Friday, April 9


The Swedish town of Kiruna can be found nestled in a broad river valley, more than 145kms above the Arctic Circle. It’s the largest urban area at this latitude for thousands of kilometers. Its claim to fame includes being home to the world’s largest underground iron ore mine. It’s also home to the nearby Torre River, the largest of four highly protected river courses in Sweden. As a protected river it will never be dammed or diverted for its entire length.

The Torre River is a strategic waterway. Half its 522km length forms the border between Sweden and Finland. Its waters are also considered some of the purest in all of the Sweden. Every winter it freezes solid, forming a broad expanse of ice thick enough and strong enough to drive a truck on. Contrast this with the fact that every summer, it’s bathed in perpetual daylight. The sun never sets between May 30 and July 15.

On the banks of Torre River, near Kiruna, lies the small village of Jukkasjärvi. It’s home to 520 people. At first glance there’s little here to distinguish it from any other riverside location. The oldest building in the village is picturesque wooden church, built in 1608. However the newest building in town will always be the newest because it’s rebuilt every year without fail. This is the world famous ICEHOTEL.

From mid-December, for an all too brief four and half months, the hotel hosts more than 30,000 overnight guests. Many chose to sleep overnight on beds built from ice, as the indoor temperature hovers at -5°C. Those who know me will also know I have a list of travel destinations I’m determined to see before I die. Sleeping at the ICEHOTEL is one of these. Last week Garry and I finally joined the hotel’s guest list, spending one night in an ice room and one in a warm timber cabin.

Construction of the ICEHOTEL hotel is a fascinating exercise. Every year several tonnes of crystal clear Torre River ice and compacted snow are used to build this temporary venue. Ice is typically harvested between mid-March and mid-April after its grown to be at least 80cms thick. Incredibly, customised heavy machinery is used to harvest the river ice. On our last day in Jukkasjärvi I watched a harvest in action. First a giant chainsaw on the end of a long tractor boom cuts the ice into large blocks. These are then lifted from the river by a small crane, before being stacked by a regular forklift inside an enormous cold store building.

I later learnt that this ice would form the foundations of next year’s ICEHOTEL. In other words, ice from the previous winter always forms the building blocks of the hotel. The ice is also graded. Crystal clear ice is used for ice glasses and dishes, while veined ice is used for scuplting. Every year 150 artists and designers are invited to create several dozen elaborate ice-sculpted hotel suites. Over the years photos of these rooms have become the hotel’s most enduring iconic images - and this year was no exception.

The experience of sleeping on ice proved far cozier than I’d anticipated. Each guest is given a large arctic sleeping bag and each ice bed is topped by the thick foam base and luxuriously soft reindeer skins. I slept remarkably well. Garry complained that the foam base wasn’t thick enough and he hated the restrictive sleeping bag. I got at least seven hours of solid sleep; Garry much less.

Fortunately, Garry loved the rest of our ICEHOTEL experience. We spent our time enjoying several Arctic adventures including snowmobiling and riding our very own reindeer sleds. I’ll share more about these experiences in a separate post, including our jaw-dropping Northern Lights encounter. Stockholm seemed rather plain in comparison.

1 comment:

matt.mcgregor said...

What a remarkable experience. I am very envious!