When the compass steers north

Jonas came to Svalbard to learn more about the wild and beautiful nature in the Arctic.

Top image: Follow your dreams! After working with international management three years, Jonas Haass realized his future job was in the great outdoors. Photo: Private

Twenty-six-year-old Jonas Haass had a bachelor’s in international management and had been working for three years when he realized he wanted to spend his time outdoors rather than in an office. He discovered the Arctic Nature Guide course, quit his job and moved to Svalbard.

15 March 2021
Text: Maria Philippa Rossi

“I grew up in the mountains. I’m from the southern part of Germany, with the Alps as my closest neighbor. I began skiing at 4, snowboarding at 6, and started working as a ski- and snowboarding instructor at 15.”

Jonas got in touch with professionals who introduced him to split boarding and ski touring, and he spent every minute outdoors. Then he started studying and completed a bachelor’s degree in international management.

“I worked for three years, but realized I wanted to spend my time outdoors rather than indoors. I wanted  to go somewhere new, and the ANG-course looked like a perfect chance to start an outdoor life.”

He adds that he might pursue the international mountaineering program, IFMGA-education, at a later stage, but now he’s very happy with what Svalbard has to offer.

Jonas Haass in the mountains.
Jonas Haass is an Arctic Nature Guide student.

Change of plans due to Covid-19

Due to Covid-19 the ANG-course started with one semester in Alta. At first Jonas was a bit disappointed he couldn’t spend a full year on Svalbard, but then he saw the positive outcomes of it.

“By going to Alta first I got to see a different part of Norway. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Lyngen Alps ski touring. And on the mainland, there are trees for bonfires.”

Camping under the northern lights in Finnmark.
One of the pros of starting the Arctic Nature Guide on the mainland: there are trees to light bonfires!
Jonas heard about Svalbard through his father who’s a keen bird watcher.

“I was not sure if I wanted to work as a guide when I started the ANG-course and wanted to do the course for my personal knowledge. I’ve traveled a lot and done many multi-day hikes, but realized I had no knowledge about how to conduct a winter expedition. Through this course I’ll learn that.”

Longyearbyen is completely normal

When Jonas and his fellow students arrived in Longyearbyen in January it was completely dark 24/7.

“I had been a bit worried about how we would get to the student accommodation. I’ve been to Alaska previously where we had to shuffle our own bags out of the plane.”

He was surprised about the level of infrastructure in town, about the many bars and restaurants and activities available for the locals.

“People talk about Svalbard as a hostile environment where it’s difficult to survive, but there’s a kindergarten, children go to school. I was surprised about how normal things are here. It’s not like it’s Mount Everest, it’s just cold and dark. Longyearbyen is more normal than you would expect.”

Explore the wilderness around town

Jonas has explored the wilderness around town, and already been to the highest peak around Longyearbyen, Nordenskiöldtoppen (1050 m.a.s.l), four times.

“I spend every spare minute in the mountains. Maybe I should explore the city more?!”

He laughs.

“I’ve just been to one restaurant and until now I never managed to see the nice waterfront around Longyearbyen. The prices came as a shock. Everything is way more expensive, well, except the beer, that’s cheaper.”

He enjoys the Arctic nature and looks forward to the several multi-day trips that are a part of the course.  That the temperatures drop to minus 20 degrees Celcius doesn’t bother him much. Neither is it a a problem wearing long johns and a face mask when bike riding to university.

It’s just the new normal.


University of Tromsø, in cooperation with UNIS, runs the Arctic Nature Guide-programme every year, starting in August. 

People skiing on a glacier.
Jonas Haass wanted to learn more about the Arctic wilderness. He ended up on Svalbard.
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