ICEHOTEL is the world’s first hotel made of ice and snow. Founded in 1989, it is reborn in a new guise every winter, in the Swedish village of Jukkasjärvi – 200 km north of the Arctic Circle. The Torne River, the arts, and creating a setting for life-enriching moments are at the heart of it all.
The Torne River
With its impressive length of 520 kilometers, it runs from the ancient mountains in the west down to the coast in the east, where it f lows out into the Bay of Bothnia. As the largest of Sweden’s four national rivers it is rare – indeed, unique. One of the last untouched rivers in Europe. A wild river.
It’s the Torne River that provides ICEHOTEL with its ice in winter – and in the summer when the hotel melts, the water returns to its source. Natural ice requires a lot of work – before it is harvested in the very beginning of spring, when it has grown its thickest, months are devoted to maintaining the “ice field” and keeping it clear of snow so that the ice can have the best possible conditions for growth. But in Jukkasjärvi, people think that the natural Arctic ice is worth the effort. “For us the natural beauty and unique story of each individual block of ice provides inspiration that can never be found in artificial ice,” says Petra W Lindh, who has been working at ICEHOTEL for 20 years.
Hearts beat for art
When the first snow has sprinkled the whole of Jukkasjärvi with white, artists from all over the world come together in the village to take part in creating the art exhibition of snow, ice and light that makes up ICEHOTEL.
“ICEHOTEL is an art symposium in a class of its own. The energy released here when creative people from a wide variety of backgrounds and places meet the ice is almost tangible,” says Arne Bergh, partner and sculptor who’s been part of ICEHOTEL since the start.
ICEHOTEL is all about ice and creativity – with art as the result. That’s why the artists invited to take part are not required to have worked with ice before – they’re selected from among those who send in their ideas based on originality and creating it in real natural ice would pose a new challenge. This year 42 artists are taking part in ICEHOTEL. The notion that several weeks’ hard work and months of planning and preparation culminate in something that only exists for a few months is in some respects a bittersweet feeling.
ICEHOTEL vision 2015
“The world knows the Torne River and ICEHOTEL as the source of limitless meetings and experiences, in any place and at any time of year.”
The river was also the core when the idea to ICEHOTEL was born. The summers in Jukkasjärvi were popular among tourists and a variety of activities such as river rafting and other wilderness activities were arranged, but the winters were long and cold. But Yngve Bergqvist, that later founded ICEHOTEL, got an idea. Inspired by the Japanese ice sculpting 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 more than two decade long journey with the Torne River- the world’s first hotel made of ice and snow.
Inspired by the workshop, the following winter saw the first ever ice structure – an especially designed igloo built using mold 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 show cases. Bergqvist and his associates also opened a bar inside the hall, and even tried sleeping in sub-zero temperatures. The igloo had grown to measure 250 m² in size; the building technique was refined and patented in Sweden and Norway. One night, a party of guests asked if they could stay in ARTic Hall. They were equipped with reindeer skins and sleeping bags, and woke up enthralled by the experience. It was never intended for ARTic Hall to become a hotel, but after this experience the idea to ICEHOTEL was born.
ICEHOTEL was established as a brand internationally in the early 1990’s, following a successful brand partnership that went on for several years. ICEHOTEL was awarded the top Nordic brand of the year – the Signum Prize – for its strategic brand management in 2014, and are also multiple winners of World Travel Awards in 2012, 2014 and 2015.
The making of ICEHOTEL
When the cold arrives to the Arctic, the river also slows down and the landscape changes shape. This marks a period of intense activity on the shore in Jukkasjärvi – ICEHOTEL is being reborn. “We see nature as our friend – we want to work with it rather than in spite of it. Sure, that means you can’t plan everything in detail, but at the same time that’s probably what makes it so much fun,” says Niklas Nyberg, who works in the construction team. Huge blocks of ice, weighing two tons apiece, were harvested from the river late the previous winter and have been stored in anticipation of the start of building. The drawings have been ready since May. At the end of November artists from all over the world come to Jukkasjärvi to be a part of ICEHOTEL and turn their ideas into reality.
To be able to cast the building, “snice” is produced – a mixture of snow and ice made of water from the river. The snice is sprayed onto molds, which are removed once the structure has consolidated. It’s then finally time to continue the creative process inside the meter-thick walls. The aim is to use water from the Torne River as far as possible. The rooms are constructed in a classic, catenary arch shape, which is self-supporting and incredibly strong. Room after room is filled with snow and ice in the right amounts, so when the artists arrive they can get started and immediately turn their sketches into reality. Six weeks later it’s finished – with the work of many hands the river has changed shape and been transformed into art.
So much more than ICEHOTEL
ICEHOTEL Creative Experience supplies ice products for events worldwide. Tailored orders - such as ice stage sets, sculptures or even catwalks – down to ready-to-order items like ice glasses, bars, dishes and blocks of various dimensions. All made with the same exquisite Arctic ice we use for our hotel. Read more about our ice products & past projects.
Did you know…
The name Jukkasjärvi comes from a Sami word that roughly translates as “meeting place by the water”, as the village was historically an important marketplace. At ICEHOTEL, too, meetings take center stage – the meetings between Jukkasjärvi residents and visitors, between different cultures, between people and nature, and between ice and creativity.