Who lives in a house like this? More than 50,000 people a year. That’s how many visitors pass through the doors of the Icehotel at Jukkasjärvi in Swedish Lapland, 200km north of the Arctic Circle. And this year guests will be able to stay in the new permanent Icehotel 365, too, an amazing feat of technology that marks the natural evolution of the world’s most extraordinary lodgings.
The Icehotel is the brainchild of Yngve Bergqvist, who was inspired by the Japanese tradition of ice-sculpting to create the first hotel made of ice and snow at Jukkasjärvi in northern Sweden. This frozen odyssey began with the construction of a gallery, a 60-square-metre igloo called the ARTic Hall, which opened in 1989. But as interest in the project and the structure itself grew, it was only a matter of time before the first guests were hosted overnight and the Icehotel was born.
Now the award-winning Icehotel – which today covers an area of 5,500 square metres and features 65 bedrooms, an Icebar and an Ice Church – is an annual happening. Plans and designs are finalised early in the year and, in spring, 2,500 blocks of ice, each weighing two tons, are harvested from the nearby Torne, Sweden’s biggest river, which flows from the mountains into the Bay of Bothnia. By late autumn, when the first snows fall, the ice is removed from its summer store and a team of more than 50 people start building work. Moulds sprayed with snice – a mix of snow and ice that protects the hotel from melting – hold the structure in place until it is set solid, with rooms shaped as catenary arches to be strong and self-supporting.
Next, artists from around the world converge on the new Icehotel to turn their sketches into reality using snow, ice and light. This dynamic gallery changes each year, with winter 2016/17 featuring such mind-bending concepts as a room shaped like a house of cards, another in which the bed appears to float on waves of ice, and one designed as an emotion – a whirl of passionate thoughts.
Doors open to the public by December, welcoming both day visitors keen to have a peep at the unique interiors, and overnight guests, who usually stay just one night in a “cold” room (there are “warm” ones, too). After all, it’s a chilly proposition, even dressed in special warm outer clothing and swaddled in Arctic sleeping bags, with the rooms maintained at a constant temperature of -5C. A reviving cup of hot lingonberry juice brought to the bedside the following morning is a welcome touch.
The new Icehotel 365 is based on the same concept, and has 22 rooms and suites with bathrooms and saunas, an ice bar, sculpture gallery, and event space. But unlike its sister lodgings, it won’t melt back into the waters of the Torne come spring. Run on solar power, harnessed from the Midnight Sun, Icehotel 365 combines sustainable energy with state-of-the-art architecture. The whole structure is covered by a green turf roof, planted with Arctic flowers and varieties of grass, which rests on metal sheets to protect the building’s insulation and keep in the cold air. The arched inner ceiling has built-in chilling tubes, maintaining a temperature of -5C, and the inner walls are covered in snow. Just like the classic winter-only structure, Icehotel 365 is decorated with sculptures made from ice, and offers guests the option of cold and warm rooms.
As easy as 123: How to dress for the Arctic winter
It’s really important to dress correctly for the sub-zero temperatures of the Arctic. Here are the three steps to keeping cosy.
Ditch the cotton undies. You need to take moisture away from the body, with a little help from synthetic materials or wool – woollen socks provide great protection for the feet.
Opt for fleeces, wool and other insulating materials. Go for one or several thin layers that can fit over each other without restricting your movement.
Wrap up warm in a jacket with hood, snow trousers, hat, gloves and scarf and make sure all materials are wind and waterproof. From mid-February, pack your sunglasses.
And, finally, forget the beauty regime
If you’re venturing out to explore the beauty of the Arctic, don’t wash your face or shave on the morning of your trip. And definitely avoid water-based creams or moisturisers – they will freeze. Your skin’s natural oils are the best moisturiser in these extreme conditions.