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Safety and how we do our winter tours

Updated: 4 days ago

With The Arctic Moments, you can be assured that we do what we can to keep you safe. As a small and local company, we are committed to doing our tours in a way that not only benefits our guests but also the Northern Lights tour community in the Tromsø area. Luckily the winter tour business in general has not had any bigger incidents this far, and that is a statistic that no one wants to be part of. This post is a quick go-through of our thoughts on winter activities, but some apply for summer tours as well. Our hope is to convey that winter activities north of the Arctic Circle can be challenging, and the Northern Lights are not something to just turn on and off as needed.

Doing Northern Lights tours is not without risk, and we accept that. The climate and weather conditions can be harsh. The weather can change in a heartbeat, it is dark from early afternoon during the winter season, and most of the time we are driving on roads covered in snow and ice. With a coastal climate, the weather shifts between snowy days, windy days, milder days, and colder days. This is a challenge for the road conditions that can get very slippery (ice and water are rarely a good combination), but also for snow coming down from the mountains as avalanches. Although most main roads are well maintained during the winter season, the smaller roads where we ideally want to go are not.

The weather and risk assessments that are done daily (and sometimes by the hour) are reasons why Northern Lights tours vary a lot. We rarely go to the same place two days in a row, and we have to consider if we want to heighten the risk of going to where the chances of Northern Lights are the best or take a chance to get nice lights in another and safer area. On some days the roads are bad at the coast, and the avalanche risk is a bit high inland - and some days it is possible to go to someplace in the middle of everything with no really good alternatives to park. It is truly a lot of variation, and to partially quote Forest Gump "Northern Lights hunting is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get".

At The Arctic Moments, we are not seeking to put ourselves and our guests in situations where we feel that we are stretching the safety rubber band. This is also one of the reasons that we have always conducted our tours with a philosophy that the risk shall not outweigh the chances of getting a good experience. If the chances of ending up on the wrong side of the road are bigger than seeing the Northern Lights due to weather, we have a low threshold for canceling the tour. This is a bit difficult to convey to guests who have spent a lot of money on a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the Arctic and the lights - and we do understand that it can be disappointing. Some companies will go no matter the conditions - usually ending up in a parking lot 20 minutes outside Tromsø barbequing for 5 hours just to get paid. Or even worse, bringing guests through- or into areas where there are clear warnings not to go. This is not how we like to do it!

So, enough with the "scary" stuff. After all, we saw the lights 8 out of 10 evenings last season, and that is pretty good. On average you can stay in Tromsø just a few days, and get to see nice lights from the city itself with some luck. Some see lights every evening, and some are sadly left with a week of rain. These are just Arctic conditions, and they are more or less impossible to predict.

Our Northern Lights tours last between 5 and 7 hours. We leave at 7 pm and are usually back between midnight and 1 am. If we get nice lights early evening and things calm down we go back earlier, and if we have to go further we get back a bit later. The time spent in the car or bus also varies with weather conditions and light - normally 2-3 hours in total for a normal evening, and up to 6 hours on the more challenging ones. Private tours are of course more flexible on start time and return, this is why they are good options for guests with children or guests who have tight schedules.

On our tours we are not traveling with a lot of people - normally a maximum of 6 guests. This makes it quite easy to get a good connection with you, and no one feels left on the sideline. We believe that the best tours are made by interacting a lot with the guests, and this is only possible to achieve in smaller groups. Still, it can be difficult to get a message across in big open areas if we spread out. Usually, when guides tell you not to cross the main road for pictures, they mean it. Putting on a reflective vest when told is also not stupid. And no, you can't pet the reindeer or moose. Tell someone if you are leaving the group, and let us know if you have a medical condition that we should be aware of (preferably even before booking). It is important that you listen to the messages/advice of the guide, it makes life a lot easier for all of us.

We do bring some food and snacks on tour. The main food will be a locally made stew or soup, and the snack will be a traditional surprise. The main food is not a full dinner - more to keep us going a few more hours. The only thing we want you to bring is water in your own bottle. This is simply because you can refill your bottle with tap water everywhere in Norway - we save some space in an otherwise pretty full car, and it is a sustainable option. We do ask you not to drink alcohol on tour. If you want to celebrate with a beer by the bonfire or have a glass of wine or two with dinner before the tour that is, of course, not an issue. Visibly intoxicated guests will not be allowed onboard the car/bus - this is due to safety and the comfort of other guests. It is also a myth that Vodka will keep you warm. Clothing on the other hand will keep you warm.

We have yet to bring people on tour that we thought were going to pass on to "the other side" due to the cold. Clothing is however an important topic when going to the Arctic, and we only nag you to give you a better experience. It is meant as well-intentioned advice. To summarize: bring winter clothing. We normally don't bring thermal suits on tour, and 99% of the time we don't need them. Read our blog post on "How to dress", and do ask if there are questions.

Photos and videos often show the Northern Lights more vividly than our eyes will see it. This does not make the experience any less incredible; on some days, the lights will appear close to what you see in the photos, last year about 10 locations during the whole season. The reason why we can't see what the camera sees is that cameras are more sensitive to light than our eyes. As far as we know there are no northern lights operators that will give free tours the next day if there aren't any sightings, there are however some that will give a (very small) discount. If possible we will try to move you to another day if we see that the conditions are more favorable - if this is possible depends on the schedule on the surrounding days. This will of course be discussed with you before the tour.

We will update this post as we go, but these should be the main areas of safety and tour tips.

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