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'Life Below Zero' Braves the Arctic Chill

Premiering Sunday, May 19, the new National Geographic Channel series explores the incredible lives of six Alaskans living off the land and off the grid in the country's most vicious climate.

Sue Aikens in "Life Below Zero"
Sue Aikens Life Below Zero
Sue Aikens in "Life Below Zero" - © National Geographic Channel
April 24, 2013

"Life Below Zero" scene
"Life Below Zero" scene
"Life Below Zero" scene - © National Geographic Channel
Kate Bassich and Andy Bassich in "Life Below Zero"
Kate Bassich and Andy Bassich in "Life Below Zero"
Kate Bassich and Andy Bassich in "Life Below Zero" - © National Geographic Channel
WASHINGTON, DC — Isolated. Dark. Cold. Combating minus 60-degree days. Your only neighbors are bears, wolves and foxes. For many, living in these conditions would be a nightmare, but for some residents of the remote corners of Alaska, it's a preferred way of life. The new weekly series "Life Below Zero," premiering Sunday, May 19, at 10 p.m. ET/PT, takes viewers inside the daily challenges of people who have chosen to live in one of America's harshest climates, Alaska.

From winter preparations through the thaw, "Life Below Zero," produced by Adjacent Productions, follows six people as they battle for the most basic necessities in the state with the lowest population density in the United States. Living at the ends of the world's loneliest roads and subsisting off the rugged Alaskan bush, they battle whiteout snow storms, man-eating carnivores, questionable frozen terrain and limited resources through a long and bitter winter. Some of them are lone wolves; others have their families beside them. All must overcome despairing odds to brave the wild and survive through to the spring.

Each episode of "Life Below Zero" takes viewers deeper into the winter, following brave residents as they struggle in their different corners of this merciless territory to stay one step ahead of storms and predators. Money is practically worthless; food, fuel and fur are the real commodities. Experience has taught them to take a shotgun to the bathroom in case of a surprise bear attack; that the heart is the best bite of a cooked ptarmigan; and that caribou hooves make the best "mukluk" boots. It's a raw look at what life is like without paved roads, grocery stores, central heat or neighbors.

The incredible people that viewers will meet include:

Sue Aikens, the sole nine-month resident of the Kavik River Camp, 197 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Her address is a GPS coordinate, and her closest neighbor — besides the 80-something grizzly bears within a 10-mile radius — is more than 300 miles south. As the series begins, Sue is returning home for the first time in months following surgery on a broken ankle, and is uncertain of the conditions she'll find at her home. Has the camp been overrun by wildlife? Is it even accessible in the deep snow? Does she have the supplies to make it through another vicious winter? "You know, people get afraid of break-ins," says Sue. "My break-in involves teeth, claws and a hell of a lot of bad weather."

Chip and Agnes Hailstone, who met in Noorvik 25 years ago, live together 19 miles north of the Arctic Circle. They fish and hunt using the techniques of Agnes' Inupiat ancestors. What they catch before the winter will not only sustain them, but also be the vital currency they need in bartering for other necessary supplies. But their race to be prepared has its own dangers: Agnes has lost her mother, her brother and her brother's girlfriend into the ice. Together, they fight on because it's the place they love. "You got to remember the country can eat you," warns Chip. "Just as quick as you can eat anything from the country."

Erik Salitan, a registered guide outfitter living in Wiseman, just over 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle. He moved to Alaska the day he graduated from high school, choosing to forgo the more "normal life" that many of his classmates chose in order to live life off the land. He buys no meat from the store, instead subsisting wholly on what he hunts and finds. If his firearms malfunction, or if the herds are scarce, he'll struggle. "What I need, what I want, what you need, what you want, what people think they need or want, it's all subjective," says Erik. "Comfort is subjective. This is a plush life in my mind."

And finally, Andy and Kate Bassich, long-time residents of the Yukon Territory, 122 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Every year, the Yukon River freezes, leaving them cut off from the nearest signs of civilization until the ice is thick enough to cross. They not only need to prepare themselves for the isolation, but also have the supplies to feed and care for their pack of sled dogs, which they depend on to survive in the winter. "You know, life is on life's terms, not mine," says Andy. "If you just go blindly doing things, it will bite you real quick."

In this unforgiving extremity of America, these are some of the toughest and most resilient people in the world, and their jaw-dropping lifestyle in unthinkable circumstances will leave viewers craving more.

Premiere episodes include:

"End of the Road"
Premieres Sunday, May 19, 2013, at 10 p.m. ET/PT

Six people separated by hundreds of miles, all linked by the common cause of surviving the winter in the Alaskan bush, face real challenges in a brutal environment. In Noorvik, Chip and his family race to set whitefish nets on thin ice to haul in the last catch of the season. Fishing on top of the frozen river is one of the most deadly activities they do all year, but it's vital that they haul in enough fish to sustain them through the winter. Further east, Andy eagerly tests the safety of the river surrounding his house that he and his wife use as their link to the outside world. Without this winter lifeline, which grants them access to surrounding hunting grounds and the town of Eagle, they are trapped and isolated. Across the state in the desolate wilderness, Erik is on a vital hunt for red meat. After a malfunctioning firearm ends his first attempt unsuccessfully, his second pass results in a bountiful kill, and he sets to work dressing his kill so the meat will last him through the winter months. Sue Aikens is anxious to return to her camp after three months in the big city of Fairbanks recovering from surgery. Once she receives the green light to return to her home on the North Slope, she still must find a plane and pilot able to fly her to her isolated camp in Kavik, which she fears has been overrun by bears.

"Hunt, Barter and Steal"
Premieres Sunday, May 26, 2013, at 10 p.m. ET/PT

After being away for several months due to an injury, Sue is finally on her way to her home at the Kavik River Camp, where she is the sole nine-month resident. Though she is prepared to find that bears and other wildlife may have taken up residence there, what she actually discovers is an even bigger surprise: thieves have pilfered her winter fuel supply. If she runs out before weather conditions make a delivery possible, she'll freeze. In Noorvik, Chip and Agnes are unable to access their hunting grounds until their river freezes, leaving them forced to rely on bartering the supplies they do have for the essential items they lack. Across the state, Andy and his wife are forced to take drastic measures when they discover that they are almost out of food for their dogs — their primary means of transportation in the winter. After an emergency airlift to solve that problem, costing upwards of several thousand dollars, Andy gets to work solving another: hunting for sustenance for him and his wife Kate. And finally, Erik ventures out on the frozen river to hunt. He doesn't just need food for himself, but items for trading.

"Winter's Edge"
Premieres Sunday, June 2, 2013, at 10 p.m. ET/PT

Winter is coming fast, and six Alaskans living in the remote corners of the state are in a rush to prepare for the challenging months ahead. Alone at the Kavik River Camp, a blizzard with hurricane-force winds descends on Sue's camp as she sets up "hand lines" between her most critical buildings so she can find them in whiteout conditions. Having been attacked by wildlife before, she also prepares her supply of firearms in case of an emergency. In Wiseman, Erik must tend to two arduous but critical tasks: collecting water for sustenance and wood for warmth. If he's unsuccessful at either, he'll face serious trouble very quickly. Andy and Kate have been cut off from the nearest town because of unsafe ice. With temperatures dropping, Andy is ready to make the final push to get to Eagle in order to replenish their supplies — including, hopefully, supplies to make a much-needed beer. And in Noorvik, Chip and Agnes team up on a hunt for caribou. When they return from their first hunt empty-handed, they are forced to refocus and restrategize for a second try. Their family depends on them, and they can't afford to return home without a caribou.

"Wolf at the Door"
Premieres Sunday, June 9 at 10 p.m. ET/PT

Mechanical breakdowns and invading predators threaten the lives of six people as they try to survive the dark and cold winter in Alaska. In Kavik, a familiar sound startles Sue. She soon realizes that a deadly wolf has approached her cabin, so close that her own life is in serious danger. Nineteen miles north of the Arctic Circle, Chip's snow machine breaks down. This threatens his own survival, as without it he cannot fish, hunt or trade. In Wiseman, Erik hunts for lynx fur to earn money. He sets up a two-mile trap line to catch the beast, but it outsmarts him every time. Now, though, he is more determined to catch one, so he must set and check even more traps. Near Eagle, a daily task of getting wood on his snow machine leaves Andy stranded miles from home. Will he be able to struggle back to his family?

"Life Below Zero" is produced by Adjacent Productions for National Geographic Channel. Executive producers for Adjacent Productions are Tim Pastore, Elli Hakami and Jane Tranter. Travis Shakespeare and Tommy Baynard are co-executive producers. For National Geographic Channel, executive producer is Kevin Mohs; executive vice president of programming is Michael Cascio; and president is Howard T. Owens.
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