The Winter Crew at Scott Base, Keeping the Lights On.


Have you ever wondered how the Scott Base Winter crew prepares for the unique challenges of Antarctica? Let me take you on a speedy tour of their 12-month contract, intensive training, and the responsibilities they shoulder as they move from being dropped onto the ice at Winfly in the mid-September spring, to the isolation of the long winter season when 90% of the staff have left. The cycle repeats every year.


These are the key winterover staff of 1997/98 who keep the lights on and maintain functionality during both the short Summer and long Winter months at Scott Base. Many have come and gone since we had our turn at this adventure, and many more will follow.


Being part of the Scott Base Summer and Winter crew normally involves rigorous training in the months before they depart for Antarctica. They need this time to prepare for the unique challenges of their work and the unforgiving Antarctic environment. You will find more about this training in other parts of the website.

The acclimation of summer Winfly into the transition of a long winter

The start of the season is hailed with the arrival of planes on ice, the smell of plane diesel on the runway and the sight of fresh new faces splurging from the flying tin cans as they catch their first few breaths of crisp dry air in their lungs at a balmy -25 degrees Celsius. This is called Winfly, and it is an exciting and busy time of the year. The Summer crew is made up of short and long-term staff. The long-term contract staff are normally the future “Winter Crew”. These long-term staff are expected to get off the plane and hit the ground running with a flurry of on-the-job training by those about to exit the base. They experience a swift handover from the previous winter-over crew who are in preparation to leave for greener pastures (literally) back in New Zealand or further afield. The old teams usually depart within one to two weeks of the summer crew’s arrival, contingent on exit flight availability and the complexity of the required handover. Keep in mind that when new people arrive, they are all considered summer crew, but most of those crew have short 2 or 3-month working contracts. The winter crew are normally the ones who start at Winfly (September) and stay for the full 12-month term, although there are always exceptions. As the season progresses the future winter crew take on more essential base duties. Towards the end of the summer season the operations and management crew slowly departs one by one, and then one day…suddenly they are all gone. Normally this is about mid February when just about everyone but the winter crew is left.

By mid to late January and February, the tourist ships arrive. With mostly only winter crew left most of the planes have stopped. The sea ice runways have melted which leaves only the permanent ice runways and they are easily damaged in the warmer months so they are used sparingly. It signals the finality of the summer season, and the Winter Crew takes full charge of Scott Base. Their responsibility is to keep the lights on and ensure the base remains functional. It also marks a distinct shift in the psychology of the remaining winterover crew. 90% of the base staff have left and it makes a difference in behaviors as teams and friendships regroup, but that is a discussion for another day. I keep talking about the summer and winter crew but I should also mention there is a large contingent of science staff who have come and gone over the winter months and is the reason for Scott Base. Well … it’s most of the reason, but let’s not get into the topic of world politics.

Unique Responsibilities

During winter, one crew member is appointed to take on the role of the base operations manager which is in addition to their regular duties. This multifaceted responsibility underscores the adaptability and skills required during the winter season to lead the teams and be the liaison between New Zealand based management and the remaining Scott Base residents.

Base Shutdown Misconception

Despite inquiries I often used to get about the possibility of shutting down the base for the winter, it’s impractical for Scott Base to do this. Many of the base infrastructure systems, and the science, require constant operation. The infrastructure is also not designed to be shut down. This is due to the potential for water to be trapped in various parts of the base. Parts of the base also leak a bit (snow ingress) and, surprisingly, snow will build up on the inside of a warm building. If the base froze, the potential for damage would be very high and this would make reactivation of the base extremely challenging. Having said that, there are a few bases that do close up for the winter. However, most are like Scott Base and remain isolated, running minimal staff and operational throughout the winter months. This winter isolation extends from late February to early September. Other bases around Antarctica will have varying timeframes they consider summer and winter seasons which will determine staffing levels.

Winter Projects and Community

For many, winter is a time to focus on essential tasks. The winter crew of 1997/98, for instance, tackled significant projects that had been deferred in previous years. While work was a priority, the camaraderie between Scott Base and the nearby McMurdo base (only 3.5km away) persisted, with shared parties, friendships, and working relationships creating a vibrant community despite the isolation of the icy continent. During the winter months, the winter crew are encouraged to take on mini-personal projects (carpentry, arts, website design, photography, sewing, etc.) to keep their hands and minds busy. These often get showcased towards the end of the season at a combined McMurdo/Scott Base display event.

Effects of Wintering-Over

Wintering over in Antarctica sometimes has notable effects on the mind which most people don’t realize until they have returned to society and had that “ah-ha” moment. For this reason, the Winter-Over crew members (of most Antarctic bases) are discouraged from consecutive 12-month contracts due to this unique stress. The surreal experience which I can only suspect is akin to being posted to a foreign military base in an isolated desert, varies among individuals. Yes, I know that sounds just like what Antarctica is, but flip that thought around to being in a hot desert not a cold desert and we are now back on track. In a future blog post, I will delve deeper into this phenomenon, exploring personal stories and examining the potential role of an oversimplified micro-society and hormonal irregularities due to specific light spectrum deprivation issues and how it impacts physiology and psychology. I did not look into the research until a few years after I came back from the ice but it’s a well-researched topic although I am sure they don’t tell us everything as it can seem on the fringe of science and everyone reacts just a little differently. It’s a unique aspect of Antarctic life that warrants further exploration even if most of it is hypothetical speculation. For those of you who have experienced it, I think you know what I mean as I don’t think anyone is immune but everyone will think they handled it better than the next person.

An Introduction to the “Winter Over Team of 1997/1998”.

As you may have realized, this is no longer the winter crew for Scott Base. Our year has come and gone but I’m leaving this site as a reminder for those of us who shared the experience of a winter on the ice.

Before you ask… At the time I originally made this post, I had everyone’s permission to capture their image and write a little blurb about them. They were all my friends and for a while our close family. Like all families, there is normally some tension, and ours was no different. This is my small tribute to our year in close quarters.



Helen was our Scott Base Services Administrator, Librarian, Deputy Fire Chief, a member of JASART (Joint Antarctic Search and Rescue Team) as well as our first aid officer, hydroponics curator and cleaner. She loved to do her work to the sound of party music, which made the time go by faster.  Helen also loved to get outdoors, climb the odd hill and socialize with friends.



Herm was an Electrical Engineer and worked as the Science Tech. She looked after all the scientific equipment and repaired computers after they had been abused by the engineering department. A lot of her time was spent collecting data for the scientists back home. If it looked like science, Herm was the person to call. Herm was also part of JASART during the winter months. In the summer she could often be found hanging off the side of an ice wall or hidden deep in the recesses of her office and labs repairing equipment and writing reports for scientists who always wanted things done yesterday. In winter some of her projects involved working all hours of the day and night so she had to fit a social life in as best possible.


Pauline was the Chef and, take it from me, she could make some excellent meals.  Her specialty was pastries and desserts. This means that most of the people on base had to make an effort to exercise, otherwise we got fat from eating too much. I personally loved her salads. Pauline also kept busy during the winter looking after the Scott Base shop.



Michael was the Engineering Manager; one of  two base engineers. Michael looked after the fresh water-making plant (reverse osmosis), effluent plumbing, fire sprinkler water system and most of the inside engineering work. If you needed to find Mike after work hours, during the summer, he’d be out skiing or trying to convince someone to take him diving.  Mike was German and often  mumbled polite, dignified things over the public address system. However, he loved to swear in English as our language has a couple of very descriptive words he liked to use. He also liked to keep his computer in line with a couple of taps under its monitor when it misbehaved.


Jonathan was a sheet metal engineer by trade and our Second Engineer on base. He looked after the main generators, fuels, containers, snow clearing, was a member of JASART and did most of the outside engineering work. He was the quiet type who was always doing something constructive like working. He could be seen at all hours of the day and night either doing his own work or helping someone else do theirs. You had to watch out for Jonathan though; he loved his practical jokes. Jonathan was another computer lover (not!) and, in the end, had to give up the struggle and work the way the computer wanted him to work.



Chris was a diesel mechanic by trade and was the Base Mechanic. He had the job of fixing all the vehicles from small, 4-wheel drive motorbikes up to large earth-moving equipment and anything else that ran on fuel. Chris was a typical “petrol head” (or as he liked to be called, a “diesel head”). He loved his vehicles and his workshop, so you needed to watch out if you messed either of them up. (He will find you!) Also known as a bit of a torpedo on the ski field, he had a habit of going straight down the slope and stopping on top of other people.



I was the maintenance Electrician and looked after most of the electrical things on the base. That ranged from controls in the powerhouse to equipment maintenance and even some of the wiring in the vehicles. I also looked after the fire alarms, and firefighting equipment and helped out at the bar when it got busy. Things were easy with the great team of people we had. Life was only complicated by deciding between good food, a gym, a spa pool,  TV, videos, books, loud music, a pool table, a fully stocked bar, internet, email, a ski field and sports activities – all at your finger tips. 



Eric was our Telecom Technician, specializing in satellite communications. He was employed by Telecom to look after all communications systems including telephones. A multiple Scott Base “winter over” offender, his experience and knowledge of the way things work was called on more than once. He had a very dry sense of humor and never had a bad word to say about anyone. Eric enjoyed walking through gale-force blizzards in the middle of winter as if it were a calm, sunny day. Mind you, he always had his extreme cold weather clothing with him, so it wasn’t a problem.



Dave was our Deputy Base Manager and field Support Officer, looked after stores and cargo, bar manager, Fire Chief and JASART deputy leader.  He was another multiple Scott Base “winter over” offender. Dave’s years of experience on the ice gave him the nickname “Zen Master”. What he hadn’t done wasn’t worth doing. Dave loved a good laugh and was known to encourage practical jokes or help people organize them. Dave was one of the people who wondered what he had done wrong when his computer didn’t work the way it should. He hadn’t been trained in engineering. He spent many long nights in his field store getting things ready for other people to go out into the field. Without his efforts and expertise, science in the field wouldn’t have gone anywhere.



 A fitter turner and carpenter, Geoff was one of the two Carpenters employed to renovate one of our accommodation blocks (buildings). Geoff had a passion for riding his motorbike sideways across intersections and had the battle wounds to prove it. Having only just arrived on one of the last flights into Scott Base, he was still getting used to the way we harassed each other like members of a large family. Mind you, he was starting to get a bit cheeky, but it was nothing the rest of the engineering boys couldn’t handle as we had already had four months head start down the road to cabin fever.



Kevin was a carpenter by trade with a university degree in horticulture and the other chippie was employed to renovate one of the accommodation blocks. Kevin was shy but kept the place alive with his sense of humour and a devious grin that made him look like a gremlin. He was also a member of the “I Love the Scott Base Spa Pool Team” and could often be found floating around the hot tub after a hard workout in the gym. He was also known for his willingness to give other people a hand whenever he could, or for getting stuck in and doing a job no matter how tedious it seemed to be.



Steve was also a carpenter by trade serving his time down at Scott Base as our Winter Manager, Project Supervisor (for the accommodation block renovations) and full-time Carpenter. He was a dab hand at repairing pool tables and pool cues. He could often be found chatting away in the bar until all hours of the night or doing all the carpentry repair jobs around the base that other people took for granted. It always amazed me how he could fit two full-time jobs into one day, but he did it with ease and you never heard any complaints. Being the Base Manager, Steve often heard everyone else’s moans and groans when things didn’t go right and often had to make the best of some very bad situations. Anyone who’s supervised slightly stressed-out and very independent people in an isolated environment would know what I mean.