The Story of Icehotel®
Every winter a new Icehotel ® is built in the village of Jukkasjärvi on the banks of the Torne River.
In Sweden, 200 km north of the Arctic Circle lies Jukkasjärvi. Situated on the Torne River, Jukkasjärvi, translated "meeting place", has been a crossroads and marketplace for half a millennium. Jukkas AB, the company which started Icehotel, has been involved with tourism since the mid 1970s and offers numerous activities such as river-rafting, fishing, wilderness adventures, teambuilding, snow-mobiling, dog sledding, reindeer safaris and much more. Historically, few tourists have visited Jukkasjärvi throughout its long, dark, cold and snowy winters. However, in 1989, Jukkas AB (today Icehotel AB) decided to see the winter as an asset instead.
It all started in 1989 with an "Art-ic" exhibition igloo built directly on the frozen Torne River. Hundreds of visitors marvelled at the 60 m2 art gallery; a few visitors even spent the night. The "Art-ic" exhibition was never intended as a hotel. Yet well-rested guests argued that igloos have served as accomodation for thousands of years. Hence, the birth of Icehotel.
Now in its eleventh year, Icehotel continues a prosperous and prestigious climb as the worlds first, largest and perhaps only hotel made completely of ice and snow. From its modest one room start a decade ago, Icehotel now boasts 4 000 sq.meters, about 3 000 tons of ice and 30 000 cubic meters of snow. During the winter season of 2000/ 2001, 11 000 overnight guests and 33 000 visitors came to Icehotel. This 60 room winter wonderland includes a hotel reception, a main hall, an ice-art exhibition, the Absolut Ice Bar, Icehotel Cinema, the glorious Ice Chapel and of course, hotel rooms.
In the evening, guests gather around the Absolut Ice Bar and take a drink "in the rocks", from glasses cut from river ice. The Ice Chapel hosts services, weddings, and christenings.
At the end of October, about a dozen resident artists and builders get busy before the arrival of the first guests in mid December. Snow canons and front loaders help to mould the snow over vaulted steel forms, some forms as large as 5_ meters high and 6 meters wide. After two days the vaulted sections are removed and ready for use in a new location. Then ice columns are put in place, to give extra support to the free-standing snow vaults. In late November, the builders remove ice from the Torne River aided by tractors and special ice saws and ice tools developed here in Jukkasjärvi. Also a stock of river ice since the winter before is used to start the building. The clean river water complemented with and the fact that the water is fast moving produces crystal-clear ice.
Through Decembers continual darkness, as the main structure nears completion, refinement of the interior begins. The interior design continues into late January.
The constant minus seven degrees indoor working conditions are relatively comfortable compared to the outside temperature which can drop below 40 degrees Celsius. Late into the evening, the sculptors saw and chisel the ice blocks to create, amongst other things: architectural details, windows, doors, columns, desks, beds, chairs, tables, lamps, and of course sculptures.
Every year, hand picked national and international guest artists are invited to design the interiors of certain rooms. The diverse styles of the numerous artists in combination with the characteristics of the ice result in a museum-like atmosphere full of magic, mystery, and surprises as one meanders from room to room. However unfortunate, in late April the suns rays begin to melt the recently completed masterpiece.
Even though the last guests check out in late April, work continues into June when the Icehotel eventually becomes a water hotel. To get a headstart on the following year, the builders isolate thousands of tons of ice in Icehotel Art Center, inaugurated 5 May 2000 an indoor freezer of 1500 square meters with an exhibition of ice and snow during the summer to show visitors a touch of what Icehotel is all about. News for the summer of 2001 is an "Igloo Village" inside Art Center with 6 igloos in Greenland style for overnight stays in the middle of summer!
Photo: Arne Bergh
From Icehotel itself, the sculptors only preserve ice blocks in Art Center from the winter season and allow the ice sculptures of the hotel to melt down. Natures temporal gift gives the opportunity to experiment with form, space and technique every year; and like snowflakes, no two Icehotels resemble one another. The beauty as well as the parts that we are not quite satisfied with disappear, and make way for next winter. And from this river some good ideas may be born the following season.
From the river the ice came, and to the river it shall return; all that remains are memories.