Yngve Bergqvist – founder of Icehotel

Yngve Bergqvist – in profile

Age: 70+

Does: Entrepreneur and founder of Icehotel

Family: Partner and children

Hobbies: Hunting and fishing, skiing, river rafting.

Tip to create successful concepts: Dig where you stand – the most is not done yet.

Icehotel founder Yngve Bergqvist
Icehotel 365 view in summer
Photo Asaf Kliger

A dream came true – peak season year-round at Icehotel

A hotel of ice and snow – 200 km north of the Arctic Circle. When Yngve Bergqvist introduced the idea of Icehotel the reaction he got was ice cold. How could Jukkasjärvi, a tiny speck on the map, in the middle of the dark and cold northernmost part of Sweden even attract locals?

Today, Icehotel is one of Sweden’s most important tourism destinations with visitors from all over the world – year round.

Yngve Bergqvist, entrepreneur and founder of Icehotel, arrived at Jukkasjärvi for the first time in the mid-1970s. At that time it was the long spring-winters, which offered perfect surface for skiing that attracted him.   

– I took the train up north from Hälsingland to ski in the spring, and I stayed. I had a background as an engineer in sustainability and environment and was offered a job at the mining company LKAB in Kiruna, says Yngve.

Once on site, he saw lots of unexplored opportunities. Suddenly he was in charge of the development of the Old Homestead in Jukkasjärvi. Yngve and his colleagues saw the potential of paddling and fishing in Torne River and started a canoe center. The interest was huge and Jukkasjärvi soon became one of Sweden and Europe’s first rafting destinations.

Torne river rafting
Photo Asaf Kliger
Yngve Bergqvist by the burstling Torne river
Photo Asaf Kliger

Around 5,000 to 6,000 people came here in the summer for rafting, fishing and canoe paddling. We had 30 river rafts and made several tours along Torne River every day. It was a success.

The bright summer weeks were full of life in Jukkasjärvi – but when fall and winter arrived, desolation embraced the village. It was dark, cold – and completely empty of guests.

– When I started to wonder how we could develop Jukkasjärvi for the winter season I was told it is too dreadful, cold and dark in northern Sweden during the winter. I wanted to turn that around and create something positive out of the cold and show there is so much light amidst the dark – the northern lights and the shiny white snow.

But not even the Tourist Manager believed in him. He advised Yngve Bergqvist to close everything for the winter, because “no one would want to visit Jukkasjärvi during the cold and long winter”. Yngve chose, thankfully, not to listen.

Reindeer in polar night
Photo Asaf Kliger
Ice blocks in winter landscape
Photo Asaf Kliger

Instead he went on an inspirational trip to Japan. There he discovered artists who worked on the material that fills Torne River in the winter – ice. In 1989 he invited two Japanese ice sculptors to Jukkasjärvi to lead an art workshop for sculptors from northern Sweden.

– We sawed out big ice blocks from Torne River and dragged them up on land. Ice sculpting was somewhat unusual at that time but the idea to use the crystal clear Torne River ice to make ice art attracted artists to come here, says Yngve.

In winter 1989-1990 the 250 square meter igloo Artic Hall opened, an art gallery with art created out of of ice and snow.

– On a cold winters day, all of our warm cabins were booked for the night but we had a group that wanted to stay the night. I suggested that they could sleep in the cold Artic Hall. To my surprise, the guests said yes so we equipped them with warm sleeping bags and instructed them how to sleep in the cold. The morning after they were blown away by the experience.

Icehotel was born.

30 years have passed since the start of Icehotel – and the concept continues to grow and develop. Each year 2,000 ice blocks are harvested from Torne River in the spring. Art, ice bars, ice glasses and of course a brand new ice hotel is created every out of the sparkling, crystal clear ice.

For Jukkasjärvi, Icehotel has turned the seasons around. The cold, dark winters are peak season; the bright magical summers are low season.

The Icehotel-year has, since the beginning, started in November when the artists from all over the world have gathered in Jukkasjärvi to create unique art on site – art that later will find its way back to Torne River in the form of water.

In December the first guests arrived to experience the unique concept: to sleep in sub zero degrees, do a dogsled tour, enjoy the northern lights and, if one wants to, try ice sculpting. When the sun has taken over in the spring, the hotel melts and returns to Torne River – and at that point, the last of the approximately 50,000 guests that every year visit Icehotel have left Jukkasjärvi.

Visitors outside Icehotel at opening ceremony
Photo Louise Nordström Pettersson
solar panels under sunny sky
Photo Asaf Kliger

– Many of the visitors that have been passing through the region have stopped at Icehotel in the summer but been disappointed when there’s no hotel to visit. In the end it felt inevitable to try closing the circle so that Icehotel becomes an interesting destination year-round.

Yngve did as he usually does  – dug where he stood. Everything was here: the bright, dreamy summer nights with midnight sun from May to July, a flourishing nature around the corner and Torne River open for exploration.

– We explored the possibility to use the light from the midnight sun to run a year-round open hotel of ice and snow. Architect Hans Eek became the head architect for the project and at the end of June 2016, the building of an entirely new part of Icehotel started with 20 art suites of ice and snow, an ice bar and ice gallery that is open year-round – where everything runs on solar energy.

DURING FIVE INTENSE MONTHS, the massive 2,000 square meter construction was built on the riverbank in Jukkasjärvi and on December 1, 2016, the first guests were welcomed. The dream to run a year-round open business with ice and snow had come true.

When the seasonal part of Icehotel melted in the spring of 2017 there was still a permanent ice hotel left – and consequently the opportunity for a whole new experience in Jukkasjärvi: to sleep amongst ice and snow while the sun shines day and night…

view over Torne river in summer from inside Ichotel
Photo Asaf Kliger
River rafting
Photo Asaf Kliger

The same summer was extra special for Yngve who has always seen Torne River as the hub of his businesses.

– Just before the summer, I renewed my license as a rafting guide so that I could personally guide our visitors along the beautiful Torne River. I’m probably Sweden’s oldest rafting guide and still find it fascinating to show our guests this incredible nature experience. And to think it’s the same water that created the conditions for the whole business with Icehotel that invites to an unforgettable rafting tour, on its own terms. That is powerful.

A passion for sustainability

Nature is an important motivation for Yngve Bergqvist and he is passionate about sustainability and energy sufficient solutions. Icehotel is built solely with natural ice from Torne River and each part of the business is working to minimize the effect on the environment. It is done through collaboration with local businesses, the use of energy efficient systems and now, as the most recent innovation, a solar cell park that runs an entire ice hotel.

river rafting
Photo Asaf Kliger