When I first stepped into the blue folds of the ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi I thought this must be what Superman's Fortress of Solitude looks like. It's that blue found in the water of higher latitudes, a blue that looks photoshopped although no photograph seems to be able to reproduce it with fidelity. Most of the time you and the other hotel guests are dressed in the hotel-issued technical gear: snow suits, balaclavas, moon-boots, mittens, caps. But when you sleep in the cold hotel you strip down to your long underwear, lock your things in a locker, carry a sleeping bag and sleeping sheet to your room, and try to get as comfortable as possible on the reindeer skins. One tip to remaining comfortable is to go easy at the hotel’s ICEBAR. The drinks, inspired by and named after the rooms in the cold hotel, come in hollowed cubes of ice and go down a little too smoothly. The bathrooms, contrary to the supposition made by my friend on Facebook, are not made of ice but you do have to walk outside to reach them at night. We dressed and went to straight to breakfast when we woke. (It is busy in the locker and shower area in the morning.) I ate a protein-rich meal to restore the lost kilojoules and then sat for forty-five minutes in the sauna. When you check out you receive a diploma (write out the name of each guest if you want individual diplomas) perfect for you to share it with the very friends who thought you were nuts for wanting to sleep in the ice and snow and the cold.
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Talking Tech at ICEHOTEL
Located 125 miles above the Arctic Circle in Sweden, the ICEHOTEL offers two Tech Visits that showcase the resort’s progressive mindset around business and sustainability.
I toured the hotel with Dan Björk, director of sales/marketing. He was there at the beginning 20 years ago with a few partners who wanted to build the world’s most intelligent igloo. There weren’t a lot of other people who believed in the project back then. Fewer understood their motives and no one expected it to make any money.
Björk's #1 goal has always been to blur the lines between nature, art, commerce and the built environment. Typically there are about 85 rooms constructed every winter out of ice blocks carved from the adjacent Torne River. There’s also a new, geothermal-powered 2-story freezer housing three ice suites, an Absolut ICEBAR and a Harley encased in a giant ice cube.
That spirit of creativity infuses every aspect of the hotel. For example, UK-based Rousseau Design created a TRON-themed room (above) with fiber optic lighting in the ice to promote their line of illuminated furniture. The Tech Visits are designed to share these types of collaborative relationships that Björk has established over two decades.
"The Tech Visits tell the story about how we began with the idea of ICEHOTEL, and how we’ve grown together in a group of like-minded people," says Björk. "And how we went to the bank and said we have an idea and we were thrown out. We’re no longer being thrown out of the bank."
When I explained to the ice sculpting instructor that I wanted to sculpt a penguin in a homage of one of my good friend’s cartoon penguins (http://therandompenguins.tumblr.com/) he nodded cautiously and and smiled and said in a very Swedish, matter-of-fact, lagom, manner, “Sometimes the hardest thing is to make a two dimensional thing in three dimensions.” With that thought, I set forth to try to make a peanut-shaped penguin.
The ice sculpting class ($55US) offered through the IceHotel allows you to tap into your inner Michelangelo or Donatello. Armed with only with an ice chisel - there are regrettably or perhaps thankfully no power tools or sanding disks - you are granted a block of ice and three hours to come up with your masterpiece. The very good pieces are displayed around the hotel.
“Don’t be afraid to really get into the ice,” the instructor said as he scooted by each station, “and work with the material.”
There was something cathartic about shaving away the ice and wiping away the bits and feeling the smooth curve of sculpted ice. In the end I wasn’t quite able to get the penguin: The third dimension really did stump me and I couldn’t figure out how to create a beak. I sent my friend a photograph of her amorphous and faceless penguin; It is post-modern and emblematic of the times I noted cheerfully.
My work never made it to display (too edgy I guess) and in the end was recycled back into the earth to be used again, perhaps more successfully, next winter.
North of the Arctic circle in the Lapland Wilderness is a tiny town called Jukkasjarvi with a big draw called the Icehotel. It's freezing and blue and beautiful and one of the most unique experiences in my traveling life (yes, I have two lives: "before I traveled | after I traveled." :)
Please stop by the link below to read about champagne on ice, steaming lingonberry juice, reindeer hide and flying saucers - but no cows!!