"I could never survive that long in the dark." So say many an outside friend of Svalbard's people. From October to February, the sun disappears below the horizon. And unlike almost any other northern community in the world - including the far north of mainland Norway or the North Slope of Alaska - Svalbard doesn't even enjoy a dose of twilight. It is as dark as midnight at noon. And yet, many Svalbardians will tell you this is their favorite time of the year.
Why yes, it is lunchtime.
So how does one cope with the darkness? Vitamin D? Extra lamps? Lots of TV? Longyearbyen actually offers a great deal to do in the dark season and people love to take advantage of what is on offer. For example, two music festivals light things up, one before the holidays and one after. Dark Season Blues is the (obligatorily) northernmost blues festival in the world. In 2016 it was from October 27-30, with performances for adults, teenagers, and children spread out around town at the Kulturhuset (Culture House), various restaurants and bars, the school, and even one of the day care centers. Artists came from Spain, Norway, Finland, Canada, Italy, the UK, the US, Sweden, and locally from Svalbard. Tourists come up, and the town comes out.
Light calendar from the Longyearbyen town government.
The second festival is Polarjazz. Held every year since 1998, in 2017 it will run from February 1-4. The artists are mostly from Norway for this one, and it is the world's - you guessed it - northernmost jazz festival. Likewise held all over town and bringing up tourists who try to catch a glimpse of the northern lights while enjoying great music with the locals.
Tickets available now for Polarjazz 2017, we promise it's worth the trip!
Special events aside, the center of town life is often Svalbardhallen. The facility has everything an active community could want: weight rooms, a rock climbing wall, a full size indoor swimming pool (big enough for kayak polo!), a large gym for football and other sports, even an indoor shooting range. Everyone seems to have at least one activity they are involved in and friends get a chance to catch up in between catching their breath.
Rock climbing wall at Svalbardhallen. Photo from Lokalstyre.no
Other events and meeting places around town give plenty of chances to stay engaged. The Kulturhus houses a cinema where first run movies are shown usually twice a week. It also hosts other community events ranging from the annual Christmas market to local political meetings to overnight computer game marathons for the high school kids. The restaurants, bars, and cafes are all active with locals and tourists. Fruene cafe in the main main shopping centre (Lompensenteret) seems to see everyone in town pass by for a snack or hot drink at some point.
For the hardier types, a little dark is no reason to stay away from civilization. Cabins in the wilderness and snowmobile treks continue for some people. It is trickier to spot polar bears in the dark though. Especially in bad weather, as the town discovered just this morning when fresh footprints from a bear and its two cubs were discovered across the length of a residential near the university. For those out in the wild, a watchful eye and a rifle are the best protection.
Dark season? Plenty of lights inside and out.
And of course, whether in town or out in the wilderness, northern light spotting is always in order. The lights of town can obscure them, but they still show up fairly often. In any case, it takes all of 5 minutes to step away from the man-made lights and watch the sky dancing while remembering Longyearbyen is just an outpost amidst Europe's last great wilderness.