A battle against the elements

What does it take to survive life in an extreme environment?

Life Below Zero follows seven people as they battle for the most basic necessities in one of the least populated states in the US – Alaska.

Living in the middle of nowhere, miles away from the nearest road, they battle snow storms, man-eating bears, frozen terrain and limited resources through the long, cold and lonely winter. When spring comes, it's a race against the clock to collect enough food and supplies to see them through the next freeze.

Some of them battle the elements alone; others have their families beside them.

Only the mentally fit will be able to endure the extreme test of isolation and endless work required to survive in this remote and merciless land.

These are the stories of the everyday struggles of life below zero – where one wrong decision could cost you your life.


The word ‘arctic’ comes from ‘arktikos’, which is Greek for ‘near the bear’. It refers to the two constellations Ursa Major (Great Bear) and Ursa Minor (Little Bear), which can be seen in the northern sky.

The Arctic Circle is one of the five major circles of latitude on maps of our planet.

The Arctic Circle is the farthest southern region that experiences polar day and polar night. A polar day is 24 hours of continuous daylight, and a polar night is 24 continuous hours of darkness.

Winter temperatures in the Arctic can drop to below −50 °C (−58 °F).

The position of the Arctic Circle is not fixed. This is because it directly depends on Earth's axial tilt, which fluctuates within a 2° margin over a 40,000-year period.

The land on the Arctic Circle is divided among eight countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the United States (Alaska), Canada, Denmark (Greenland), and Iceland.

Very few people live north of the Arctic Circle due to the extreme conditions. Despite covering 6% of the Earth’s surface, the total population is only 4 million.

If all the Arctic ice melted, the sea levels would not rise considerably because the ice floats on the Arctic Ocean. However, if all the ice sitting on land melted, that would be a different story. Scientists predict that if Greenland’s ice sheet melted, the sea level would rise by 7.2 metres (24 feet).

Despite being the smallest of the world’s five oceans, the Arctic Ocean is larger than you may think. It spans 5.4 million square miles (14,056,000 km2) across Earth, which is almost the size of Russia.


Life Below Zero

Sue Aikens

Sue Aikens is the lone resident of Kavik, a town that lies about 32km (20 miles) from the Arctic Ocean on Alaska's North Slope. The closest city lies 805km (500 miles) to the south and the nearest road is 129km (80 miles) away. The town is only accessible by plane.

Sue has lived in Alaska for 30 years and has been the warden of Kavik River Camp for the last six. The camp is a base for hunters, hikers and researchers who wish to explore the arctic terrain.

Sue is a tough cookie. She lives alone so if the electricity generator goes down, as it often does in the extreme weather conditions, there's only her around to fix it.

Although she considers animals her friends, Sue is aware that she lives in bear country, not the other way around.

Outside of hunting season, Sue faces the freezing temperatures, penetrating winds and savage bears all alone, and realises that if something bad were to happen, there is no one to help her.

Her motto is, "If it hurts, don’t think about it." This was certainly put to the test when a grizzly bear attacked her six years ago and left her for dead – she had to sew her own head and arm together and wait for 10 days before help came.

Life Below Zero

Chip and Agnes Hailstone

Chip Hailstone and his native Inupiaq wife, Agnes, live with their seven children on the Kobuk River in Noorvik, north-west Alaska.

Chip grew up hunting and fishing and is a skilled hunter. He came to visit Alaska 25 years ago from Kalispell, Montana and although he did not plan to stay, he never left.

Chip’s motto is, live for the day but plan for tomorrow. Chip says that worrying is the first step to protecting himself and everyday he takes a calculated risk. Part of living off the land is being ready and going with nature’s flow, weather, and available materials.

Chip’s family moves seasonally to track down the best hunt and they each play an active role in keeping the family alive. The family use the entire animal that they harvest, even turning the skin, teeth and bones into arts and crafts that they can trade and sell.

Chip is happy to have stumbled his way into this world and call it home.

Life Below Zero

Glenn Villeneuve

Glenn Villeneuve moved from Vermont to Alaska in 2000 to pursue his dream of living close to the land. He lives in Chandalar in the Brooks Range, the northernmost extension of the Rocky Mountains, lying at an elevation of 571m (1,873ft).

It's 322km (200 miles) north of the largest city, Fairbanks, and a 96km walk (60 miles) from the nearest road. Isolation comes with the territory and Glenn can often go more than four months without seeing another human.

Glenn opts for the simple life and lives in a one-room cabin with no running water. He cuts his own firewood and only uses electricity for a few items, like a satellite phone, headlamp, and camera. He travels by foot, snowshoe and canoe to hunt moose, caribou, small game and fish. He shares his hunting territory with wolves and he was once charged by a pack of 20.

Glenn values his simple lifestyle that affords him a close connection with the natural world that surrounds him.