Recreation on base

Although the landscape around Halley is flat ice, we still have a good variety of outdoor recreation on base. Generally, we’re ok to move about freely inside the marked perimeter and the area around the base is solid ice with only few known crevassed areas mostly southeast of the station near the chasm and Precious Bay area. The perimeter is about 5 km and includes all the storage containers, vehicles, fuel and sledges, as well as the science experiments. Depending on the conditions the ground can be quite soft and flat like today, but sometimes especially after a gale there are lots of up to 40 cm tall sastrugi, which are waves of snow carved out by the wind. The ground can be like cement and is less than ideal to ski on, so possibilities are limited by the weather and ground conditions more than anything. A few of my favourites include kiteskiing, skijouring, sledging, and golfing.

When the ground is flat and fairly soft, the wind is stable around 13 kts and the contrast on the snow is good, conditions are perfect. There is a base-owned harness and a few people have brought their own kiting equipment and skis. I borrow the 8 m kite, skis and size 9 ski boots (I’m a size 5.5), which usually works well, along with the base harness and helmet. I’ve never flown a kite like this before so the first tries in summer were without skis and the smaller base kite, which got me hooked instantly! When the ground is soft and easy you don’t have to pay attention to the skiing and can just lean back into the kite and with a bit of navigation (you don’t want to hit the comms array) you fly effortlessly across the snow. It’s such as serene and peaceful way to ski. That said, conditions aren’t always perfect and sometimes the snow needs a little more attention with the sastrugis hitting your knees quite hard as you bounce over them or the wind can be gusty or die down needing some extra kiting skills to keep the kite off the ground or you moving at a safe pace.

Next up and almost as good is skijouring where you are pulled on skis or a snowboard by a skidoo. Again you need good contrast and soft flat snow for it to be the most enjoyable. In winter the temperature can be a bit limiting as skidoos don’t really work in <-40 °C. Also we’re a bit low on skidoo oil and skidoo use has been limited since the end of last summer. We’ve still managed to grab a few opportunities to go out and have a few rounds. I particularly enjoyed picking up snowboarding again after a few years. The lack of steep hills makes it a lot less scary to learn.

Following on from this you can use the same setup, but instead of using skis just attach a siglin sledge with some padding to the back of the doo. This option is slightly more terrifying, but just as fun and can be enjoyed in a group. If no skidoo is available there’s always the option to sledge on the small pulks down the wind tails of the modules. These are flattened every summer, as they can get as high as the modules after a whole winter, which is the perfect time to slide down them. Less adrenaline, but still a fun way to spend a sunny day.

A more recent development has been to take the golf clubs out with us. Strangely enough low contrast and hard ground are the best conditions for this extreme sport, as you can see the orange golf balls much better when the sastrugi aren’t making any shadows and there’s no powder snow for the balls to disappear into. Saying that we have lost a few of them that might turn up in the melt tank in a few years if the station stayed at this site. An alternative version is to use the icy bit under the modules as a mini/crazy golf course. Just don’t hit the ball too hard or it might end up in the module cladding…

Apart from these few sports there is always a gentle/hard work Nordic ski around the perimeter, more enjoyable in summer when it’s groomed, as well as a perimeter walk. The latter favoured during the darker months in winter when the colourful twilight glow on the horizon can provide some form of natural light in an otherwise artificially lit world for three months.

I’m sure there are more creative ways of having fun on the ice and this list isn’t exhaustive by any means. If I were to give some tips on to prospective winterers it would be to bring downhill skis (with Silvretta bindings if possible) and boots that fit, as well as an oversized harness (to go over those many layers during winter) and a kite. There is some equipment on station if you can find it, but often only one or two items and not in a wide range of sizes/styles. Also summer is the prime time to play outside and it’s annoying having to share a single kite between 70 people. I’m not an avid skier, nor had I ever kite-skied before, but with the limited options of getting offbase you’ll want to take full advantage of the good weather and be outside having fun as much as possible, so bring the gear or coordinate with other’s who are bringing gear down.

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