by David Evans
Published August 30, 2016 in Escape – News Corp
Check-in at Sweden’s Ice Hotel is like no other.
“At 3.30pm there will be a lesson on how to sleep in your room,” said the glacier-blue-eyed blonde behind the desk.
We laughed. The girl nodded knowingly, watching as we absorbed the gravity of sleeping in a room made of ice kept at a constant temperature of -5C.
Of the many ice hotel incarnations around the world, this is the original.
Founded in 1989 in the old town of Jukkasjarvi, Swedish Lapland, 200km inside the Arctic Circle, the Ice Hotel is the essence of style. Scandinavian style runs through the veins of the Swedes.
Snow, ice and Swedish design make a breathtaking combination. Add a splash of charming Sami reindeer culture, a sprinkle of traditional sauna, exceptional local cuisine beside a roaring fire, plus a strong chance of sighting the Northern Lights after dessert, and it’s a place where magic happens.
Every winter, the hotel is painstakingly rebuilt from the pure, blue ice of the adjacent River Torne, one of Europe’s purest waterways, and a snow and ice mixture called “snice”. About 100 people, including 50 artists (invitation only) sculpt the structure into existence.
Each ice suite is unique, a coveted undertaking for any artist fortunate enough to be invited. Inspiring designs created by 546 artists since the hotel’s inception include a giant elephant, a wall-sized peacock and a flock of sheep. A thousand hand-cut ice crystals hang from the chandeliers in the main entrance hall each year.
Following check-in, we spent the afternoon marvelling at the rooms, open for guest viewing until 7pm.
We also enjoyed the warm areas of the hotel — fireplaces, bars and lounges, saunas and, of course, the lockers. Guestrooms are made entirely of ice. One does not simply drop off one’s bag in one’s room; the contents would freeze. Warm guestrooms are available for those unable to come to terms with sleeping in the equivalent of a freezer.
Which reminds me of our 3.30pm lesson — “How to sleep in your ice room”. Here are a few tips:
● Wear no more than one layer of clothing (thermal underwear is ideal) as the very warm sleeping bags work by trapping emitted body heat.
● Wear a beanie.
● Wear a pair of unlaced shoes so your feet don’t freeze on the way to your room.
● Take your phone with you for selfies. All rooms have Wi-Fi, but consider where you will store your phone to prevent it from freezing — and not in your shoes, which you will invariably step into for your midnight toilet dash.
After a drink in the original Ice Bar and locally sourced meal of moose, arctic char and a cloudberry dessert, we hit the hay — or rather, the remarkably insulating reindeer skin which adorns each ice bed.
Perfect silence. Snow isolates sound incredibly well, so after a quick phone selfie we drifted into a peaceful and mercifully warm sleep … until the fire alarm sounded at midnight.
Could a hotel made of ice catch fire? With an outdoor overnight temperature of -35C, I thought better of emerging from my toasty cocoon to find out, and it soon stopped.
In the morning we were woken by the same blue-eyed check-in girl, standing at the foot of the bed with a backpack of hot lingonberry juice, a squirter gun and stack of cups, looking like a Swedish Ghostbuster. The vision was otherworldly, but her steaming concoction most deliciously real.
Did the sleeping lesson help? Without a doubt. Did I pee in the corner? No. Was I tempted? Oh yes! A 15m outside dash led to the warm bathrooms but I did it.
Far from being a discomfort, it proved strangely exhilarating to be hopping around at midnight in a cold winter wonderland.
I looked into the sky to see if the aurora borealis was active. It wasn’t, but it treated us to magnificent displays in the area over subsequent clear nights. And what of that fire alarm? Apparently someone had nipped outside through a fire escape to pee.
At breakfast, we could pick out those who thrived and those who merely survived. Although most of our fellow guests looked rested, for some weary folk I sensed a literal meaning for the term, “once in a lifetime experience”.
Survival aside, I couldn’t help noticing the smile on everyone’s face as they gazed out at the beautiful snowscape of Swedish Lapland.