Sweden's ice hotel
Deep in the Arctic Circle under the Northern Lights, new ice creations are taking shape.
abc.net by freelance contributor Tracey Shelton in Jukkasjarvi 12/28/16
The Sami people of the Arctic region believed the Northern Lights, roiling green and pink across the heavens, were the energy from the souls of their ancestors.
Now, in this far north of the world, a deep connection between the natural and creative worlds is taking shape once more.
Photo: The entry to the ice hotel in Sweden. (ABC News: Tracey Shelton)
The moon's glow lights the frozen Torne River, its waters waiting for the sun to return so they can flow again through the summer months.
The beauty of these Arctic waters inspired the world's first ice hotel, built in Swedish Lapland in 1989.
"We use almost all material from the river," said Arne Bergh, a creative director for more than 20 years.
"The Torne River ice has different qualities, different transparency to artificial ice.
It has life. It's moving water that is freezing and stopping in time.
"It has an inner quality. It's very poetic."
Workers hauled metal frames into place as tractors sprayed batches of freshly mixed snow and ice — known as "snice".
Once packed down and set, the frame is removed leaving a perfectly arched snow building.
For the past 27 winters, artists selected from around the world have built unique ice rooms.
And every year, as the sun returns, their creations slowly melt back into the Torne River.
The ice burst with activity as 16 teams of artists chiselled and scraped — even chain-sawed their works into life. They came from as far as Iran and Tokyo.
Sand artist Edith van de Wetering
Electrical engineer Fabian Jacquet Casado and sculptor Rob Harding
Product designers Stephanie Knodler and Martina Eriksson
For many, it was the first time working with ice.
"It's really hard, because the ice reacts in different ways that we didn't expect. But we have learnt so much!" Danish product designer Stephanie Knodler said, as she chiselled the details of an ace of spades.
Everyone here works together. Someone is always working out a new technique and we share it.
"The amount we have learned in such a short time is incredible."
Stephanie Knodler works her room design named the House of Cards.
The support team smooth the walls under supervision.
Designer Nicolas Triboulot from France works on his creation called the White Cathedral.
All about the light
A chandelier in the ice hotel made out of 1,000 handmade ice crystals.
Photo: Each of the hotels dozens of chandeliers requires 1,000 handmade ice crystals. (ABC News: Tracey Shelton)
A lighting crew brings the creations to life. It exacts particular skill, according to UK brothers Hugh and Howard Miller.
"It's hard to tell, but we lit the tree with pink lights," Hugh Miller said, pointing to an ice blossom tree that appeared almost colourless.
"We learned if there is only one colour in the room, your eyes adjust and register it as white.
"We'll need to put another colour so we can see the pink."
Living with Angels, by Benny Ekman
Candles in giant ice sculptures
Mr Bergh says the ritual melting of the hotel in summer is part of nature's cycle.
"In the spring time it melts from the top, but it's cold on the inside so it's getting thinner and thinner, and the water is running down the outside walls," he said ardently.
"And then one day it just opens up and the sun shines through. There is no collapse, no sound but the dripping water.
The sculptures and columns inside begin slowly changing, mirrored by the water on the floor as it gradually returns to nature.
But this year, a new concept has joined the old — 'Icehotel 365' is designed to stay frozen all year round.
Sculptor, and creative director Arne Bergh, under the sunless midday sky with glowing pink clouds. (ABC News: Tracey Shelton)
"The sun was the enemy of ice art," Mr Bergh said as he talked about this world-first building.
"It eats the ice in the springtime. But now instead we will harness the sun to preserve the art."
At this latitude, 200 kilometres inside the Arctic Circle, the summer sun shines without setting for 100 days and nights.
As the rooftop snow melts it will expose solar panels — enough to power the entire complex, including an elaborate cooling system.
Photo: The roof of the new ice hotel contains 875 square metres of solar panels. (ABC News: Tracey Shelton)
Being at one with nature is central to the ice hotel's philosophy.
In this area, nature is mystical. For several months, the sun doesn't rise at all, but colours the sky with a kaleidoscope of pinks, purples and orange.
By mid-afternoon, snow covered trees glow as the moon shines from a deep-blue canvas.
Dog sleds prepare for a morning run over the frozen waters of the Torne river
Ice hotel complex
There are many buildings in the hotel complex.
The ice suites, each one uniquely designed and hand carved, become a gallery each afternoon.
The hotel bar livened up with guests wearing snow suits and boots, sipping brightly coloured cocktails from ice glasses.
They are surprisingly pleasant to drink from, commented David Castle from Brisbane.
Colourful drinks inside the ice bar.
Guests wore snow suits and boots in the ice bar
They chatted excitedly about their subzero night sleeping on a bed of ice in a sculpted chamber.
"It was actually surprisingly warm and completely silent," Mr Castle said, describing the animal skins with thermal sleeping bags that kept them warm.
"It is pitch black inside when you turn out the lights. It's quite eerie. You can't see your hand in front of your face."
"I had to sleep with the light on!" added his wife Jenny.
The Victorian Apartment by Italian architect Luca Roncoroni. (ABC News: Tracey Shelton)
The ice hotel started as a Sami Heritage project, conceived by environmental officer Yngve Bergquist.
The Sami, now largely urbanised, still farm reindeer, and face incursions of mining, logging and climate change after centuries of marginalisation and prejudice.
The pristine Torne River, and the ice hotel — Sweden's premier tourist destination for international travellers — help the Sami economically and spiritually.
It took 20 million snowballs to construct the permanent ice hotel.
It harnesses nature to provide year-round availability allowing visitors to canoe and fish under the midnight summer sun.
The seasonal hotel has a different, poetic life.
Come March, obeying natural forces it will return to the flowing waters of the magical Torne River.
*Tracey Shelton was provided accommodation for this story.
Thanks to Mary Anne Glazar for sending me this.