7 Summits 8000ers Adventure Films Adventure Travel Africa Alaska Alpine style Ama Dablam Amazon Annapurna Annapurna Antarctic Antarctic Archaeology Arctic Arctic Aviation Ballooning BASE jump and Paragliding Big Wall climbing Broad Peak Canoeing & Kayaking Caving Cho Oyu Climate change Climbing COVID-19 Desert Dhaulagiri Dhaulagiri Endurance Environment Everest Exploration mysteries Explorers Flying Gasherbrum Gear Geography High altitude skiing Himalaya History Ice Climbing Indigenous cultures K2 Kangchenjunga Karakorum Kilimanjaro Lhotse Long-distance hiking Manaslu Manaslu Marathon Mountain Nanga Parbat Natural History Nepal Oceans Patagonia Photos Poles Reviews Rivers Rowing/canoeing Science Sherpa Siberia Skiing Solo South Pole Space Sponsored Content Survival Swimming Uncategorized Unclimbed Volcanos Wildlife Winter 8000ers Winter Himalaya

Exweb interview with Thomas Ulrich: North Pole to Canada solo skier

Posted: Apr 03, 2015 05:53 pm EDT


(By Correne Coetzer) One solo skier will be alone on the ice this 2015 Arctic season. Thomas Ulrich from Switzerland will be the only skier attempting a full route. He plans to ski from the Geographic North Pole (GNP) to Canada, without resupplies.


Explorersweb caught up with Thomas over Skype in Switzerland last week. Already good-to-go, he shares lessons from past expeditions, tells about his 2016 plan, but has his focus set on his current challenge, and he tells about his custom-made equipment for this expedition. Thomas is currently in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, ready for the fly-in to Barneo Ice Camp


Game plan


Weather permitting on April 3rd, Thomas will fly in with the Russian Antonov-74 from Longyearbyen to Barneo Ice Camp inside 89ºN. He will first guide a 9-person last degree of latitude ski team to the North Pole (110km). Upon arrival, a Russian Mi-8 helicopter from Barneo will pick up his clients and Thomas will set his compass south to Canada, starting his solo expedition.


The distance to Ward Hunt Island, Canada, is 775 km, in a straight line. Skiers on the Arctic Ocean face the ever drifting and live Arctic ice. The drift is usually from the Pole towards land and, drift permitting, skiing this direction could be done faster than skiing towards the GNP. Last year we saw how the skiers fought a battle against an exceptionally strong eastward drift.


Thomas has packed food and fuel for 45 days, he told us. He added that, when he and Børge Ousland skied and kayaked from the GNP to Frans Franz Josef Land, they made provision for 80 days and their kayak-sleds weighed 180 kg each.


Lessons in life-threatening conditions


Thomas’  ultimate aim in the Arctic is to do a crossing from Russia via the GNP to Canada in 2016. In 2006 he attempted this route, but was caught in a storm on unstable ice, lost almost all his equipment and were rescued after four life-threatening days.


"On the one hand that was one of the worst expeditions in my life and on the other hand, it was one of the best experiences,”  Thomas said to Explorersweb. “I have learned about myself and about life. I have learned that I was not experienced enough, to be honest with myself, to be open minded." 


The ice at the start was unstable and he had a choice to be airlifted to stable ice some distance away from the coast, Thomas explained. As that would not count as a coastal start point according to the Rules, he chose to start from land and attempt the ice conditions. 


"I had bad luck with the conditions at that time," Thomas said, "A few days before or a few days after could have made a difference." 


The weather grounded him for a week alone in his tent before he could hook his sled. “The time in the tent was not the best experience. It was mentally tough, a big challenge on its own. The pressure was hard because the crossing was still ahead of me. It was a tough game. It was my first experience in that kind of environment."


When he eventually got on the ice and the storm set in, added to the stress was the fact that the rescue helicopter’s air time was finished and had to leave the coast. The weather had to clear fast for him to get the service of the helicopter. 


Save back home in Switzerland, Thomas took a long time to analyse what had happened and what decisions he had made. Gaining experience is like going to kindergarten, said Thomas. Today he feels different from then because he has learned a lot in the mean time,  especially from his Southern Patagonia Ice Cap and Franz Josef Land team mate, Norwegian Børge Ousland


“Børge is the best teacher. He taught me to travel in the Arctic and to use the Scandinavian style. He taught me to stick with your plan, to focus and keep going, to be happy if things are good and to be happy if things are not good, to find solutions for problems.”

Since the 2006 experience Thomas still wanted to go back for the crossing, but at the moment his focus is on this Pole-to-land expedition, he emphasised. “In April I will face it. I am more experienced and are looking forward to see how the conditions are on the Canadian side.”


"I focus on what I do now, not on next year’s expedition. This one is a challenge on its own, It is also dangerous and things can happen.” 


Franz Josef Land Expedition


The expedition from the North Pole to Franz Josef Land will be hard to top, said Thomas. He has good memories. There were different aspects. He and Børge followed the footsteps of Nansen and Johansen a 100 years later and covered 1500 km in 113 days.


“All the history. We were in their footsteps on the same place. After the sea ice stage, a new expedition started on land. We went from island to island. Their were animals. It was such a special experience and will be hard to top.”


Editor's note: Team mate Børge Ousland has written an excellent book about their Franz Josef Land expedition. Check here for more information. 




On the Franz Josef Land expedition they used kayaks as sleds across the Arctic ice. This time Thomas will use a sled that he has designed and produced himself three years ago, called Beluga. "It is made out of polyethylene and is very durable. It can be used on pack-ice and on Greenland. I will be using two sleds and combine them to make a raft across leads [open water].”


Watch this video to see how the sled perform on the rough ice, and also how Thomas uses his parasail to help him while crossing a pressure ridge.


Thomas won’t be taking snowshoes, “I am a good skier and it is faster to ski,” he explained. He will use his custom-made Fisher skis with fish scales and no skins.


Boots: Alpha Boots 

Tent: Hellsport

Clothes: Mixed




Thomas is taking parasails with him. He explained, “these are not power kites like the ones used on Antarctica. I don't want to gain speed because the ice is too ruff. This is more for helping with the pulling and the skiing. To use kites and sails on the Arctic ice, one needs to be very experienced.”


Thomas added that he does not agree with the classification of kites/parasails as “support" in the Polar Rules of Adventure on AdventureStats. He sees it as Nature helping to complete the expedition; same as like using skis to go faster on the ice, or a sled to help carry the equipment.




Does he consider going to Antarctica, Explorersweb wanted to know. “Oh yes, I have plans, but first I have to finish what I have to do in the Arctic.”





North Pole 2015 Expedition List


ExWeb interview with Thomas Ulrich: Unsupplied or bust!


112 years after: Gentlemen explorers - ExWeb interview with Borge and Thomas, part 5 final



Thomas Ulrich's personal website


Thomas Ulrich’s photography website



Ski North Pole from Russia: Victor Boyarsky talks to Explorersweb


Kenn Borek stops supporting North Pole expeditions


Top North Pole Tips: Ryan Waters and Eric Larsen, Class of 2014


ExWeb interview with Ryan Waters, "the North Pole is like going into battle”


ExWeb interview with Eric Larsen: "The North Pole is easily ten times harder than Everest or the South Pole”


ExWeb interview with Eric Philips, innovation and North Pole expedition


North Pole season closed down with last flight


North Pole: Bengt Rotmo talks to ExWeb from the Arctic Ocean


The Hunger Game: Yasu Ogita recaps his North Pole expedition


Dmitry Shparo's Top 5 North Pole Tips


AdventureStats (Polar Statistics and Rules of Adventure)










The 2007 Franz Josef Land is an expedition hard to top, says Thomas, in the image with polar bears looking for food.
courtesy Thomas Ulrich and Borge Ousland, SOURCE
Polar sleds designed and produced by Thomas Ulrich. He will be using two Beluga sleds and combine them to make a raft to cross leads. (click to expand)
courtesy Thomas Ulrich, SOURCE
Either way, from the land to the North Pole, or from the Pole to land, the ice has it challenges and a drysuit is needed to cross thin ice and open water.
courtesy Thomas Ulrich, SOURCE
Thomas will be using parasails to help him pull the sled and for walking/skiing on the rough Arctic ice, not for gaining speed as on Antarctica, he says.
courtesy Thomas Ulrich, SOURCE
Hundred years after Nansen and Johansen, Ousland and Ulrich followed their footsteps. In the image, Thomas Ulrich.
courtesy Borge Ousland / Thomas Ulrich, SOURCE
A route map on the Canadian side to and from the Geographic North Pole to indicate where Thomas Ulrich will be heading.
courtesy Arctic Ice Drift Maps 2013 : Image from http://www.arctic.noaa.gov / Mike O Shea and Clare O Leary, SOURCE