Ice cool overnight

The original IceHotel is the coolest by far. Believe me, I’ve slept there! Imitations are now found in various suitably chilly locations elsewhere, but the first of its kind, located 200 kilometres inside the Arctic Circle and originally created in 1990, is definitely the real deal. In comparison, all subsequent ice hotels have been pretenders, merely commercial clones.

The IceHotel appears each year around late October-early November in the Swedish village of Jukkasjärvi in Lapland, near the iron ore mining town of Kiruna.

The entire building is made of snow augmented by “snice” (snow produced by a snow-making machine) combined with blocks of translucent ice carved from the nearby frozen River Torne. The IceHotel’s owner says that it’s the unrivalled purity of the Torne’s water which renders his Jukkasjärvi creation the finest IceHotel of them all.

Step inside the building and instantly your sense of reality is challenged. You have entered a silent and eerie, yet totally fascinating, world of whites, blues and greens. Finding yourself within this world of ice is akin to being underwater, albeit the frozen variety in this case.

Guests are entranced by the rows of sculpted columns of green ice supporting the domed white roof of the elongated atrium. At the far end is an enormous block of ice suspended in mid air. It resembles an altar. The scene before your eyes is pure frozen theatre.

Guest rooms are reached along long corridors of packed white snow. They lead off either side of the amazing entrance hall.

The IceHotel grows bigger each winter. This season it had 91 rooms when finally completed in mid-January. And at the end of each winter the entire structure simply melts away, eventually flowing back into the river.

Art and design

The IceHotel Jukkasjärvi is perhaps most famous for its unique Art Suites, each designed by a different international artist. A few artists are chosen each year from a list of more than 200 applicants. The end result is simply extraordinary, attracting bus loads of curious tourists to Jukkasjärvi as well as creating an international buzz. Each year sees a score or more of these incredible ice-bound bedroom suites built in addition to the hotel’s standard rooms.

Designing the IceHotel is a precise science. All electrical cabling has to be laid prior to the start of construction. Each artist must deliver their suite design blueprint well in advance. Once building begins there’s no going back and also no room for error.

The exact amount of ice blocks required for each unique interior design are placed on pallets within the walls of each room as it is being built. Once the four walls and roof of each room is finished the artist can begin carving the ice to create his or her vision. Meanwhile the builders start shaping the next guest room.

Temperatures inside the IceHotel are maintained at between -5ºC and -8ºC. Overnight guests are given Arctic sleeping bags and prepare for bed in an adjacent warm changing room. They leave personal belongings in a locker and retire to bed in their thermal underwear. Keeping their shoes on they nip smartly across an open courtyard and into the hotel, then speed down one of its lengthy white corridors to their room.

Hotel beds are wooden pallets supported on ice, each with a foam mattress covered in reindeer skins. Once zipped up in my sleeping bag I was as warm as toast. The silence was remarkable as all noise is muffled by the snow. But there are no en-suite bathrooms! Any pressing urgency during the night means another speedy excursion to the change rooms and back.

IceHotel guests socialize each evening in the hotel’s Absolut Ice Bar where lurid vodka-based cocktails are served in chunky glasses made, of course, from solid ice. Each glass maintains its shape long enough for perhaps two or three drinks.

Most guests combine a cold night in the IceHotel with other nights in one of the hotel’s heated wooden chalets. The cost of night in a standard IceHotel room starts at around $200 per person mid-week, $260 at weekends. A hot breakfast is included.

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