You don’t often see the phrases cruise ship and snow skiing in the same sentence.
But that’s not a problem for Dave German, a longtime Antarctic adventurer who arranges for skiing-and-cruising outings in the coldest, highest, driest, windiest and most remote place on earth.
The Antarctic Peninsula contains more than 200 miles of rugged coastline where snow-covered ice caps come right down to the sea, forming steep cliffs and glaciated valleys. For die-hard skiers, Antarctica is akin to the perfect wave for surfers.
In 2000, German, president of Toronto’s Fathom Expeditions, led one of the first ship/ski expeditions in Antarctica. Along with extreme skiers such as Kristoffer Erickson, Steve Koch and “Sick Rick” Armstrong, German pioneered a number of descents there.
His company arranges Antarctica cruises from November through February, during Antarctica’s austral summer. For serious skiers, German’s ship-based adventures combine extraordinary aesthetics and challenges.
“It’s unlike skiing as most people know it,” he says.
The White Continent has particular appeal with ski routes “ranging from gentle slopes to ultra-extreme vertical descents,” German says. “The rewards for skiers come from the astounding scenery, the isolation, the virgin routes and the incredible high-point views. Icebergs, whales and penguins only add to the unique beauty of this place.”
Fathom Expeditions (800-621-0176; fathomexpeditions.com) offers Antarctica ski cruises in 2006 and 2007 that will put skiers in rare company.
In February, Fathom plans a 10-night ski voyage to the Antarctic Peninsula for 12 experienced skiers and four guides. (The ratio is one guide per three skiers maximum, and routes vary according to ability.)
For outings, the 98-passenger Explorer will stop mornings and afternoons along the bays and fiords of the Danco Coast. Skiers use Zodiac boats to go ashore and then hike up routes and ski down. The ski-option portion of the cruise costs $3,500. Fares for the cruise only start at $4,995.
For November 2007, Fathom has in the works the pièce de résistance for skiers – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ski Ernest Shackleton’s famous route across South Georgia Island in the Antarctic.
This 14-day skiing excursion covers the unmapped region Shackleton crossed to rescue his men in 1916. The round-trip cruise begins in the Falklands and travels to South Georgia Island.
The ski package is limited to 15 participants. The balance of the 50-passenger ship’s berths is reserved for nonskiing passengers who simply wish to enjoy the wonders and history of the region.
The cruise-only contingent will “benefit from the adventure and explorations lectures from guides like David Hahn, speaking about finding George Mallory’s remains on Everest,” German says.
According to German, recreational skiing in the Antarctic sprouted in 1944 when scientists in the Falklands “used skis to get around for surveying purposes and just for jollies.”
Rugged explorers setting out for the South Pole also inadvertently promoted the sport. By necessity, they skied cross the continent. Wind parachutes were later introduced to assist them.
“This,” German notes, “is a landmark thing, really, as it allows a person to go long distances harnessing the wind energy.”
It wasn’t a stretch to envision ship-based skiing excursions. In fact, it seemed inevitable, German says.
“In practice, skiing is very sensitive to the local environment,” he explains. “Skiers are simply skiing or kick-stepping up empty snow slopes to a high point before turning around and skiing down. All routes are far from rookeries or seals. Food and so forth is on board the ship, where we return for lunch and breaks during the day.
“The impact would be similar to footprints on a beach, as the ski tracks will disappear. Although they look quite extraordinary sometimes.”
Echoing the continent’s golden age of exploration, Fathom also offers an opportunity for the most experienced skiers to spend five full days on shore skiing Shackleton’s route. Only about 100 people have done this trip, German says, which involves helicopters and costs around $38,000.
Obviously, these adventures are not for the faint of heart or pocketbook.
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