Creating Control Within Chaos — Navigating the Poles with Aviaaja Schluter 

From teaching Spanish in Venezuela, to working on ice, Aviaaja Schluter has lived a life full of adventure, and wouldn’t trade it in for anything. Aviaaja shares the challenges and unique experiences that she has been a part of working and navigating in the most remote (and frozen) locations around the world.

Born and raised in Greenland, Aviaaja Schluter always had a passion for the frozen corners of the world. After many years away from her native land, she found herself back in Greenland, ready to take on the challenges that came her way.

Aviaaja’s current assignment came about by pure coincidence. 

After returning and beginning work in Greenland following graduation from university, a privately owned helicopter landed on the ice and out stepped the owner of a tourism camp in Antarctica. 

Full of confidence, Aviaaja asked for a job. Fortunately, they agreed, resulting in Aviaaja quitting her job in Greenland and begun work in Antarctica 2 ½ months later.

Currently balancing two roles, Guest services manager for Antarctica Logistics & Expeditions in Union Glacier Camp and Tour leader for Albatros expeditions where she works on cruise ships in and around Greenland, Aviaaja has had the opportunity to explore some of the best and most remote environments on earth.

“My role involves a lot of planning — making sure people are getting on the right flights, organising with the team and managing resources.” 

The teams at Albatros Expeditions and Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions help tourists to achieve their dreams of experiencing the Antarctic and the arctic circle, with destinations spanning from Svalbard, Greenland to Union Glacier Camp on the Ronne Ice Shelf.

Union Glacier camp on the interior part of Antarctica is the place Aviaaja calls her second home, a location where she works as the Guest Services Manager during the Antarctic summer (November, December, January.) Operating the largest tent camp on the continent, Aviaaja and her team can see a turn over of 500-600 guests any given season, with visitors arriving from all over the globe to stay at the 100+ tent camp.  

Guests have the ability to stay anywhere from 3 days to 3 months, depending on the purpose of their trip. 

 

The weather is the number one commander in Antarctica, you can plan all you like but at the end of the day, the weather determines the success of an expedition. 

“Our team operates in the antarctic summer which means we get the ‘best’ of the climate, so it’s not like we are operating in -60 below. However, on a cold day in November, it could be -28 degrees plus windchill, which is cold enough!”

Whether it’s katabatic winds coming off the ice caps causing sudden storms, or massive glacier calvings shutting down access for cruise ships, halting travel in and out of ports, there are a lot of hurdles that arise due to ever-changing weather conditions.

It is a common occurrence for Aviaaja to have guests asking how the weather is, and asking if they can do ‘this and that’ on particular days, but the truth is, their team has to take any opportunity they are given. 

If the team looks out the window and the sun is shining, it’s the best possible situation to be in as no one is sure what the weather will be like in an hour, let alone in a couple of days. Modern weather forecasts give you a precise idea of what’s coming, but nothing is guaranteed in Antarctica. 

Depending on how the weather is going, Aviaaja says you really become good at managing chaos. No matter how much preparation our team does, it almost never goes exactly to plan, which signifies the need for effective backup plans to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our guests. 

“My job is to create control within chaos.”

Aviaaja was quick to highlight the importance of effective safety procedures when on the job. 

Their team aim to give our guests an experience of a lifetime. However, the safety of guests is the number one priority when out on expeditions.

“Adventure work is pictured as “hanging off a mountain with an ice pick with death underneath your feet”, whereas the reality is to the contrary. We have to constantly think about how to keep guests are as safe as possible.” 

When exploring, it’s about being as safe as possible, which is why there's actually a conservative approach to operating. If an activity is even remotely dangerous, the team simply won’t do it. 

“People tend to think that my job is high octane and action-filled — whereas the reality is quite the opposite.”

Depending on location, safety procedures can change drastically. For example, when in port in Svalbard (in the Norweigian archipelago) there is a heavy polar bear presence, which means tourist groups require the presence of guards armed with guns and flares, in addition to polar bear spotters and other risk avoidance strategies. 

"Everything is about avoiding the worst possible outcome."

"Again it's all about being conservative and keeping safety front of mind, because you don’t want to put yourself, or your guests in a potentially dangerous situation. Even when taking out a group on a relatively simple walk in Greenland, Aviaaja is always thinking about extra precautions like fresh clothes and key amenities, because as soon as you are out on the ice, the temperature drops and you feel the full force of nature."

"It's far from the action-packed, Hollywood film world some people think it is. Everywhere you go you always pack extra hats gloves clothes etc. your always taking precautions."

Safety and technology go hand in hand. With both playing a large operational role in the North and South poles. Aviaaja’s team use a tracking and communications platform on boats in the Arctic and planes in the Antarctic.

"We use radar tools connected to the boats to ensure they are always visible ensuring the safety of crews and guests onboard. If you end up in unfavourable conditions we have the ability to be spotted if something goes wrong."

There is a reason Antarctica was the last continent to be discovered, it’s an inaccessible location far away from civilization, with 14 million square kilometres of rugged terrain that provides challenges like no other place on earth. 

"I have a radio on me constantly in Antarctica 24/7. Today, communication and tracking systems are incredible, they have opened the doors to a whole new line of opportunities when it comes to expeditions in remote areas."

"Because safety is the most important aspect of what we do, it provides us with the opportunity to venture into new locations or change and make our operations more dynamic. But it allows us to do these things in a safe manner."

Explorers rely on the emergence of new technologies to lift operations to the next level and push people deeper into the continent.

"Antarctic and Arctic exploration isn’t impossible, but the addition of modern technology makes what we do a whole lot easier."

Technology allows the teams at Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions and Albatros Expeditions to operate on the scale that they do it today, and it’s the modern technology that allows them to trust that their expeditions are done safely.

 

"You don’t do this type of work to get rich. You do this because you love it." 

"The ability to go to a place where there is no trace of human beings is so special and that’s why we recommend people to get out there and take in the experience."

"The job is like no other. Many people will never have the opportunity to experience environments as Aviaaja does on a daily basis. Making what she does even more unique."

"It’s super rewarding, having adults acting like ecstatic small children when they see a penguin, whale, or the first calving of a glacier. Some people become so overwhelmed by the environment that they start crying, it is so special being part of a life-changing experience."

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