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Daily Archives: 16. January 2020 − News & Stories


Nor­we­gi­an government wants to dis­cuss cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on requi­re­ments for gui­des

The dis­cus­sion about for­mal requi­re­ments for gui­des is not new, but it has now got a signi­fi­cant boost as the Nor­we­gi­an government has decla­red a need for this dis­cus­sion.

“Gui­de” is, so far, not a for­mal­ly qua­li­fied pro­fes­si­on. The­re are efforts, pri­va­te and indus­try-based, to intro­du­ce cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on for gui­des, but until now, basi­cal­ly ever­y­bo­dy can come, claim to be a gui­de and try to find work. This has actual­ly worked well over many years as a limi­ted num­ber of tou­rists was met by an also limi­ted but suf­fi­ci­ent­ly lar­ge num­ber of gui­des who were enthu­si­asts of the out­doors and had, as such, built up suf­fi­ci­ent know­ledge, skills and expe­ri­ence to lead tou­rists in arc­tic natu­re, sum­mer or win­ter, by ski, dog sledge, snow mobi­le, boat, ship, hiking, wha­te­ver.

But times have chan­ged. Recent years have seen a num­ber of new com­pa­nies who want their share of the tou­rism mar­ket in the Arc­tic, often in the attrac­ti­ve day trip mar­ket in Longyearbyen’s sur­roun­dings. A “mar­ket”: that’s what it is now, a mar­ket with a huge tur­no­ver whe­re a lot of money is made by some. Not a niche any­mo­re whe­re a limi­ted num­ber of enthu­si­asts find their way of life with a lot of per­so­nal idea­lism and effort. Of cour­se they still exist, but the total pic­tu­re is by now far more com­plex.

The grown and still gro­wing mar­ket implies an incre­a­sed need for gui­des, and it is not just a few obser­vers who are not always satis­fied with the level of know­ledge, expe­ri­ence and skill that they see.

Tourists with guides: snow mobile group, Colesdalen

Tou­rist group with gui­de in Cole­s­da­len: gui­de is, so far, an open pro­fes­si­on.

This is not just annoy­ing, but may also be dan­ge­rous. In Spits­ber­gen, gui­des hand­le wea­pons, boats, snow mobi­les and dog sled­ges on a regu­lar basis, they deal with arc­tic wea­ther, have to expect mee­ting a polar bear at any time in the field and take respon­si­bi­li­ty for the safe­ty of peop­le in the­se con­di­ti­ons. Addi­tio­nal­ly, gui­des are a key fac­tor when it comes to envi­ron­men­tal issu­es. It is ful­ly pos­si­ble to visit cul­tu­ral heri­ta­ge sites, obser­ve wild­life and walk in the natu­re without des­troy­ing or dis­tur­bing anything, but the oppo­si­te may also hap­pen and com­pe­tent lea­ders­hip out in the field is key in this con­text.

Seen in this light, one may won­der why cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on requi­re­ments for gui­des have not alrea­dy been intro­du­ced a long time ago, also as an alter­na­ti­ve to clo­sing sites and even lar­ge are­as, as was dis­cus­sed no less than a good 10 years ago. Even the local indus­try sec­tor orga­ni­sa­ti­on Visit Sval­bard has now expres­sed them­sel­ves posi­tively towards this issue – of cour­se expec­ting to be part of such a pro­cess. Ever­y­bo­dy in the busi­ness knows that for examp­le a serious acci­dents would do harm not only to tho­se direct­ly invol­ved but to the who­le indus­try if it turns out that lack of qua­li­fi­ca­ti­on on behalf of the gui­des was a fac­tor.

Safe­ty and envi­ron­men­tal mat­ters are issu­es that local gui­des have also been awa­re of for qui­te a while, accord­ing to the Sval­bard Gui­de Asso­cia­ti­on. And of cour­se “old” gui­des with years of solid expe­ri­ence are not always hap­py when young col­leages without rele­vant expe­ri­ence and skills come and take their jobs, an issue that is rele­vant not only for envi­ron­men­tal and safe­ty con­cerns but also when it comes to working con­di­ti­ons in the indus­try.

Spitsbergen’s gla­cier will, howe­ver, pro­bab­ly still lose a good bit of ice until requi­re­ments for gui­de cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on has been for­ma­li­sed on a legal level: The Nor­we­gi­an government’s recent press release just indi­ca­ted a need to dis­cuss the issue. The­re are still a lot of prac­ti­cal ques­ti­ons to be ans­we­red regar­ding the qua­li­fi­ca­ti­on and cer­ti­fac­tion pro­cess.

Clo­se encoun­ter with polar bear in Bol­terda­len

Yet again, a polar bear has been in the area near Lon­gye­ar­by­en. This time, it was not just tracks in the snow, but a very clo­se encoun­ter of a group of 4 dog sled­ges with gui­des and tou­rists in Bol­terda­len. The group was retur­ning from Scott Tur­ner­breen, a gla­cier that is a popu­lar desti­na­ti­on for (half) day trips by dog sledge, to the dogyard of Green Dog in Bol­terda­len clo­se to Advent­da­len. Sud­den­ly the bear was stan­ding on a ter­race next to the rou­te, much to ever­y­bo­dies sur­pri­se, pro­bab­ly inclu­ding the bear. The bear came and snif­fed on the dogs of the first sledge, while the tou­rists on the sledge – a woman and her 11 year old daugh­ter – were watching. The gui­de, Mar­cel Starin­sky from Slo­va­kia, rea­li­sed that he did not even have time to get is rif­le rea­dy. Ins­tead, he grab­bed a pie­ce of rope and gave the bear a slab on the nose. Then, the bear went a bit away, pas­sed the other sled­ges and disap­peared in the darkness. The who­le event took pro­bab­ly less than a minu­te, as the gui­des told Sval­bard­pos­ten later.

The group then retur­ned to the dogyard and gui­des and tou­rists took their time tog­e­ther to digest this very unusu­al expe­ri­ence. As far as known, ever­y­bo­dy had his or her ner­ves under con­trol during the event and accord­ing to Mar­cel Starin­sky and his col­league, Dani­el Stil­ling Ger­mer from Den­mark, the bear did not show any signs of aggres­si­on. It would be inte­res­ting to hear the sto­ry from the woman and her daug­her on the first sledge. They have cer­tain­ly got a sto­ry to tell now.

Polar night

Out on tour in darkness and snow.
It can be vir­tual­ly impos­si­ble to see what is going on near­by.

Later, the polar bear was again seen near the dogyard, but was then dri­ven away by the Sysselmannen’s heli­co­p­ter through Bol­terda­len and towards Reinda­len.

It is hard to say if this bear had anything to do with the tracks that were recent­ly seen on Lon­gyear­breen. The­se tracks were fol­lo­wed by the Sys­sel­man­nen the west, up to Kapp Lai­la in Cole­s­buk­ta, whe­re­as the bear in the event nar­ra­ted here is assu­med to have come from Advent­da­len, from the east. This at least sug­gests that it is not one and the same ani­mal.

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