Each winter, ICEHOTEL borrows several hundred tonnes of ice from the Torne River. As soon as the ice freezes up, the section of the river to be harvested is marked. All winter the ice field is kept free of snow, so that the ice can grow. “Ice that grows in height is of no interest to us. We want it to grow downwards. That’s how we get the crystal-clear ice that has become the signature of ICEHOTEL,” says Alf Kero, who manages Ice Production.
The slow, natural freeze-in gives the Torne River ice unique properties that cannot be created artificially, for example, with common tap water. Ice from the Torne River is perfectly crystal-clear and completely free from bubbles and cracks. And, thanks to its pristine natural source, 200 km north of the Arctic Circle, it is also free of pollutants. This results in high-quality ice that is ideal for sculpting and building. Since it is natural and contains no additives, it makes superb ice for drinks.
“We harvest ice from mid-March until mid-April. By then, the ice is about 80 centimetres thick. We use machines and custom-made tools that have been specially designed for our specific requirements. Each year, we learn something new and refine the technology successively. The operations at ICEHOTEL are constantly developing,” explains Alf. The ice field is divided into a grid pattern that marks the size of the ice blocks. Then, the difficult task of sawing out and lifting the heavy blocks from the river begins. Beneath the ice, the wild river rushes. The tractors must not be too heavy and the drivers have to know exactly what they are doing, so the machines don’t end up in the frigid water. Each ice block weighs two tonnes. The top surface layer is sawn off. The ice is then sorted in two classes: crystal-clear, for example, for ice glasses and dishes, and ice that is veiled, which is used for sculpting. The ice is then stored at about -5°C until the coming autumn and will be used in next season’s version of ICEHOTEL. A visit to the ice factory and the waiting river, which seems to pause briefly before being transformed into art and architecture, is a remarkable experience.
Fine Torne River Water
ICEHOTEL borrows only a marginal amount of water in frozen form each year from the mighty Torne River. Watch the flowing river for a minute, right where it passes Jukkasjärvi, and the equivalent of the annual ‘water loan’ for ICEHOTEL passes before your eyes. Most of it is returned to the eco-cycle when spring arrives and ICEHOTEL melts silently back into the river again.
“The drawings and ideas for the next year’s ICEHOTEL are usually ready by January. ICE Production works in close consultation with the architects and artists. At harvest time, the artists are curious about the quality of the ice. We can see that the ice has different properties, depending on temperature and precipitation. It definitely varies from year to year. Long periods with temperatures below minus twenty degrees are favourable for the raw material,” says Alf. From the shore, close by the magnificent ICEHOTEL, visitors from all corners of the world watch in amazement as the ice is harvested. Perhaps only then do they fathom the magnitude of this incredible project. To first harvest and store huge quantities of ice, and then build a hotel filled with fabulous art and design the following winter is indeed a marvel. It’s surreal, to say the least. And, most amazingly, this is no one-off project. It is a vital and creative enterprise, with a new hotel each winter for two decades now, and always with a new theme, new art and new design. ICEHOTEL presence is now world-wide, thanks to ICEBAR’s that offer a cold and fleeting pure taste of Lapland.
One might say that this makes the Torne River the world’s longest. As the river slowly freezes, the building start approaches. In mid-November, specially selected international artists and designers arrive. They will decorate this year’s version of ICEHOTEL. For some, this is the first time they will work in snow and ice. Others have been with the project since the early-1990s. This blend of neophytes and veterans keeps the art form fresh and vital. The ambition level is high and the creativity is almost palpable. Finally, the river will show what it has to offer. Finally, the ice will be transformed into art.
Melts back to the source
”The building process is intensive and exciting. The ice and snow we use are natural raw materials that are completely subjected to the whims of weather and temperature.When ICEHOTEL opens in early-December, construction is still in progress. In recent years, we’ve had more and more requests from guests wishing to take a closer look at the building process. They can take part in special guided tours, where we explain the process and our ecocycle approach, and they can watch the artists at work,” explains Alf. By year-end, as peak season approaches, ICEHOTEL is complete. Several intensive months lie ahead. In the ice church, couples will exchange vows. Guests will sleep in sub-zero suites graced with fabulous works of art.
Exotic meals will be enjoyed after days of snowy adventure. New products will be launched and corporate events will take place. Many languages will be spoken in tiny Jukkasjärvi, 200 km north of the Arctic Circle. By the time ICEHOTEL closes in mid-April, 60,000 guests will have entered the world of ice. They will have experienced, first hand, one of the marvels of our times. It is a world wonder that keeps us ever mindful of the great cycle of nature.
When the warm spring sun returns and the days grow longer, the snow and ice begin their slow retreat. Tiny rivulets of clear meltwater trickle back towards the source and become one again with the mighty Torne River. Summer is knocking at the door and the river turns to new tasks. For ICEHOTEL, all that remains is to offer humble thanks for the water it has borrowed. And next year, a new ICEHOTEL will be born.