Despite the record high temperatures in many places during the summer this year, winter will come, eventually, and with it will come snow and ice. And hotels.
Ice hotels have begun to become an interesting vacation option during the past few years. Perhaps it was simply a natural progression from all those ice sculpture festivals that have grown up during the past 50 or 60 years, like the one in Sapporo, Japan. In areas where snowfall comes in quantities measured in meters and yards and remains on the ground until spring, there has to be something useful to do with all the stuff.
Forget igloos: the Inuit (Eskimos) never have built permanent snowhouses; at most, they would build temporary shelters from blocks of snow when traveling or hunting. Commercial ice buildings have been opened here and there, in the form of a bar or a small lodge, but few have had very long runs. The Aurora Ice Hotel north of Fairbanks, Alaska, the Ice Lodge winter wing to the Bjorigard Hotel in Norway or the Ice Hotel in the Fǎgǎraş Mountains on the shore of Bâlea Lake are examples, but either they didn’t make it commercially or they’re so difficult to get to that they aren’t readily accessible.
The first, the largest, the longest-running series of iterations and, arguably, the best of the ice hotels, however, is the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden. Located on the banks of the Torne River, 200 km (125 miles) north of the Arctic Circle, the first version was built in December, 1990 and was only 60 square meters (645 square feet), the size of a small cabin. Now, in its 23rd year, the 2012/2013 version will be approximately 5,500 square meters (nearly 60,000 square feet)! Imagine it: A complete hotel, made entirely of ice. And not just big slabs of ice, but ice that has been carved, chiseled and delicately shaved into artistic designs.
There are guest rooms, meeting rooms, a chapel (marriages are performed there every winter) and a restaurant, not to mention a bar, open until 1:00am. There is a wooden “warm building” connected to the ice hotel, which includes dressing rooms, a sauna (this is Sweden, remember), luggage storage and a lounge complete with a fireplace.
Activities associated with the hotel include dogsled or snowmobile trips in the local countryside (including Northern Lights tours), visits to the Nutti Sámi Siida museum to learn more about the local Sámi (Laplander) people and even ice carving classes. The hotel opens on December 7 for this year’s season (lasting until the sun rises again in that latitude, sometime in early April).
In the Western Hemisphere, there is the Ice Hotel (also known as Hȏtel de Glace) in the Duchesnay resort just north of Quebec City, Canada. This year will mark its 12 iteration, to be built in December for a January, 2013 opening and remaining in place until April, when it will be demolished. This season it will boast 85 beds (all of ice, of course, but cushioned with hair-on deer hides), plus art galleries, a wedding chapel and even an ice slide. The bar is called the N’Ice Club and offers food and drinks served on plates and in glasses made entirely of clear ice.
Reservations are obviously recommended for either destination. If nothing else, it would make an interesting challenge for your favorite travel agent. Just remember to pack warm.