Picture it: you’re lying in a room of ice and snow. Your breath turns to columns of vapour in the cold dry air, but underneath a stack of reindeer-skins, it’s nice and cosy.
Outside the blue walls, you hear the howling of restless huskies, while the northern light flickers across the Arctic sky. It’s elements like these that make up the Norwegian ice-hotel experience.
Alta in Finnmark, Northern Norway
The first snow has just fallen on Southern Norway, but in Alta in Northern Norway, they’ve already started building the world’s northernmost ice-hotel. The first Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel was built in 1999, making it the second of its kind in the world.
Every winter, several artists chisel away on huge amounts of ice and snow, and in just about a month, the hotel is done and open to the public.
"It was a slow haul the first eight or ten years, but eventually it’s become a popular experience”, says Sorrisniva’s head of sales and marketing, Jan Roger Eriksen.
Sorrisniva is among the worlds most famous ice hotels, right up there with Jukkasjärvi Ice Hotel in Sweden, who started the concept as early as 1990. Everything here – as the name implies – is built of ice and snow, from the bed you sleep in, to the glasses you drink out of.
When spring rolls around the entire hotel is reduced to steaming puddles of water. This cycle gives Sorrisniva and its artists a golden opportunity to renew themselves each and every year.
“The special thing about Sorrisniva is that all our artists are locals”, says Eriksen. “When they’re not sculpting and decorating the hotel, they work ordinary, everyday jobs here in Alta. One is a hairdresser, another drives a postal truck, a third works as a chef.”
Ice hotels vary in size and shape across the world, but one thing they all have in common. They are – naturally – very, very cold. One would therefore think that guests rarely stay for more than one night, but Eriksen says otherwise.
“We’re seeing more and more people who stay for a weekend”, he says. “That way they get to relax at the hotel and experience a wide array of activities in the daytime.”
Kirkenes in Finnmark, Northern Norway
Adventures in wintery wonderlands are something you’ll experience at many ice hotels, and Snowhotel Kirkenes is no exception.
In Kirkenes in Northern Norway, you’ll find – among other things – 180 huskies who bring travellers on speedy adventures with sledges through the landscape. In addition, you can see the northern lights on clear evenings and fish for king crab in the Norwegian Sea – before you eat it at the hotel restaurant in the evening.
It’s raw, unspoiled experiences like these that have really caught on with both local and international travellers.
“Around 50 per cent of our guests come from Asia. Many also make the trip from Germany, USA, Australia, and Eastern Europe. There’s a good mix of travellers here.”
Kåre Tandvik, owner and founder of the Snowhotel Kirkenes, is busy preparing for this year’s construction. The name, he explains, was chosen to reflect the actual building materials. A hotel made solely of ice would quickly become uncomfortable, he says.
"It would be like staying in a glasshouse. You have to use isolating snow in the construction to seal the warmth in. No matter how cold it gets outside, it will be a comfortable minus four degrees inside”, he says.
The Tamokdalen valley in Troms, Northern Norway
The tall surrounding mountains around the Tamokdalen valley, an hour and a half from the city of Tromsø in Northern Norway, help keep the temperature down during the two-month-long polar night. Which is perfect when you’ve built an ice hotel there.
“We want to provide our visitors with knowledge about the Arctic. Here at Tromsø Ice Domes, you can learn about the local animals, Sami culture, and the Norwegian polar explorers”, says general manager Eirik Tannvik.
Throughout the hotel, everything from local Sami culture to northern lights are conveyed through coloured lighting and beautiful ice sculptures.
You can spend the night on warm reindeer skins, but Tromsø Ice Domes also offer a range of different day experiences – like dog sledging, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and northern lights chases.
The Lillehammer region, Eastern Norway
Not all of Norway’s ice hotels are located in remote territories. Just over two hours drive from the capital towards Lillehammer, the world’s most southern example is being rebuilt every winter.
The hotel is part of Hunderfossen Winter Park, a popular theme park based on Norwegian fairytales.
“There’s a magical atmosphere in the Winter Park every year, and especially in the evenings”, says head of marketing Thor Willy Christiansen.
Because of its location – several hundred kilometres from its sister-hotels in Finnmark – the construction of Hunderfossen’s ice hotel begins significantly later. In Eastern Norway, you are often dependant on technological aid to maintain the temperature at a low and stable level.
“The hotel is constructed in our yearly Winter Park, and subsists of 15 tonnes of ice and 1,500 cubic metres of snow”, says Christiansen. “We have a cooling system that holds the temperature down when the weather turns warm. The hotel is built by our employees, who cooperate with ice artist Elisabeth Kristensen, and is inspired by traditional Norwegian fairytales.”
In addition to its wonderful decorum, the ice hotel at Hunderfossen also stands out with its wide offering of live entertainment.
“From fairy tale shows in the Troll Forest and castle gardens to snow rafting, snowmobiles, and an amazing firework display that rounds off the winter evenings. It’s always a magic and unique experience for the whole family”, says Christiansen.
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