Luxurious Magazine’s Deputy Editor, Sabi Phagura, catches up with Ben Saunders, the global brand ambassador for Land Rover and Canada Goose, to discover the driving force behind his passion.
Ben Saunders is one of the world’s leading polar explorers and a record-breaking long-distance skier who has covered more than 7,000 km (4,350 miles) on foot in the Polar Regions since 2001.
His accomplishments include leading The Scott Expedition, the longest human-powered polar journey in history, and the first completion of the expedition that defeated Captain Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton, a 105-day round-trip from Ross Island on the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back again.
Luxurious Magazine: How exactly would you describe your work as a polar explorer?
Ben Saunders: I have led 12 major expeditions since 2001, with the first decade focused on the high Arctic and the North Pole, before swapping hemispheres for Antarctica in 2012.
I can’t claim to be an explorer in the Edwardian sense – I’ve never drawn a map or named a mountain range, and my motivation came from pursuing human limits rather than geographical ones.
I’ve now covered more than 7,000 km on foot in the polar regions, and finally, I’ve scratched the itch regarding personal ambition. I’m more interested these days in the conservation of Antarctica and in enabling people to visit and become ambassadors for this unique place.
LM: When did you first realise you wanted to become a polar explorer?
Ben: I grew up in Devon and always loved being outdoors as a boy, and while I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I started to learn about Scott and Shackleton, I found it extraordinary that the journey that had defeated Shackleton and claimed the lives of Scott and his men still remained unfinished.
I largely blame my unusual career path on John Ridgway, who, along with Chay Blythe, became the first to row the Atlantic in 1966. I worked for John in what should have been my gap year (I’m still on it now, aged 41!), and he was a brilliant mentor.
LM: One of your many accomplishments includes the Scott Expedition. Tell us about that and the challenges you faced.
Ben: The plan for the Scott Expedition was to walk from Ross Island, near the coast of Antarctica, to the South Pole, then back to the coast again. No one had ever completed this journey, and undertaking it would entail making the longest ever polar journey on foot.
My teammate Tarka l’Herpiniere and I covered 2,898 km in the end, and it was not only a colossal challenge of endurance and resilience but just getting to the start line involved training like a professional athlete for 18 months. This is all while trying to raise a seven-figure budget, organising incredibly complex logistics, preparing our nutrition, equipment and clothing for 108 days in the coldest place on earth, and coordinating everything from insurance to satellite communications. It was a big project!
LM: You’re an ambassador for The Prince’s Trust; what do you have to do there as part of your role?
Ben: I know my life could have taken a different path. I’m a state school educated with a C and two Ds at A-level. I have no degree, and my dad was a penniless and orphaned manual labourer. I’ve only enjoyed my success thanks to a few key individuals who spotted and helped nurture my potential and my appetite to work hard.
The Prince’s Trust does invaluable work in enabling and empowering disadvantaged young people to seek out and embrace opportunities and explore their own potential as individuals.
LM: How much of what you do is about the mental side?
Ben: These expeditions are huge physical tests – on the Scott Expedition, we covered 69 back-to-back marathons, and the sledges we dragged weighed 200 kg each at the start – but they are even bigger mental challenges. I think resilience and self-belief are the most important factors in success in any field, but I also believe that, like a muscle, the more you stretch and test them, the stronger they eventually become.
LM: What encouragement would you give to those who want to follow in your footsteps?
Ben: I’d probably try to put them off! My life probably seems quite exciting from the outside, but I suspect I’ve spent a similar amount of time working on Excel spreadsheets as I have on skis dragging my sledge.
Pursuing sponsorship can be soul-destroying, and much of my career has meant becoming an unusually thick-skinned salesman who is not deterred by rejection. With that said, my career has taught me that pretty much anything is possible if you have the determination and the work ethic, so I’d encourage aspirant explorers to spend some time in the Arctic or Antarctica with an experienced guide to gain as much knowledge and advice as possible before planning their own expedition.
LM: You have recently launched the four-day explorer expedition. Can you talk us through that?
Ben: Speaking of spending time with an experienced guide, that’s precisely what the White Desert and I wanted to offer with the Explorer Academy! It’s a chance for people to get a genuine taste of life on an Antarctic expedition. We’ll be going through everything from putting a tent up and making the right clothing and equipment choices to navigating in zero-visibility conditions traversing crevasse fields.
The Academy will fly from Cape Town into White Desert’s Wolf’s Fang ice runway at the edge of the Drygalski mountains in Queen Maud Land, one of Antarctica’s most beautiful parts. It should prove a challenging, educational, enjoyable and hopefully inspiring few days.
LM: What is next for you as part of your future plans?
Ben: I can’t share too much yet, but it involves Antarctica! Part of my long-term vision is creating opportunities for young people to visit Antarctica and perhaps selecting teams from their late teens to early twenties with young scientists, as well as young artists, filmmakers, writers and photographers, and taking them to document parts of the continent to share the story of this place with their peers, and with the wider world.
Antarctica has unrivalled opportunities for scientific research, but it is also a unique example of international cooperation. It’s the only continent that has never seen a war, and it’s governed by a 53-nation international treaty that means no one can claim sovereignty and that enshrines global collaboration for science and for peace. It’s a special place.
Ben Saunders – Where and How?
For more information on Ben Saunders, visit www.bensaunders.com.
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