Welcome to the first in our series of ‘Supplier Spotlight’. We aim to bring you an insight into one of our Scandinavian suppliers each month and are starting with Kjetil Skogli, a 52-year-old Northern Lights Chaser from Tromsø, Norway. Kjetil lives with his partner, Irene, and two boys aged 15 and 8 and famously found the Northern Lights for Joanna Lumley in her BBC documentary.
1. How would you describe your job?
For the past 11 years I have been a photographer and guide specialising in the Northern Lights. I was one of the first people to do this and think I was the first to cross over the border to another country in search of the lights.
2. What does your job entail?
I organise tours for small groups and it is up to me to make sure my guests have a good time, feel safe and excited. I teach them about the physics and what causes the Northern Lights, as well as how to photograph them. I offer one-night tours and longer 3-5 day routes to explore Northern Norway. For the more dedicated I have a tour where we really go for clear skies and it doesn’t really matter where we end up. It’s fantastic fun and there is never any problem finding good accommodation.
3. How did you get started as an aurora hunter?
I started in 2003 by taking some photos of the Northern Lights for which I won a competition online. This was in the days before Facebook and Instagram, and people got in touch for help to photograph the lights. I started to get written about on some travel sites and more people started to come. Then in 2008 I helped British actress Joanna Lumley find the Northern Lights in a programme for the BBC. What can I say? This really began a new era in winter tourism in Northern Norway.
4. What does a typical day and night look like?
I wake late if I’ve been out late the night before, normally after about six or seven hours sleep. I then upload the photos from the previous night, check the weather forecast, take care of admin and plan the evening’s search. I am lucky to be home when my kids come back from school and I enjoy some time with them and my partner in the afternoon before starting a new hunt that night.
4. What makes your job special?
It is a lifestyle rather than a job and if you don’t have the passion for the lights I don’t think you can do it well. Of course you get tired, but you know your guests are here and trust you to do your best, so you do. They appreciate that and even if they are disappointed on the rare occasion when we don’t see the lights, they are thankful for your efforts. It is great to be out there and show them there are more than just the lights to appreciate. The silence, sounds from the campfire, wind, snow blizzard and stars are all magical.
5. What are the best conditions for seeing the Northern Lights?
Clear skies with some moonlight to make the scenery more visible and the color in the sky more blue and beautiful.
6. What is the best bit about your job?
Almost everything. To meet people; to beat the weather; to find the lights; to make people relax and have a great time; to feel the silent power of the lights and see the effect it has on my guests.
7. And the worst?
Long periods with bad weather, which make us drive far away to find clear skies.
8. How far will you drive on average per night to chase the lights?
This really depends on weather conditions, but anything up to about 450km.
9. Can you tell us about your most memorable hunt?
This is hard as I meet people from all different walks of life from those who are sick and chasing a dream, to those who have never been out in a starry sky. I have done approximately 1,200 tours but one of the most memorable was with two nice old ladies who said: “look at us young man. As you see we will never be able to come back to see the lights”. It was a long drive that night (450- 500 kms) and we just saw some faint lights. They were happy anyway as they loved the chase and when you have lived some years you realise that other things are more important. I have also been lucky to have been on tour with many famous people like Joanna Lumley, Brian Cox and Brian May & Roger Taylor from Queen, which was great, so it really is impossible to choose my most memorable.
10. What challenges do you face in your hunt for the lights?
Some nights are very hard weather wise. Occasionally we don’t see them and sometimes the skies can be clear and the lights still don’t appear. To chase the lights involves a risk of not seeing them, but with my hit rate of 95 per cent I could almost guarantee it. However, one of the biggest challenges is the way they are portrayed in the media and on the internet. They are full of over saturated photos and high-speed time lapses, which make people think the lights flash the sky in full speed all the time, with full intensity. Us guides, tour operators, suppliers, TV, and media, are responsible to show the northern lights as natural as possible.
11. Why do you think the Northern Lights are on so many people’s bucket lists?
The internet and social media have played a huge part in creating awareness of the Northern Lights due to the ease of sharing photos and spreading word of mouth. Joanna Lumley’s journey to find the lights back in 2008 is also worth more alone than many realise or care to admit.
12. When is the best time to see the Northern Lights?
You can see the lights from late August to mid-April but for me the best months will always be September and March. In September you might have some autumn colours and it is obviously not as cold as winter and March has longer days with the worst of the winter storms gone.
13. What do you do during the summer?
Recover, produce photos and films, plan the next season and most importantly, spend a lot of time with my family. They are the reason why I can do this. You need a special family to be able to follow this lifestyle.
If you want to chase the Northern Lights with Kjetil, take a look at our short break to Tromsø.