Friday, January 28, 2011

On the Rocks: The Ice Hotel in Jukkasjarki, Sweden

It's not every day that you get to sleep on a bed of ice, but at the Ice Hotel, you can do just that--at least between the months of December and April, when the hotel is available for bookings. This Swedish hotel is like a life-size ice sculpture, complete with ice furniture, walls, fixtures and fittings. Each year, the Ice Hotel is reconstructed from scratch, so the architecture changes from one year to the next.

The Ice Hotel has a fascinating history beginning in 1989, when Japanese ice artists visited the area and created an ice-art exhibition. The following spring, French artist Jannot Derid held an exhibition in a cylinder-shaped igloo in the area. During one night of the exhibition, when there were no rooms available in town, some visitors asked for permission to sleep in the exhibition hall. They slept in sleeping bags atop reindeer skin, thus becoming the first guests of the “hotel.”

Today, the annual reconstruction of the hotel begins in March, when the Ice Hotel workers harvest tons of ice from the frozen Torne River and store it in a nearby production hall that holds more than 10,000 tons of ice and 30,000 tons of snow. The ice is used to create ice glasses as well as for ice sculpting classes, events and product launches around the globe, while the snow is used in the actual construction of the hotel.

When the temperature drops, usually around mid-November, that's when construction of the hotel begins: Snow guns start humming along the Torne River, spraying the snow onto huge steel forms. After a few days, when the snow has frozen, the forms are removed--leaving free-standing corridors of snow, in which dividing walls are then built to create the rooms and suites of the hotel.

In the winter 2010-2011 season, the Ice Hotel began offering nightly guided Northern Light tours by bus to guests. You're sure to get the best view, too, as the hotel studies the forecast as well as reports from Swedish meteorological, space and physics experts and from local observers in advance. Your tour might take you close to the hotel in Jukkasjarki or in the area of Abisko National Park, Nikkaluokta or Vittangi, about an hour away by bus.

The hotel sees between 50,000 and 60,000 guests every year, with most of them traveling from abroad. While the hotel itself lures adventure travelers, the promise of seeing the dancing colors of the Northern Lights is also a big draw. Because the hotel is uniquely positioned in the middle of the ring-shaped area known as the auroral oval, the area around the Earth's magnetic pole where Northern Lights mainly appear, it provides a spectacular view of the Northern Lights. Other factors contributing to the viewing potential include:

The Ice Hotel is located in the Swedish district that, during the month of January, has the highest number of clear days and the lowest percentage of cloudy days, providing excellent conditions for viewing the Northern Lights.

The surrounding climate zones increase the chances of finding good weather in the auroral oval. For example, Abisko National Park is one of Sweden's sunniest locales, with the lowest annual rainfall.

Book your guided tour of the Northern Lights at the hotel's reception desk up until 10 p.m. on the day of the departure. Tours depart at 11 p.m. and return no later than 2 a.m. Along with the unique surroundings of the Ice Hotel, the Northern Lights will undoubtedly complete your adventure travel experience.

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