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A wall of ice

This tower is situated in Big Ski Resort in British Columbia, Canada. FOTO: Jim Ongena

A wall of ice

Englishman Steve Lewis will set up an ice climbing tower in Longyearbyen.

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A nine-meter-high ice climbing tower at Sjøområdet will become a reality if Steve Lewis gets what he wants. He is now seeking help from Longyearbyen's Municipal Council to find a suitable place to build it.

"We have a lot of trouble with sea ice and snow in Svalbard, but the ice we have is at least enough," said Lewis, who originally came from Oxford and has lived in Longyearbyen for four years.

Waste from mines
He got the idea around New Year's when he was skiing in Austria. On one of the glaciers there was a structure on top that was covered by ice. With the help of top rope, ice axes and crampons, people could climb up the vertical wall of ice.

When Lewis returned to Svalbard he contacted a Canadian company that has experience with ice climbing towers. Moreover, he contacted a number of local companies to see if the same thing was feasible so far north. He said he received much encouragement. In addition, he found a sponsor for a portion of the equipment from the climbing equipment supplier Grivel.

Store Norske was also supportive since the original plan was to use metal waste from Mine 7 as the base for the tower. The idea was to give the waste a second life instead of spending a lot of resources sending it to the mainland. But after contacting consultants, it became clear such a solution would not be secure enough.

"In the future we can build the tower with mining waste, but the foundational elements we must be sure are trustworthy," Lewis said.

Ice climbing club
Lewis has started the company Svalbard Ice Adventures and has been meeting with the Longyearbyen Municipal Council. In addition to Sjøområdet, it has been proposed to use the area near the ice rink at Polarflokken kindergarten.

"We're coming to build where the Longyearbyen Municipal Council would like us to build," he said.

He also envisions starting an ice climbing club, which may be a part of the climbing group at Svalbard Turn.

"This should be a low threshold activity," Lewis said.

Taking payment from tourists
In his application to set up the ice climbing tower he writes: "Even if we take payments from tourists and have subsidized memberships for residents, we want children under a certain age to be able to attend for free."

"We hope to begin construction over the summer so we are ready for next season," Lewis said.

Ronny Brunvoll, director of Svalbard Tourism, said he likes the idea.

"This is a type of activity that can strengthen Longyearbyen as an experience," he said. "We are working to develop a more local offering and this may be one such activity."

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Maybe by the seaside? Steve Lewis hope so. FOTO: Christian Nicolai Bjørke

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