In the village of Jukkasjärvi, outside Kiruna, lies the original ICEHOTEL. Every year, since 1989, it has been reincarnated in a new rendition and there’s always more to come. From the beginning this was kind of a crazy idea in the winter, nowadays it’s as crazy all year round.

The entrepreneur Yngve Bergqvist used to run the inn in the village of Jukkasjärvi, about 17 kilometres east of Kiruna. They had a sauna where they rented out towels and sold beers to the mining company directors flying in for conferences. This was in the late 1980s, and Yngve figured it had to be possible to make more of it. These days, ICEHOTEL is an icon among travel destinations around the world. A steady stream of curious explorers find their way to Jukkasjärvi every year, and now they can sleep on ice all year round.

“Dig where you stand”, was – and is – the motto of business visionary and entrepreneur Yngve Bergqvist.

ICEHOTEL 29, The Living Ocean Suite. Design Jonathan Paul Green & Marnie Green. Photo by Asaf Kliger.
ICEHOTEL 30, Art Suite Feline Lair. Artists Brian Alvin McArthur & Dawn Marie Detarando. Photo by Asaf Kliger.

Ice, plenty of ice

Initially, the long and cold winters made Bergqvist look around for new ideas to use what was at hand in Jukkasjärvi – ice, and plenty of it. Bergqvist was inspired by the Japanese ice sculpturing tradition and with the help of two professional ice sculptors from Japan as instructors; he invited artists to attend a workshop in Jukkasjärvi in 1989. This marked the start of a long journey with the ice from the Torne River.

Inspired by the workshop, the following winter saw the first-ever ice structure – an especially designed igloo built using mould technique was constructed on the frozen Torne River. The 60 m² igloo was intended to as an art gallery and was named ARTic Hall. The following winters, ARTic Hall attracted considerable attention. It was used not only to display art but also for church services and film showcases. Bergqvist and his associates also opened a bar inside the hall and even tried sleeping in subzero temperatures. The igloo had grown to measure 250 m² in size; the building technique was refined and patented in Sweden and Norway.

Yngve Bergqvist, founder of ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi.

And there was ICEHOTEL

The first party of overnight guests to stay at ICEHOTEL was a specialist survival group of the Swedish Armed Forces. International space satellite company Versatel was the first conference 26-year to sleep in -5° C (23° F) on a bed of soft reindeer skins. The next morning, they woke up thrilled and exhilarated by the experience and ICEHOTEL was born. Nowadays, some 30 000 guests have the very same experience every winter when they stay in the original ICEHOTEL.

Photo by Andy Anderson.
Photo by Andy Anderson.

The ice church

The ice church at ICEHOTEL is literally one of the coolest wedding venues in the world. Like ICEHOTEL itself, the ice church only exists for a few months. Once the church, and the suites, has melted away in spring, all that is left are the memories that you share. You can scarcely find a more unique location for your wedding.

ICEHOTEL is literally one of the coolest wedding venues in the world. Photo by Asaf Kliger.
ICEHOTEL

ICEHOTEL is in the village of Jukkasjärvi, about 17 kilometres east of Kiruna. You can fly to Kiruna from Stockholm Arlanda (SAS or Norwegian) or take the overnight train from Stockholm (SJ). There are buses from Kiruna city to Jukkasjärvi and you can also book a transfer at your hotel. To learn more, go to icehotel.com.

ICEHOTEL all year round

The world-famous ICEHOTEL outside Kiruna was initially just a crazy idea for the winter. These days it’s just as crazy – but all year round.

ICEHOTEL 365 is a year-round ice experience with 20 Art Suites, an Icebar and an Ice gallery – all created out of snow and crystal clear ice from Torne River. It’s a kind of landmark for those wanting a new hotel experience to tell about. Sleeping in a designer hotel suite made of ice while the midnight sun illuminates the landscape.

The ICEHOTEL 365 has a temperature of minus five degrees Celcius all year. In the summer it is cooled with help from the sun, as the 600 square meters of solar panels harvest the almost constant daylight over the summer months, above the Arctic Circle.

— It’s a different experience for the artists and designers making the suites to be kept throughout the year. Previously all art had a limited lifespan; the ice melts in spring, says Arne Bergh, Creative Director at ICEHOTEL and continues:

— The sun, which would normally break down and melt all art back to nature, does instead maintain it through summer with the help of solar cells. But we still think in terms of cycles: we will continuously redecorate the art rooms, one at the time, and return the ice to the Torne River. This means you have to think differently as an artist. You won’t accept mistakes as easily since they don’t disappear. Then Arne smiles.

ICEHOTEL 365 in summer. Photo by Asaf Kliger.
ICEHOTEL 365 in winter. Photo by Asaf Kliger.
Ice harvesting

The ice is harvested from mid-March to mid-April. At that time, the ice is about 80 centimetres thick. Tractors and custom-made tools are used, to be able to saw and lift, the about two tonnes, heavy ice blocks from the river. The ice blocks are then stored in -5°C until the coming winter to be used in next season’s version of the ICEHOTEL.

The Torne River

When other hotels talked about the importance of recycling, ICEHOTEL always took it a step further by recycling the entire hotel. When spring arrived in Swedish Lapland, ICEHOTEL melted and poured itself back into the Torne River, the origin of the ice used to build the hotel.

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.

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. The tests came back with the quote: Cleaner than water.

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.

ICEHOTEL melting. Photo by Martin Smedsén.
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