The Big Chill

Accommodations at the Ice Hotel are well below zero but far above expectations
lifestyle, travel
Written By Randy S. Bolinger
Photography By Terry Duthu

There are as many outlooks on life as there are people on Earth.

An optimist sees a glass that is half full. A pessimist sees the same glass as half empty. A realist sees a glass that is twice the size it needs to be. But if you’re an adventurist, you go searching for a different glass altogether—perhaps one that soon vanishes as if made of ice. In which case the adventure begins at the Ice Hotel.

Located 124 miles/200 kilometers inside the Arctic Circle in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, lies an amazing structure that is part art museum, part hotel and completely frozen. Virtually everything from floor to ceiling is constructed of snow and ice. From chandeliers in the great hall to the reception desk, furniture in the rooms, art on the walls and glasses in the bar—all are chilled to perfection.

Each year, when the ice on the Torne River freezes, construction of a new biodegradable hotel commences in earnest. Specially equipped machines with chainsaw-like attachments begin carving ice blocks out of the near-flawless Arctic ice. As each gigantic block is cut free from the ice field, it bobs to the surface where it is harvested and set aside as one of the building blocks of a hotel that is both created from—and destroyed by—nature each year.

The Ice Hotel has taken a roughly similar form since opening in 1990. Walls are built from the combination of 2-ton ice blocks reclaimed from the ice field and from snow turned into a concrete-like substance (called snice) by spraying its surface with water. The ice-blue block exterior walls allow a soft glow of natural light to penetrate for scant hours of sunlight and twilight before the northern lights begin their nightly show.

The inner space of the Ice Hotel is an art museum by day and hotel by night. Each suite is designed and handcrafted out of ice and snow by a different artist. The process of creating art on the inside of an ice block takes up to three weeks using a variety of hand and power tools to coax the beautiful forms out of its palette.

As you can imagine, aside from sculptors who are more accustomed to envisioning a three-dimensional shape that lies within a featureless mass, most artists have never worked while enveloped inside the art’s own canvas. Artists submitting a concept in one dimension will need to be able to create that design in three dimensions, on a deadline, working in subfreezing temperatures, with a variety of untraditional art supplies and tools, including chainsaw, grinder, chisel, electric bread knife and more. With ice, there is a fourth dimension to consider.

“In many cases, the art is created from a translucent palette so the artist also needs to consider what can been seen by looking through the art to what lies on the other side,” says Ice Hotel press and marketing manager Beatrice Karlsson. Artists for the 2014 exhibit included painters, graphic designers, a film director and, yes, a sculptor.

The Suites

While most Ice Hotel suites are open for the public to enjoy as an art museum until 18:00 daily, two suites are off- limits to museum patrons. These luxury suites include a bathroom and sauna for those longing to experience the finest polar accommodations this side of “Ice Station Zebra.” Regardless of the room selected, all guests are awakened at 07:00 with an Ice Hotel tradition of being served a cup of warm lingonberry juice bedside.

The Bar

Located just inside the great hall is Ice Bar, where optimists, pessimists and realists all have one thing in common—their proverbial glass is made of ice and is exactly the right size. The right size, that is, for any beverage that can be consumed over, or more accurately in, ice.

The décor is “early glacier” with its distinctly light sky-blue hue. The outside wall is constructed of ice blocks from floor to ceiling 20 feet/6 meters above. The bar, high-top tables and seating areas are solid ice. Reindeer pelts adorn the chairs and circular couches to provide a much-appreciated buffer from the cold.

Decked in fur hats, Ice Bar mixologists concoct frozen drinks that bear the names of many of the suites just off the great hall. Absent a bottle of Kentucky’s finest aged bourbon, an ice-cold glass of unfettered Absolut Vodka seems almost too perfect to ignore.

Fine Dining

Thankfully there is no need to sustain yourself on a diet of frozen food during your stay at the Ice Hotel. Directly across the street is the fabulous Ice Hotel restaurant. Nightly fare created by the chef includes an eclectic mix of fresh fish, exotic red meats and fowl. Some of the starters and desserts are even served on plates crafted from pristine Arctic ice.

Just in Case

If the idea of sleeping in a room at the Ice Hotel sounds more charming than actually spending a night inside a sleeping bag, on reindeer pelts in subarctic temperatures, it may be beneficial to know that some guests choose to book a heated room in one of the cabins adjacent to the Ice Hotel. The hotel is actually a complex of climate-controlled heated spaces and spaces controlled by nature’s less than accommodating thermostat. Connected to the Ice Hotel is a Wi-Fi-enabled lobby with a roaring fireplace, heated reception area, changing rooms, shower and restrooms, sauna and more.

From chandeliers in the great hall to the reception desk, furniture in the rooms, art on the walls and glasses in the bar—all are chilled to perfection.

What to Do and See

After a good night’s sleep, there are plenty of activities to get your body back up to operating temperature, including cross-country skiing, ice sculpting, reindeer sleigh riding, dogsledding and snowmobiling. But alas, daylight hours are brief, and before too long one’s thoughts and eyes turn skyward, hoping to catch a glimpse of the northern lights that appear on 85 percent of the nights between September and March, thanks in part to the super-dry climate and proximity to the North Pole.

What to Bring and What to Wear

There is no need to pack as if you’re embarking on a month-long trek across the Arctic. With just a few exceptions, the Ice Hotel provides everything you’ll need to stay warm while in the room, Ice Bar or outside enjoying nature. Included in the accommodations at the Ice Hotel are snowsuits and snow boots for lounging around in and an amazing subzero sleeping bag.

For those who would rather forgo the omni-fashionable Ice Hotel jumpsuit, a good thermal layer under your favorite ski outfit should provide enough warmth for the no-wind environment. One unintended benefit of Ice Hotel-provided snowsuits is anonymity. Rumor has it that the Swedish royal family frequents the Ice Hotel without detection thanks to the disguise provided by the uniform-looking snowsuits.

Gulfstream Arrivals

Traveling via Gulfstream, Ice Hotel is an easy 15-minute ride from the Kiruna Airport (ICAO: ESNQ) with its 8,208-foot/2,502-meter runway. Visit for more information.

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