Icy Adventures in Norway

Hiking in Sunnmøre, Part 4: Regndalen. (Source: Severin Sadjina/Flickr)
Hiking Site in Sunnmøre, Regndalen. (Source: Severin Sadjina/Flickr)

If you want to walk and climb on glaciated areas for an extraordinary experience, you should visit Norway before the glaciers melt away. You do have some decades ahead, though, before glaciers really become scarce there. Still, rising  temperatures have caused a dramatic decrease in glacial volume in Norway as in other parts of the world. As this trend intensifies, glacier tourism will be largely limited in the future.

Norwegian sunset near Tromso, Norway (Source: Diana Robinson/Flickr)
Sunset near Tromso, Norway (Source: Diana Robinson/Flickr)

There are many opportunities to explore glaciers. There are over 1600 glaciers in Norway, which cover an area of roughly 2600 square kilometers. Most of the glaciers are in mountainous regions along or near the coast, particularly in southwestern and northern Norway. You could choose among guided day tours, longer tours, glacier surface walks, glacier lake kayaking, terminal face walks, ice climbing, and more. But climate change will change the nature of glacier tourism. A 7-year follow-up study conducted by Trude Furunes and Reidar J. Mykletun considered five components of the development of glacier tourism: natural resources, access, demand, entrepreneurship, and the need for skilled delivery of tourism services. Data in the study was collected through analysis of websites, repeated interviews, and participant observation.

Engabreen (Source: Nathanael Coyne/Flickr)
Engabreen (Source: Nathanael Coyne/Flickr)

Most glacier tourism activities involve the edges of the glacier, especially the glacier arm area, which are neither too steep nor too dangerous to enter. Glacier tourism generally occurs from June to August, when snow accumulated during winter has finished melting. A large portion of the study’s respondents expressed concern about impacts of climate change on glacier recession. After all, ice melting limits the accessibility of glaciers. In 2003, some operators decided to include more mountain walks in the tour package due to ice melting, which in the end led to dramatic decline in clients. In 2007, as some glaciers became inaccessible, some operators had no choice but to move to different glaciers in order to minimize financial loss.

Low entry cost attracted many investors into the glacier tourism business, causing a great deal of competition in the region. “Several activity companies pop up. But the Briksdal glacier is now closed due to the reduced glacier area, which makes it difficult to run safe glacier guiding here. This has led to increased tourism on the Nigard glacier,” said one respondent. More and more companies chose to tailor activities for their clients instead of providing highly commercialized products. “Competitors still exist, but they have changed their activity,” said another respondent.

A route between Aurlands and Briksdal in Norway. (Source: Lee Gwyn/Flickr)
A path between Aurlands and Briksdal . (Source: Lee Gwyn/Flickr)

Many operators claimed that they treated safety as priority and few accidents had occurred. “We focus strongly on safety, and use two guides per group, where one is certified. We also focus on equipment needed. It is important that the clients don’t perceive high risk, but get a unique experience.” Another operator stated that, “we have had no accidents, only bone fractures.”

According to T. Furunes and R. J. Mykletun, there was a 30% decrease from 2003 to 2009 in the number of visitors and operators, due to decline in natural resources and access. However, they suspected that relatively rapid melting of glaciers in Central Europe would likely to prompt glacier tourism in Norway. In a sense,  glacier loss in Central Europe could make Norwegian glacier tourism seem more attractive.  This study thus confirms the uneven and complex effects of global warming and its consequences for glacial retreat on national tourist industries.

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