Sébastien Varlet, ambassador of Les Gets, recently travelled to the heart of the Svalbard Mountains in Norway. Together with his crew, he decided to chart his own course across this Arctic archipelago. Following this extraordinary expedition, we seized the opportunity to meet this intrepid explorer and to find out more about his incredible journey.
Les Gets: Where did the idea for this expedition come from?
Sébastien: I was fascinated by the skiing destinations off the beaten track, in the wilderness, that I’d seen on photos and videos on the Internet, and that’s what gave me the idea of skiing in Norway’s Svalbard Mountains. I’d been wanting to explore the Svalbard archipelago for a few years – it’s bigger than Switzerland, with several islands, and most of its mountains have never been skied on. This project became a reality when I met Arthur Garreau, originally from Morzine who works as a meteorologist over there.
Les Gets: Why choose that particular destination?
Sébastien: The expedition lasted two weeks, from 28th April to 12th May. Our ultimate ambition was to set off to explore unknown regions and mountains in an environment that was as majestic as it was hostile. We were guaranteed to find snow there, but it was the adventure itself that appealed most. In Svalbard, we were facing the unknown, with no real knowledge of the mountains we would ski nor of what to expect. At that time of year, the sun shone day and night, and constantly being on our guard against polar bear attacks added a sense of thrill and uncertainty to our expedition.
Les Gets: What is the aim of the film?
Sébastien: Our aim was to document this extraordinary experience, to share it with the world. Living in such extreme conditions, camping in temperatures of around -30C, all while knowing there were predators prowling out there, was a challenge in itself. We dreamed about skiing on slopes that no one – or hardly anyone – had ever seen, and about making our own tracks on this remote and rugged landscape.
Les Gets: Who came with you?
Sébastien: There were nine people in our crew, including three skiers from Europe: one from Austria, one from Sweden and one from France. Corentin Croisonnier was in charge of making the film, while Arthur had contacted three local guides to accompany us on this perilous journey.
Les Gets: What was the best moment during your travels? Can you tell us about it?
Sébastien: Every day in Svalbard was extraordinary in its own way. Perhaps the most memorable moments were our night watches to keep an eye out for polar bears. Every night, while the rest of the crew slept, we would stay outside for an hour to be on guard, with rifles, against any attacks from polar bears. The animals search for food for winter and could pose a fatal threat to us. We had set up our base camp a safe distance from the ocean, in the hope that, should any bears spot us, the energy needed to reach us would put them off.
Les Gets: Why call your film “Bjørnebo”?
Sébastien: The name “Bjørnebo” is really apt to describe this adventure. It means “land of the bears”. It was also the name of a refuge that we came across and where we slept during our expedition.