"A few years ago I was tired of guiding visitors," Tommy Jordbrudal said. "But now the desire has returned and I think it's okay to do it a couple times a week."
He has started the one-man enterprise Husky Travellers (SPELLING?) with well over 20 dogs for tour operations. The business plan is to offer husky rides for small groups of up to six people. It is offering day trips as a starting point, but longer trips can also be booked.
Jordbrudal participated in the Iditarod last year and has helped guide various expeditions including numerous trips to the North Pole. There are two primary reasons why he wants to offer his services to tourists in Longyearbyen at the busiest time of the year.
"Dog teams have become very popular with the tourists," he said. "I think that is positive and it shows that we have done something right up here. Many have had good experiences in Svalbard and talked about them on the mainland. That is positive."
The second reason he is taking up guiding is the opportunity to earn money. He previously earned his main income from the oil industry, but the industry has suffered negative developments that have affected Jordbrudal and many others.
After many years in Svalbard, Jordbrudal has seen the dogsledding business make more improvements than most, not the least of which is taking animal welfare seriously. The industry is now making large investments and in the course of a few years may find there are up to 400 dogs just at Bolterdalen. He said he hopes the development that occurs is controlled.
"It is important that the focus is not only on starting money machines," he said. "There must be a focus on good animal husbandry. If not, all lose in the industry."
Jordbrudal said he thinking just about making sure the dogs have enough food and they're not tied down.
"Today there are many limitations on building areas in connection with dog kennels and that can be negative for animal welfare," he said. "To successfully with dogs you should build indoor spaces that can be used and dog kennels must have continuous inspections."
"We cannot have hundreds of dogs in different kennels in Bolterdalen without residences for people who can look after them continuously," he added.
A hundred dogs
Jordbrudal is far from the only one who is grabbing a share of the growing demand. If everything goes according to plan, a new dog kennel with 80 to 100 four-legged creatures operated by Svalbard Adventure Group AS (SAG) will be ready in Bolterdalen in about a year.
"We are opening a new hotel next year and that means more guests," said administrative director John-Einar Lockert. "Then we have a need to have broader offerings that are closer to the city."
He estimates the new kennel will result in four to five new jobs.
SAG has also noticed the increasing demand for experiences with dog teams. Until now the company has hired services from others, but that has become increasingly difficult. The response to inquiries is often that outings are fully booked and that resulted in the company taking matters into its own hands.
"The company today has employees with expertise and experience in this type of activity," Lockert. said. "We want to use this expertise as well as partnering with businesses on the mainland to get it up and going."
He said he plans to go to the mainland in the near future to talk with players who are showing an interesting in starting up a business in Svalbard. The dogs to be used in the kennel will also come from the mainland.
"The ideal is a joint venture with another player," he said. "The alternative is that we build it ourselves. Then we will have a two-year perspective on getting started."
Driving with dogs is described by Lockert as a simple activity with a large area of use. Dog teams aren't dependent on snow to pull sleds – wheeled ones are used during the summer – and are therefore useful all year round.
"It can be used as a half-day product, where you combine it with doing something else the rest of the day," Lockert said. "Not everyone is interested in long expeditions when they visit Svalbard."
He emphasized the new offering is intended as a supplement to SAG's existing offerings of accommodations, dining, snowmobile rides and other activities.
A total of 180 square meters of buildings are planned at the dog kennel in Bolterdalen, in addition to the kennels themselves. That will allow the opportunity to include dining and other experiences.
It's a bet being made when the economic forecast for Longyearbyen and Svalbard isn't exactly positive. Is Lockert taking that into consideration?
"What we see around us is growth and increasing demand for our services," he said. "I have never experienced more optimism here."