Ski to the South Pole - Getting Started

Skiing to the South Pole is an incredible, life changing experience. But how to get started? And what’s involved? We asked ALE’s Hannah McKeand to give us some tips.

Expeditions 365Hannah is an avid explorer and experienced polar guide. She has skied to the South Pole more times than anyone else; has guided several expeditions to the Pole on both Hercules Inlet and Messner Start routes; and holds the record for fastest female expedition from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole. Here is what she had to say…

The First Step

The first step to skiing to the South Pole sounds easy, but is actually surprisingly hard, it’s deciding you are going to do it and committing to the plan.

There are many hurdles to achieving even the start of your expedition and you are going to need bundles of determination to overcome them. The first time I decided to ski to the South Pole I had never done anything like it before. I’d never even been on skis before for goodness sake. So my strategy for establishing absolute commitment was to tell everyone I met that I was going to ski to the South Pole. Eventually I had told so many people, with such conviction, that I had no choice but to make it happen!

On the Right Road

Once you have truly decided that you want to ski to the South Pole it will not be long before you discover ALE. ALE is the only company offering access to West Antarctica for serious expeditions and even third party guiding companies use all their facilities and logistics.

Making contact with ALE is definitely the first serious step to getting to the South Pole. The beauty of ALE is that they have a collective pool of knowledge and experience that spans more than twenty-five years of operations. There is simply nothing that they and their staff don’t know about Antarctic travel and they will immediately set you on the right road for preparing for your trip. Contact ALE for an Expedition Starter Pack.

Fund Raising

The first major hurdle for achieving any polar expedition is fund-raising. Polar expeditions are extremely expensive and most expeditioners will require some kind of sponsorship or financial support. There is no magical formula to finding a sponsor and many expedition dreams falter at this obstacle. Begin by making yourself a comprehensive budget and really get your head around all the expenses you will incur, so that you truly know what the bottom line is to move forward.

Finding sponsorship is all about networking and using your contacts. Once you have a figure in mind, create a really eye-catching website and write a punchy and interesting proposal outlining the goals of the expedition and what it has to offer a potential sponsor. Send an appeal to everyone you know asking them to share ideas and business contacts. Seek out media partners to guarantee some coverage of your expedition. And look for companies whose vision and mission align with the spirit of your expedition. Always personalize what you send to potential sponsors. Take the time to download their company logo and put it on your material and tailor your letter to each recipient. Nothing is easier to ignore than a round-robin style communication or form letter. Outdoor clothing and equipment companies might provide some free clothing or equipment, but don’t expect them to offer financial support. Everyone approaches them and they rarely have any money to give out. Be prepared for hundreds of rejections, but soldier on regardless. Someone out there is just waiting to be inspired by you!

First-hand Knowledge

Once the fund-raising is in hand, get serious about the expedition details. Talk to people with polar experience and try to form a mental image of what you will be facing in the field and what you will need. There are lots of people who are self-declared polar experts, so be careful who you listen to. I have a little check list of questions that I use to check out their credentials:

  • How many expeditions have you done? Get pertinent and insist on exact numbers and the year they were done.
  • What role did you play? Were you the guide on these trips? Was someone else the guide? Or was someone else on the team more experienced than you?
  • What was the outcome? Did you reach your destination? Did the expedition achieve its original goals?
  • Did everyone who started the trips finish and if not why not?
  • These questions will give you an idea of people’s actual experience and knowledge. Listen to the answers carefully. They won’t want to let on if they are pretending to be something they aren’t. ALE should be able to give you a list of reliable and experienced people to contact and talk to.

Polar Training Courses

Specific, polar training is essential if you are planning a non-guided expedition. Budget for (at least) a two week training course somewhere like Norway or northern Canada in February, March, or April, or, for those of you in the southern hemisphere, Wanaka, NZ in July/August. ALE can point you in the direction of reputable guide services. ALE offers custom, expedition training courses in Antarctica during the Austral summer.

A typical course might include instruction in:

  • Equipment selection and use – clothing, sled, ski and camping equipment
  • Familiarization with Antarctic conditions
  • Food planning
  • Polar navigation and route selection
  • Expedition communications
  • Expedition hazards and their avoidance
  • Cold injury prevention
  • Weather reporting for aircraft operations
  • Sled hauling
  • Mini-expedition
  • Kiting instruction (if you plan to use kites for your expedition)

Another extremely valuable experience would be to undertake a Greenland Expedition in April/May, although this is a major expedition in itself and not possible for everyone. Again ALE can point you in the direction of guides and logistics services putting together this kind of trip.

Getting Fit

Getting strong and fit is an important part of training. Start by building up your baseline fitness with activities like hiking, running, and playing sports. Anything that is vigorous, that you do on a regular basis (3 to 5 times a week for at least 20 minutes) is perfect preparation. For fun you can add expedition-specific training like dragging tires with a harness, but you don’t need to go crazy with them early on. Just get out and do something you enjoy and can sustain.

Expedition-specific physical training should start at least three months before you head south. It’s worth getting some advice from a training expert who can help you build the endurance, core and muscle strength required for such an extreme expedition.

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