How Cecilia Blomdahl in Svalbard Embraces Dark Days in the Arctic


Cecilia Blomdahl can still remember the first time she looked out at the Arctic Ocean on a winter night. The darkness was so dense she could not tell where land started and ended.

It was 2015 and Ms. Blomdahl had arrived on Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago near the North Pole, to work at a restaurant with friends. Polar night had just begun, and the sun would not rise again until February. But the thing that really struck her, and has stayed with her ever since, was the quiet.

“I don’t think I understood then how this would become my home,” she said in a recent interview. “I was only planning to stay for three months.”

Now Ms. Blomdahl, 34, lives in a cabin overlooking a fjord with her partner, Christoffer, and dog, Grim. She lives in the town of Longyearbyen, population 2,400, where she has managed to bring the unique extremes of the 78th parallel north to an audience of millions on TikTok and YouTube.

They come for what Ms. Blomdahl describes as a “cozy corner” of the internet: gazing at the Northern Lights, coffee on the fjord, near encounters with polar bears, dog walks guided by headlight, snowmobile expeditions deeper into the Arctic. Viewers often post comments asking how she deals with the extremes of the polar night, how she gets supplies and whether she’s tempted to hibernate.

Yes, she is as every bit cheerful about winter on Zoom as she is in her videos. Yes, she really loves winter. Yes, she has a dozen pairs of pajamas.

Ms. Blomdahl grew up in Gothenburg, Sweden, a coastal city where winters were dark, with the sun setting around 3 p.m. She attributes her love of winter to her parents, who encouraged Ms. Blomdahl and her two sisters to be outside.

“I just remember my entire winter being as much outdoors as summer,” she said. “Whenever winter came around, it was never something that ever was spoken about to us as something bad; it was just another season. That’s what I’m carrying on now.”

Too cheery for you? It’s not all cozy.

While Ms. Blomdahl primarily makes videos about Svalbard’s natural beauty, she also points out its dangers, including whiteout conditions and wild animals. In fact, she often has nightmares in the days leading up to polar night, a part of the year without daylight in the northernmost and southernmost points of the planet.

“I think it means that I respect the environment,” she said. “Yes, it’s fearful, but I think it’s good to have fear. If you stop being a little bit fearful you might get reckless.”

There are a few tactics she uses to prevent winter blues: exercise, vitamin D supplements, body oil and regular visits to a nail artist. Planning out her day is key to staying positive, she said. If she ever feels like the darkness is becoming suffocating, she goes for a hike and walks beneath a sky full of stars.

Longyearbyen, the main town on Svalbard, is a melting pot of more than 50 nationalities, she said. Svalbard itself has enjoyed a little boost from Ms. Blomdahl, who promotes the island “in such a responsible way,” said Anja Nordvålen, the marketing coordinator for Svalbard’s tourism board. There has been a particular increase in visitors from the United States, she said.

“Everything here is kind of extraordinary, even though ultimately it’s our ordinary life,” Ms. Nordvålen said. “I think it’s intriguing for people to see everyday life and tell them, ‘Oh, you need polar bear protection when you leave your cabin.’”

Svalbard is about as far north as humans can live. Longyearbyen, its largest settlement, was named after an American mine owner, John Munro Longyear, who developed the Arctic Coal Company after visiting the islands. It is home to a university campus, a satellite research station, a global seed bank and a small but vibrant tourist industry that capitalizes on outdoor adventures.

It was also once a prolific producer of coal for Russia. According to Longyearbyen legend, Santa Claus lives in an abandoned mine in the mountainside. On the first day of Advent each year, lights appear in the mine, including in the shape of a Christmas tree.

Svalbard is now transitioning the town away from coal production and toward diesel as it prepares to shutter the last remaining coal-fired plant in the region. But don’t expect Ms. Blomdahl to weigh in on that or any other geopolitical issues.

“There are a lot of dark views out there so I kind of like to be a cozy corner,” she said of her page. “I think that’s also what people get out of it.”

Grim, her 8-year-old Finnish Lapphund, makes sure Ms. Blomdahl goes outside, no matter the amount of daylight. She feels safer with him, but even still, she carries a firearm with her just in case she runs into a polar bear.

Ms. Blomdahl said polar night forces her to shift her focus inward.

Winter, she said, “is something we get to experience rather than endure. We’ve all chosen to be here.”

The real darkness of polar night sets in around January, after the warmth of the holiday season has passed. But then one day she’ll be walking along the fjord and see a sliver of light, and pitch black will turn to an inky blue. In March is the blue hour, when winter has passed and the sun slowly makes its return. Polar day, when the sun does not set, is not far behind.

“It’s like a rebirth,” she said.


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