ExWeb interview with Mike Sharp of ALE: "Relative prices are lower"

Posted: Aug 07, 2006 04:28 pm EDT

(ThePoles.com) Antarctic expeditions demand unbreakable motivation, large doses of stamina, a carefully prepared strategy and a great deal of money.

According to Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE) Operations manager Mike Sharp though, the company's growing pains mean less expense for guided clients. Despite the rise in the cost of fuel over the last 3 years our heavy investment in the company, combined with increasing numbers of climbers and skiers has meant that, in relative terms, Antarctic Expeditions have never been so cheap, he told ExplorersWeb.

The more, the merrier

Clients on our first trek from Hercules Inlet to the Pole in 1988 paid around $100,000 each. A guided client now pays $59,500 nearly 20 years later.

Solo expeditions along the same route pay in the order of $90,000. A two-person party will pay about $155,000, a four person party about $240,000 and six people about $270,000. Part of the reason for these price differentials is that we no longer charge the small groups for the full cost of an Otter to the South Pole, in the expectation that we will be able to fill it with other passengers.

Last degree expeditions are becoming more popular, even at $38,500. These are actually expensive for us to operate as they involve an Otter flight from Patriot Hills to 89 South and then another flight to Pole to do the pick up. This uses a total of about 40 drums of fuel all flown in from Punta Arenas 1,600 nm away. Thats why we can only run these trips with a minimum of four clients.

The price of being independent

Independent, unsupported SP teams are charged a much higher fee to be left at Hercules inlet, than guided, supported teams (including those going for partial trips).

Its all about occupation in the planes. Last degree trips mean longer flights, but the expenses are well-covered if the Otters are fully-loaded (they can take from 4 to 6 persons plus equipment), Mike explained. Independent teams usually need a flight for their own most times they cant just wait at PH before starting, neither at the SP after arrival, for more people to fill the plane.

ExplorersWeb has asked Mike for some further details on the company's fees and the services they offer.

ExWeb:You have mentioned the prices for SP teams:

"Clients on our first trek from Hercules Inlet to Pole in 1988 paid around $100,000 each. A guided client now pays $59,500 nearly 20 years later. However, guided clients paid $45,000 five years ago. Is that right? If so the price didnt really go down

Mike: The prices are down compared to 1988. Yes, ANI did put them down to $45,000 but then went out of business. I guess that if I sell you a new car for $1000 and then go out of business, and then someone starts up a new business and sells cars for $8000 - would you say the price has gone up?

ExWeb: Extreme adventure like Everest climbing is booming do you see an increase in clients?

Mike: Yes, partly because relative prices are lower.

ExWeb: Antarctic expeditions are some of the most expensive on earth today. Do you see the prices coming down in the future?

Mike: There are many cost variables both in costs like fuel and supply, like aircraft and the number of clients. We hope to keep prices down and make the expeditions affordable.

ExWeb: If we understand correctly an unsupported independent skier should expect to pay almost twice as much as what a guided and resupplied client would. You say that Part of the reason for these price differentials is that we no longer charge the small groups for the full cost of an Otter to the South Pole in the expectation that we will be able to fill it with other passengers. However unsupported expeditions tend to arrive to the Pole simultaneously with guided expeditions, so could you please explain this more in depth?

Mike: We have to pick up all our clients from the Pole shortly after arrival - be they one or four or six. Before, everyone would be charged full price for a pick up. We believe that we have enough clients and people flying to Pole that we can charge less for a pick up as it costs us less due to volume of business. Our guided groups we can plan better on their arrival.

ExWeb: Over the last few years we have seen more deviations from the classic Hercules Inlet to SP trips. Do you see more of these new route expeditions happening? Any suggestions?

Mike: I like the Messner start, which set the starting point at the south end of the ice shelf, and I also like the crossing from the bottom of the Axel Heiberg to Pole to Patriot Hills. The latter does need at least four people to make the price work though, as it is a long flight there.

ExWeb: What are the most exciting logistic products you have to offer for the upcoming years?

Mike: The trip described in the previous answer, plus ski to Vinson and fly back.

ExWeb: ANI/ALE have been pretty much solo on the market for SP and Vinson trips. Do you think you will get competition for the future?

Mike: For sure, if we overprice what we do.

Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE) runs Patriot Hills Base, as well as flights to and from that point. They offer a number programs through their subsidiary company, ANI, such as Vinson Massif climbs, South Pole Flights and guided expeditions to the South Pole. They also provide logistics to other companies and independent expeditions in the continent.

ALE is a full member of IAATO, the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, and is dedicated to promoting sustainable and environmentally sound tourism in Antarctica.

ALE is a US company with an office in Salt Lake City. Support in Punta Arenas, Chile is provided by Adventure Network Antártida Ltda.


Its all about occupation in the planes," reported ALE's operations manager Mike Sharp, refering to the different fees charged to independent and guided teams (click to enlarge).
Antarctica map, showing the flights offered by ALE/ANI. All images courtesy of ANI's website (click to enlarge).