The alpine topography observed in many mountainous regions is thought to have formed during repeated glaciations of the Quaternary period. Before this time, landscapes had much less relief. However, the spatial patterns and rates of Quaternary exhumation at high latitudes--where cold-based glaciers may protect rather than erode landscapes--are not fully quantified. Here we determine the exposure and burial histories of rock samples from eight summits of steep alpine peaks in northwestern Svalbard (79.5° N) using analyses of 10Be and 26Al concentrations. We find that the summits have been preserved for at least the past one million years. The antiquity of Svalbard’s alpine landscape is supported by the preservation of sediments older than one million years along a fjord valley, which suggests that both mountain summits and low-elevation landscapes experienced very low erosion rates over the past million years. Our findings support the establishment of northwestern Svalbard’s alpine topography during the early Quaternary. We suggest that, as the Quaternary ice age progressed, glacial erosion in the Arctic became inefficient and confined to ice streams, and high-relief alpine landscapes were preserved by minimally erosive glacier armour.