Above the Arctic Circle about a 90-minute flight north from Stockholm, ICEHOTEL is the 21st century poster child for sustainable meetings. Huge chunks of ice the size of a Saab are “harvested” from the frozen Torne River every fall to build the 85 riverside rooms that will last until April. Then ICEHOTEL melts and returns to its source in tune with the cyclical rhythms of Mother Nature.
Our “On Location” feature story is appearing next month in the Sept/Oct issue of Prevue, but here’s a sneak peak via photo essay about our two days on top of the world. It’s doubtful we’ll ever visit a more unique venue than this.
Across the street from Kiruna Airport, you’re provided with super toasty snowmobile suits before you hop aboard the world’s greenest hotel transfer. Dog sleds with 16 dogs each pull four guests along the winding snow trails and over the frozen riverbed. The trip is about 90 minutes to the community of Jukkasjärvi (pop: somewhere around 600, give/take) with a break for lunch. The dogs do not like to sit around and they’ll let you know with a cacophony of barking when they’re ready to run.
Along the trail to the hotel, we stopped at a traditional, cozy wooden cabin for reindeer/veggie stew with a side of mash potatoes, lingonberries and ligonberry wine. There’s no shortage of lingonberries in northern Sweden. They look and taste sort of like cranberries.
ICEHOTEL is a one of a kind hotel. In fact, it’s one of a kind every year. The builders start with Moorish-shaped metal arches and a lattice frame, and then they put the ice blocks on top and cement them together with “snice”–a mixture of snow, ice and water. After it all freezes for a few days, they pull the metal arches out.
Those are the front doors in the center of the photo with the Torne River in the background. The big blue warehouse on the left houses three new year-round ice rooms–the first in the hotel’s 20-year history–and a bar decorated with ice chandeliers and a Harley Davidson encased in a block of ice. A great venue for 100-pax parties.
Our welcome cocktail reception at Absolute ICEBAR! Drinks are served in ice, and you can only order Absolut cocktails. Basically you’re drinking hard liquor while standing on a skating rink, but the snowmobile boots are grippy and it’s not really an issue.
FYI: Don’t take too long to drink your drink if you go outside in April, or you’ll watch your $12 leaky cocktail make a little pink puddle in the snow. At night, this is the most happening spot in Kiruna, which can be exceptionally fun when the Aurora Borealis is shimmering overhead during October through March.
Dinner is served in the charming Old Homestead Restaurant, a heated timber building originally built in 1768. Fresh from the Torne River, the arctic char was caught that morning and served on an ice plate with shiitake mushrooms, goat cheese and salmon roe. Our meals were as good as any we had in Stockholm’s finest restaurants, combining ingredients absolutely singing with purity and freshness.
They weren’t on the menu this time around, but we hear good things about the Swedish elk meatballs, and definitely order the homemade raspberry pies with a warm, delicate chocolate sauce.
Every season, thousands of artisans and ice sculptors from around the world apply to build one of the rooms at ICEHOTEL, but there are only 85 rooms so many people reapply year after year. Each room is unique and the hotel owners consider their renewable resort as much an art gallery as a hotel. This is harder to do than it looks, by the way.
Beds consist of blocks of ice but the reindeer skins and sleeping bags provide the needed cushioning. The temperature is just a few degrees below freezing and restrooms are located outside in a modern, super clean building with extra large, high-pressure hot showers and changing rooms. You will most likely never enjoy a hot shower as much as you will here.
Group ice carving events are very popular. Jan (pron: “yon“), our ice sculpting instructor, said: “After 5 minutes all you hear are the chisels. It’s like music and I think it’s the best therapy there is. No one is thinking about big bills back home or Afghanistan or Japan.”
It’s a pretty life here and everything feels in balance. By 2015, the hotel expects to be carbon negative, producing more energy than it uses via solar, geothermal and wind technology. Stay tuned for another post specifically about the various susty programs underway, and how planners can create experiences around them.
This was a blast racing snowmobiles around the lakes and through the high mountain passes. A few times someone went a little wide of the trail and got stuck in the deep snow. Really stuck. That’s when everyone dismounts and helps pull the machine out together.
Reindeer racing is high sport up here in the Swedish Lapland. Members from the local Sami culture taught us the finer points of racing, of which there are two: Try not to fall off the sled and keep some distance from the antlers. The reindeer seemed to appreciate the exercise, and undoubtedly, the races were the most hilarious moments of the trip because this tends to be a first for most people.
After the reindeer escapade, we relaxed in a Sami tent around a fire while sipping coffee and chewing on the local jerky. You can fit about 25 in here comfortably for networking. Or napping.
Back at ICEBAR for the last night farewell. Yes, they play a lot of ABBA but it sounds way better here. American 1980s Southern Rock seems to be fairly popular too.
There are 95 “warm” rooms housed inside single story modern cabins replete with natural wood floors/walls, business desks, wifi, flatscreens, really warm showers and bathrooms straight out of IKEA. Most everyone who comes here sleeps one night in the ice rooms, and one night only. But they’re sure to be some of the coolest room types you’ll ever book, in more ways than one.
For more info about conferences, events and venue spaces at ICEHOTEL, visit the dedicated webpage. For flights, visit Scandinavian Airlines (SAS Group), voted the world’s most punctual major carrier for the last three years.