Meet the Svalbard guide

Meet the Svalbard guide

Marcel Starinský has 30 happy four-legged colleagues

Meet the Svalbard guide - Marcel Starinský

Marcel has been doing dog sledding for about 20 years and has participated in races in Europe and Slovakia where he originally comes from. For the last 7 years, he has worked as a dog sledding guide in Northern Norway, where the last 4 has been in Svalbard.

- I heard about Svalbard from a few friends who had visited, and they talked about it being a cosy place with lots of opportunities for dog sledding and lots of nature to explore. I thought it would be a nice place to check out, and I have been here ever since. 

Marcel works for Green Dog Svalbard, a dog sledding kennel located in Bolterdalen just outside of Longyearbyen owned by Martin Munck and Karina Bernlow. Before they came to Svalbard, they spent many years in East Greenland, where they made a living out of trapping and tourism. Their dog's are a mix between the Greenland Dog and husky. 

How was your first meeting with Svalbard?

I came in the spring, which is one of the nicest times up here, midnight sun and still enough snow for dog sledding. So I really got to enjoy the beauty and nature of Svalbard from the very start. This is also the busiest part of the year for Green Dog so it was great to be able to see how the tours run at Green Dog and what a typical day would look like for me.     

Which of the tours is your favourite to be guiding and why?

The multi day tours are my favourites because you get to be out with the dogs longer, spend a few more hours on the dog sled and do a bit of a different route. It’s also very enjoyable spending more time getting to know the guests and watch how they go from knowing nothing about dogsledding the first day to being able to harness the dogs and remember all their names by the last day. 

Since you are working as a guide in Svalbard, there is always a risk of polar bear encounters. Have you had any special encounters that you will not soon forget?

There is always a risk that you could see a bear but generally we don’t see bears on our tours, as most of our tours are run in a closed valley. We also live inland, away from the sea ice where bears typically spend their time. The guides are also only responsible for a small group of guests which makes it easier to manage. It is a rare day when we meet a bear here.     

What are the most difficult questions you get from tourists?

Questions about how long I am going to stay in Svalbard. I have no idea. 

What is the best thing about working at Green Dog Svalbard?

I really like that you are responsible for your own 30 dogs, each of the guides gets their own dogs so it’s more like having a few small kennels instead of one big kennel. This way you really get to know each and every dog, they basically become part of your family. You get to learn who likes to eat the most and who gives the best cuddles. This also means that you can give them the best care possible because you see them every day and know what they need to be the happiest and healthiest. I also really like that the guides and Martin and Karina’s family live out at the kennel, there are always people around the dogs, and it’s very easy to hang out with the others or have dinner together. 

What’s your favourite thing about being a dog sledding guide? And what are the biggest challenges?

The best thing about being a dog sledding guide is getting to be outside and working with dogs. It is very rewarding to see how happy the dogs are doing what they love. It’s also great to be able see the changes in the dogs over the course of the season, some becoming better lead dogs, some getting stronger and faster. The other great thing is being able to share something that brings me joy with others, and to see their enjoyment.

The biggest challenge is probably dressing people up into all of the winter clothes. Getting all the boots, mitts, hats and suits on in the correct order and size to keep everyone warm and happy, can sometimes be quite the adventure of its own. 

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