Winter tourism in northern Sweden has exploded in the last few years, especially at the STF Mountain Station and hostel in Abisko, located nearly 200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle.
After a record northern lights viewing season last year, officials say bookings for this season are already up 130 percent.
For the first time ever, tourists are willing to brave the area’s bone-chilling winter temperatures are set to outnumber those who come during the balmy white nights of summer.
Local tour guides and staff have even enrolled themselves in a northern lights training course organized at a local spaceport.
According to STF Branch Manager Hans Norén, heightened media attention has helped fuel the ever-increasing popularity of viewing the northern lights.
“We have been much more visible in the media around the world. We have had people staying here, shooting photos and videos, and some of those images have made it into big publications like National Geographic,” he told The Local.
With the exponential growth of winter guests in recent years, staff members at the remote hostel have been forced to change the way they prepare for winter.
“Ten years ago we didn’t have any tourists this time of year. The whole place was locked from the end of September to March,” said Norén.
But now those who work in the tourist industry in Sweden’s far north are spending the early days of winter earning about what causes the northern lights and how best to photograph them.
So far, 35 people from Abisko, as well as the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi have taken the course, which will help them offer tips to tourists hoping to capture unforgettable winter memories.
And while northern Sweden may be considered the ultimate destination for northern lights fans, Aurora Borealis enthusiast Jonatan Bengtsson told The Local that it’s just “a common myth” that the lights can only be seen inside the Arctic Circle.
He saw the lights in late October as they passed over Tobo, a town just over 100 kilometres north of Stockholm, and made the time-lapse video below.
“I can’t wait for the snow though,” he added.
“Then it gets even better.”
Images courtesy of Johannes Rüttermans
Though Norén admitted it’s possible to see northern lights closer to the Swedish capital, doing so is rare.
”If it is really strong, you can even see the northern lights in Europe, but it has to be extremely strong,” he explained.
“But you can see the northern lights in Abisko almost every night.”
For advice on how and when to best catch a glimpse of the northern lights, Norén provided some short but sweet advice:
”Be outside. Between 9pm and 1am they are most common and make sure to be somewhere where it’s dark.”
Sanne Schim van der Loeff