Romance on ice: 30 years of the original ice hotel

Kya deLongchamps celebrates 30 years of romance on ice at the world’s original ice hotel in Swedish Lapland.

While we flip on our slippers, throw on the anthracite and logs, and determine to keep our homes at 21C by day, right now, guests in Jukkasjarvi in the county of Norrbotten in Sweden, settle in for the night surrounded by a crystalline wonderland. 

Wrapped in deerskin, presumably clinging to each other, and hunkered into polar-rated sleeping bags, the ambient indoor temperatures are -5C.

The only parts of the Ice Hotel reaching anything we would regard as rational indoor temperatures are the sauna and the hot tubs (outdoors of course). 

To use a toilet or shower you have to journey to a warm bathroom facility attached to the hotel (presumably at a smart sprint). 

Before bed, you can drink a cocktail in an individually crafted ice glass, beneath ice chandeliers, resting on an ice throne and wander the vast rooms and corridors of the 6,000 sq m frozen palace.

Ice art has fascinated sculptors for centuries. 

The Japanese have a particular talent with the medium. Resident, miner, entrepreneur and engineer Yngve Bergqvist travelled from Jukkasjarvi to Japan to see the process in action. 

Inspired and determined to invest in the tourism potential of the small town, Bergqvist invited two ice sculptor masters from Japan back to his adopted home.

In the spring of 1989, a well-publicised ice sculpting event was launched. The Japanese contingent decided to stay overnight in the igloo structures created during the master classes. 

At 200km north of the Arctic Circle, this simple act of thermal bravado demonstrated to Bergqvist that a comfortable stay (with the right gear) was possible even in the dead of winter.

In the following few years, during the ice- carving events, visitors also requested the chance to stay inside their frozen creations in the 250 sq m igloo Arctic Hall, and the ambitious plan for a full seasonal hotel in ice was born. 

The concept of an iced space has been copied in bars (Amsterdam has a notable example), overnight hotels and as wings of standard hotels elsewhere, but Jukkasjarvi vision with its catenary arch self-supporting cathedral-style ceilings throughout, is the original commercial enterprise.

Bergqvist regards the hotel as a renewable gift from the River Torne. 

This strange, fantastical building, for all its exquisite detailing, is a seasonal temporary structure sustained by the weather from December to April. 

It’s an annually created piece of sculpture started in March when blocks of ice are worked on in sub-zero storage to make small portable detailing: fixtures, glasses, lighting pieces. 

Blocks of up to 990 tonnes of ice and three times that amount of packed snow are brought from the Torne River.

The natural Arctic ice is taken from a carefully maintained ice field. Its source and character are deeply respected by the local community, artists and staff involved in the hotel. 

Petra W Lindh, who has worked at Jukkasjarvi for 21 years writes: “For us, the natural beauty and unique story of each individual block of ice provide inspiration that can never be found in artificial ice.”

A mixture of snow and ice termed ‘snice’ is sprayed onto preformed moulds to cast the building’s larger pieces.

Forty artists are taken on to work on the Ice Hotel every year. 

The individuals forward ideas and are not required to have actually performed an ice sculpture to qualify. 

The collaboration, unique focus and transient quality of the building are all part of its draw for creatives from all over the world. 

It takes six weeks to assemble the wondrous surroundings and pack the floors with fresh snow. 

The building is powered entirely by solar energy from their solar cell park, a model in sustainable imaginings.

In 2016, Bergqvist, indefatigable and leading guests at the Ice Hotel on rafting expeditions during their stay, added a permanent structure to the site which can now host 20 ice suites year round. 

The styling incorporates Baroque splendour and art deco. It’s a dazzling enchanted place — a dream only hinted at in CS Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia or in the towering spectacle of Elsa’s castle in Disney’s Frozen. 

Nothing can quite prepare you for travelling through its diamond-hard, glistening halls.

Nature delivers and reclaims this building in a pleasing cycle facilitated by its makers. 

When the air warms and the hotel melts in May, its 2,000 blocks of structural elements are softly ingested back into the river from whence they came, and plans for the Ice Hotel to rise again begin.

Advice: One night in a cold room followed by a couple of nights in a ‘warm room’ is recommended by the Ice Hotel, as it gives you time to join wilderness excursions on the days when you have a warm room to return to in the evening. 

The right choice of layering and thermals is crucial to the comfort of the stay, especially as part of a wedding. 

Prices vary from €390 to €560 per room. Day trips are also available.

Flights to Kiruna airport are served from Stockholm (from €140 one way out of Dublin). Icehotel.com.

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