Eriksson

Kristin Eriksson, who is originally Swedish, has lived in Svalbard for four years. She works as a guide for Hurtigruten Svalbard, a major tourism actor in Longyearbyen offering everything from activities to accommodation and dining. She also worked as a guide before this, both as a snowmobile guide in Sweden and a diving guide in Borneo. She is now well established in Svalbard and enjoying life as a guide on snowmobile trips, hikes and ski expeditions. After recently completing her training as a boat guide for the summer season, she will be a superb year-round guide in Svalbard.

What was your first experience of Svalbard like?

This is something I remember very well. It was on 17. September 2016, two days after the summer ban for landings on Moffen, a small island at 80 °N, was lifted. A couple of weeks earlier, I had received a phone call when I was standing crying at a shop in Stockholm. I had just broken up with my boyfriend, cut my hair short and resigned from my job. The call was from Hurtigruten, which I had previously been an apprentice for in Antarctica.

Hurtigruten explained that they were one guide short and they needed someone to work in a couple of weeks. As I had a two-week period of notice at my job in Stockholm, I said yes immediately, packed my bags and left. The cruise went from Iceland via Greenland to Svalbard. The first stop in Svalbard was Moffen. I was standing in the sea holding a boat with the waves lapping around me. I was wearing waders and the water was up to my waist. There were big, smelly walruses everywhere. Some distance from me, a walrus was staring at me with its intense red eyes. It was such a powerful and intense experience, and I had a mixture of fear and delight. When I turned southwards towards northern Spitsbergen and saw the majestic snow-capped mountain peaks on the horizon, I was just completely overwhelmed.

When I got the opportunity to move up to Svalbard a couple of years later, I did so immediately. Over the last four years, I have tried to move down once, but it only took three weeks until I realised that I needed to move up again.

What is the greatest thrill you have had in Svalbard?

It’s hard to say because there have been so many. Of course, encountering a polar bear is always a thrill, but what makes Svalbard so unique to me is that you constantly achieve a feeling of mastery. It’s amazing that you can live up here at all.

My most vivid memory right now is from this spring when I was a guide on a ski expedition aiming to cross Spitsbergen. We had been skiing for four or five days when we sat down to rest in the sun between two mountains. Every sound echoed between the rock walls. There was incredibly good chemistry in our group, and everyone was in a great mood. There was a good atmosphere, the sun was warming our faces and we could hear the birds singing. Suddenly, someone started playing the recorder. It was an unexpected and magical moment where everything went well. It was warm despite being late winter, the sun was shining, and I had such nice company. It was a wonderful moment, which I will always remember.

The experience that really made me fall in love with Svalbard was one day during a red full moon when I was out driving a snowmobile with a colleague on the Tellbreen glacier just a stone’s throw from Longyearbyen. As we drove up the glacier, we suddenly saw the huge red moon peeking up beside the glacier and shining down on us. Suddenly, I realised that I couldn’t breathe, and it dawned on me that I had been screaming with joy about this magnificent impression. I also realised that I was experiencing this just five minutes from town. It was at that moment that I felt I belonged in Svalbard. This is my home.

What is your best tip about what to do in Longyearbyen?

The tip I have given most often is to buy a coffee, walk down to the dog ​​yard next to town and sit down to look at the eider colony that lives there during the summer. It’s such a nice little activity, but a wonderful experience. Most people who come to Svalbard often chase the major experiences and most intense expeditions, but there is so much you can experience in town too. For instance, Arctic foxes and reindeer wander sometimes right through the middle of town.

The same applies during the Northern Lights season. Put on that extra layer of clothes, bring a cup of coffee, and spend some extra time outside so you can enjoy the Arctic silence and sight of the Aurora Borealis.

Why do you love being a Svalbard guide?

What I like best is making guests feel comfortable in nature. You can meet anyone, a rich man from London or a nature-loving Norwegian, but when you come here you are just a human being with the basic wishes of staying dry, warm and satisfied. It’s an honour that I get to be the one who makes sure you stay dry, warm and satisfied, while showing you the most unique aspects the nature here in Svalbard has to offer. On top of that, perhaps I also get to teach you something new. The fact that I make the guest comfortable enough to just enjoy and appreciate nature, and constantly achieve a feeling of mastery, is what I really appreciate about being a Svalbard guide. I like that responsibility and I feel confident about having it. It’s an honour to take care of those who come on a visit to Svalbard.

What is your most memorable polar bear encounter?

I have two polar bear experiences that I remember vividly.

I have previously worked as a guide on the expedition ship Nordstjernen. On one of the cruises, we sailed into the Magdalenefjord in north-western Spitsbergen where the plan was to disembark and go ashore. We soon spotted a polar bear walking along the shore, which put a stop to those plans. While we watched that polar bear, one of the guests turned around and shouted: “Look, there is another polar bear!” While we were standing and each looking in different directions at the two bears, we heard a young boy say: “Mum, isn’t that a polar bear swimming there too?”

In the end, there turned out to be five polar bears in the same fjord and no one could decide which direction to look in. For four hours, we watched the polar bears, including a mother bear with a cub who started climbing along the bird cliff under the cloud cover. We managed to follow their progress based on where the birds became restless. After a while, they returned to the beach and met a large male bear who tried to chase the cub away so he could mate with its mother. A fierce fight broke out and, as it was so quiet in the fjord, we could hear how they fought and clashed with each other. Observing them from a distance, completely undisturbed in their natural habitat, was an incredibly powerful experience.

Another exciting encounter I had with polar bears, turned out to have a very comical outcome. While I was studying to be an Arctic Nature Guide, we were on the Eskmarkbreen glacier to undergo a glacier safety course. We had to end the course and were on our way down from the glacier when a polar bear came swimming in our direction. It managed to get ashore in front of us before we could get away, so we encountered it on the beach. We gathered closely together in a group, a standard procedure when you encounter a polar bear, and we tried to make large movements and loud noises to scare it away.

The polar bear stopped and looked at us for a while but remained on the beach seemingly unaffected. Suddenly, three Danish boys on the course lined up and started singing the Danish national anthem at the top of their voices. The polar bear stopped in fright, turned around and ran away. It was such a powerful experience. I will always remember that the best way to scare away a polar bear is by singing the Danish national anthem.

What is the hardest question you have been asked by a guest?

“How long are you going to stay in Svalbard?” I had originally planned to stay here for three months, but I’m now in my fourth year. I will probably stay here for as long as I enjoy it and feel I still have adventures left to experience in Svalbard.

What do you do when you are not guiding guests at work?

I do the same as I do when I’m working! I enjoy nature and do everything from cross-country skiing and hiking to fishing and snowmobiling, which are precisely the same activities as I do at work. The only difference is whether I have guests with me or not.

Do you want to join a trip with one of our Svalbard Guides? Book your activity here! 

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