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Chili In Antarctica: Cincinnati Natives Bring Skyline To South Pole Station

From left: Cincinnati Chili lovers Dave Riebel, Evan Smith and Viktor Barricklow hosted Skyline Night recently at the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station.
Courtesy of Viktor Barricklow
From left: Cincinnati Chili lovers Dave Riebel, Evan Smith and Viktor Barricklow hosted Skyline Night recently at the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station.";

When you live and work at one of the most remote places on the planet, sometimes you just want a taste of home. For three Queen City natives, that means shipping an entire case of Skyline Chilito the South Pole so they can enjoy Cincinnati-style chili at "the bottom of the world."

"Shipping small tastes of home down is an essential part of keeping morale up through the nine-month darkness of the polar winter," says Evan Smith, food service supervisor at the United States'Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica. "When I think of tastes of home, Skyline tops the list."

Smith is originally from Cincinnati. He joined with Station Science Lead and South Pole Telescope Technician Dave Riebel of Fairfield and Supply/Cargo/Waste Technician Viktor Barricklow, who hails from Sylvania but attended Miami University, in hosting "Skyline Night" for the small collection of researchers and station employees living at the pole.

"We thought it was a rousing success," the trio tells WVXU. "Nearly a third of our station population showed up to try [it] and some people even said 'It's not as bad as the reviews said.'”

A few, they say, even came back for seconds.

Like foreign military bases or diplomatic locations, the South Pole hasan APO address, so sending mail there costs the same as in the states – in this case,about $14.35. The trick is getting items in the mail on time.

Mail and packages for "winter-overs" must reach the station before the pole closes for the season and no one can arrive or leave. Since Antarctica is in the Southern Hemisphere, that means items sent from the U.S. need to be in the mail around Christmas.

Smith says a medium flat rate U.S. Postal Service box is the perfect size to hold 24 cans of Skyline.

After sharing with the rest of the winter crew, "We'll probably hoard the remainder for the connoisseurs," Smith says. "Honestly we probably won't have too many requests for a repeat. We'll try to ration it for the rest of the season." 

WVXU reached out to Skyline for comment. The company says, "We love this story! Skyline is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. We absolutely know our customers are the reason we have reach the 70th milestone. It's really fun to hear that no matter where you are located, it can be Skyline Time with your friends and family."

Does Skyline Taste Different In The Southern Hemisphere?

Now to the question you've been waiting for: How did they serve it?

"Everyone knows the only correct way to prepare Skyline is the classic coney: hot dog, chili, onions, heaps of cheese," Riebel says. "Our hot dogs were, shall we say, a bit girthy compared to the Skyline standard, so we cut them in half and made it work. It's a harsh continent."

Barricklow adds, "We were fortunate enough to still have fresh onions from the last flights of summer, so those were cut up in order to allow us to have the most authentic experience possible. But essentially, we prepared all the ingredients, put them out on a table in the dining room and allowed everyone to build their own food. Many asked for advice on how to do it properly, so we gladly provided our expertise."

And, yes, there were York Peppermint Patties for dessert.

The three agree that Skyline seems more watery in Antarctica, but that could just be because it was out of a can. "We also can't get the cheese right, and the cheese is crucial."

Life At The South Pole

The South Pole sees one sunset per year on the equinox. That means while days are getting longer in Cincinnati, they're getting shorter in Antarctica. Riebel explains that by mid-April the pole will be in darkness until early September.

The population at the South Pole and other bases on Antarctica swells during the summer as researchers are able to come and go. Once the pole closes on February 15, the 42-person crew that "winters over" at Amundsen-Scott "is completely isolated from the outside world, with no mail, fresh food or people shipped in or out."

Riebel explains that "during the polar night, the station exists in order to support several NSF-funded science experiments such as theIceCube neutrino observatory, the South Pole Telescope, and the premier climate change research facility on the planet, NOAA's Atmospheric Research Observatory.”

Just how cold does it get there? "Temperatures during the winter darkness will average -60 C (-80 F) not counting windchill, with occasional dips past -72 C (-100 F)."

Take a look atthe Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station's webcam and see images of life at the pole on Viktor Barricklow's Instagram account or Twitter account.

Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Most recently, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She served on the Ohio Associated Press Broadcasters Board of Directors from 2007 - 2009.