How it all started
If you can build a hotel of snow and ice in a village 200 kilometers above the Arctic Circle, which strikes the world with amazement - nothing is impossible. Listen to Yngve Bergqvist, the founder of ICEHOTEL, tell his story.
I started working for the company in the 1970’s. It all began under the direction of the local folklore society. Love and the close vicinity to nature and the clean water is what made me stay in Jukkasjärvi.
In the 1980’s the local folklore society started a joint-stock company. This company however was later owned by “Kaamos” – a group of employees that were intent on tourism in Jukkasjärvi. We’re still here.
The summer was a fortunate tourist season throughout the 1980’s and in the beginning of the 1990’s. Our most popular product was white water rafting, at the same time we developed other products such as survival training, fishing and canoeing. Everybody visited Jukkasjärvi - conference groups, leisure travelers and guests flying up for one night just to see the midnight sun. But we had no guest wintertime.
The ones that we tried to lure up here defended themselves by saying - What’s there for us to do in all that cold and darkness? We might come for the summer when it’s warm and we get to see the midnight sun. Only our own tracks could be spotted in the snow.
In 1989 I sat out on a journey to frostbitten destinations, to see how they succeeded to attract guests. I went to Japan, among other places, and visited the town of Sapporo during their annual snow and ice festival. And I established the fact that we had the entire Torne River full of ice, but not using it.
In November 1989 we arranged the first ice seminar together with the society for snow and ice sculptors in Kiruna. It was a two week course in Jukkasjärvi. I invited two Japanese chefs and ice artists to teach us the craft of working in ice. We built the first snow building the year after, in February – a 60 square meter arched building where we hosted an art exhibition.
The first guests stayed overnight in 1992 and the story goes: One of my clients wanted to visit us with his company. But our lodging had run out of availability that particular week. I solved the problem by suggesting that they would overnight in the snow house.
We arranged sleeping bags and held survival training with detailed instructions before the guests headed for their lodging. Some staff members worried about how the guests would handle toilet visits and feel about the comfort of the room – everyone was in the same room.
The following morning we anxiously awaited the guests’ reactions. After a morning sauna and breakfast we handed out diplomas as proof of that the guests had survived a night in -5 C. They were fascinated by the experience and their faces lit up with joy. That’s how ICEHOTEL came about.
There are still many things left to do - most is undone and many exciting challenges are waiting. We will dig where we stand.
|Yngve Bergqvist, Founder of ICEHOTEL. Photo by Fredric Alm.|