It’s mid-March and people are gathering on the frozen Torne River in Jukkasjärvi. Behind us, the world-famed ICEHOTEL. But our eyes are fixated on the tractors hoisting up giant blocks of ice from the river. We’re looking at the next year’s hotel, yet to be carved out from the crystal clear ice. It’s harvest time.

Every winter ICEHOTEL borrows several hundred tonnes of ice from the Torne River, only to give it back when spring arrives. And it is a bit of hassle, dragging up about 5,000 tonnes of natural ice. One might even wonder why decent tap water wouldn’t do? But here, in the ice, lies the beauty of ICEHOTEL.

Each spring, the ice harvest draws a large audience.

Cleaner than water

At this exact spot in the river, the water flows at a perfect pace. Not too fast so the rapids stir up the sediments on the river floor, enough to keep the oxygen levels rich (compared to oxygen-low tap water which turns milky white when frozen), yet slow enough, giving the ice time to thicken. The result is pure, crystal clear ice. And thanks to the rivers pristine source 200 km north of the Arctic Circle, it also free of pollutants and makes excellent drinking water.

Actually, there’s a funny story about that.

– We were about to attend an event in the US where we were supposed to sculpt from blocks of Torne River ice. But the ice got stopped in customs. They did loads of test making sure that the ice didn’t contain any toxins and whatnot, says Arne Bergh, ICEHOTEL’s Artistic Director. The tests came back with the quote: Cleaner than water.

2,000 tonnes of ice is not easy lifting, but custom made tools gets the job done

Harvest time

As soon as the river freezes, the section of the river to be harvested is marked. All winter the ice field is kept free of snow so that the ice can grow. In November the ICEHOTEL production team starts measuring the ice.

When it’s 10 centimetres thick, it carries a snowmobile, and in mid-December, a tractor.

– We harvest ice from mid-March until mid-April. By then, the ice is about 80 centimetres thick, explains Alf Kero, Production Manager.

Custom-made tools

They use tractors and custom-made tools to saw and lift out the heavy blocks from the river. Beneath the ice, the wild river rushes. The tractors must not be too heavy and the drivers have to know exactly what they are doing so they don’t end up in the frigid water. Each block weighs about two tonnes.

– If the weather gets warmer, the ice melts and if it is more than 20 minus degrees, the ice might crack, says Alf Kero. The optimal weather conditions are between zero and minus 10°C, preferably with a cloudy sky since the sun can be quite merciless towards the ice. That is why we store it as soon as we can.

The ice is also used to make the often punned drinks-in-the-rocks-glasses.

An ICEHOTEL every two minutes

It is stored in -5°C until the coming autumn and will be used in next season’s version of the ICEHOTEL. In summer, you’re welcome to visit the ice factory in Jukkasjärvi where the river is waiting to be turned into art and architecture. It is quite an experience: stepping into a giant hall filled with ice blocks from top to bottom, knowing that outside it is warm and sunny, and you’re now looking at your own breath vaporizing.

And while you’re visiting in summer, do go down to the river bank and have a look. Within two minutes, an ICEHOTEL has passed before your eyes in the shape of a free-flowing river.

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