Sleep in Ice


By Tanya Silverman

A room at Hotel de Glace from last season. Photo courtesy of Matias Garabedian.

A very particular type of hotel is completely different in design and composure each year. The reason is that the buildings all melt at the end of the prior season.

Ice hotels are structures erected out of snow and ice. The first and largest one is ICEHOTEL, which is situated north of the Arctic Circle in Jukkasjarvi, Sweden. Jukkasjarvi has a permanent population of 1,100 humans and 1,000 dogs. Its famous wintry resort is created each year out of 1,000 tons of ice from the Torne River, plus 30,000 tons of a “snice” hybrid.

It takes about 100 people to build the seasonal Swedish hotel each year, half of whom are specialty artists. Last winter, their renditions included an ice version of Dr. Frankenstein’s lab, a London underground train, plus a Parisian rooftop. Guests who stay at this hotel sleep on ice block beds covered in reindeer skins, and eat meals off ice-cube plates.

Romania, Finland, Norway, and Slovenia are some other countries that have ice hotels for a few months each year. The only ice hotel that exists in the Americas is Quebec’s Hotel de Glace.

Photo © Renaud Philippe.

Jacques Desbois, the CEO of Hotel de Glace, explains that in Europe, infrastructure and accessible population centers already function close to the continent’s colder, snowier locations where it’s possible for ice hotels to stand for part of the year. In the Americas, however, the regions where environmental conditions could permit ice hotels are not as close to civilization or amenities.

The Hotel de Glace is set to open for the season Jan 5. Desbois tells BTR they are celebrating their 15 year anniversary by adapting the theme of time travel. After checking in at a futuristic welcome desk, guests may journey through other eras into primordial cave bedrooms, then stroll throughout corridors adorned with dinosaurs or phantasmal creatures from unknown eras.

Hotel de Glace in progress. Photo courtesy of Alicia Rochevrier, Hotel de Glace.

There are 44 rooms and suites at the Hotel de Glace. Beds are equipped with blankets and sleeping bags adept for the arctic climate. Until the last week of March when the facilities close, the Canadian ice hotel will require thorough upkeep, including constant attention to make sure the floor does not become slippery.

“Snow is like a living material that’s constantly compressing,” Desbois adds. “The building is always in movement, like a tectonic plate.”

Naturally, the metamorphic nature of frozen water is a factor in all the accommodations that use the element as a building block. The dynamic is certainly a major consideration for the network of Igloo Villages that open through season in December throughout Germany and surrounding nations.

“The day it’s ready we start to renovate it,” explains Geraldine Pucker, a media relations representative for Igloo Villages, “as snow is basically nothing else but floating water–that’s very slowly moving.”

Photo: ©

Renovation labor, she adds, must be manual, not mechanical. These maintainers should be well aware of the condensing nature of snow. For instance, aisles between igloos are four meters high at the beginning of the season, but shrink to two meters at the end.

Of course, all the continuously challenging effort doesn’t hold folks at Igloo Villages back from offering their services. In fact, they expanded to a new location in Stockholm this year, where a two-person “romantic” igloo is built on an island.

The guests are even welcome to partake in some of the upkeep labor this season at the Igloo Villages. This year, at most locations, couples will be allowed to build their very own “love nests” out of ice.

“Instead of using the igloo that has been built already and decorated by the artists, you build the igloo like the Inuit used to build it–block by block–[to make an] igloo for two people,” Pucken describes.

For nourishment, the offered meal at Igloo Villages is cheese fondue. Pucken explains that such a rich choice is necessary in the cold conditions.

“If you were to sit in front of the igloo for example, and without doing moving or anything, you would lose weight,” explains Pucken. “Our igloo builders… while they are building an igloo for two to four weeks, they lose 5-8 kilos, each person–and they eat like maniacs!”

Photo: ©

In addition to offering hearty nourishment, the Igloo Villages staff also makes sure to help visitors keep warm through their amenities. The igloos’ interiors are at about freezing, but they come with expedition sleeping bags made for negative 40 degrees. Igloo guests all have access to either a private or public hot tub and bathers get so hot in the water that sometimes they actually go out in the snow to wash off and freshen up.

Whether it’s for the intrigue of their ephemeral condition, taste for white winter environments, or desire to profess that you’ve slumbered atop a bed of frozen water, facilities created out of ice and snow certainly offer distinctive opportunities that permanent or year-round structures lack.