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The igloo that grew into an ice fortress
British artist Marcus Dillistone's Mind The Gap art suite at Sweden's Ice Hotel. Photo: Christian Strömqvist

The igloo that grew into an ice fortress

Published: 20 Dec 2013 08:20 GMT+01:00
Updated: 20 Dec 2013 08:20 GMT+01:00

Incomparable and iconic, the Swedish Ice Hotel is more than just a frosty Lego fortress. The Local contributor Malin Nyberg traces its 24-year history and finds out what it's like for the 250 employees to work so near the Arctic Circle.

It’s Saturday afternoon in Jukkasjärvi. On the second floor of the Ice Hotel’s office, PR and marketing manager Beatrice Karlsson is sitting in front of her laptop. She has spent the morning helping one of the international artists who are here to make an art suite.

Despite the fact that it’s Saturday, Beatrice seems happy to be at work. During the summer, she has about 60 colleagues - the area offers summer activities too - but in the winter, as they start building the Ice Hotel, the number of staff climbs to 250.

“Guess how long we’d have to drive to get to the nearest McDonalds?” she asks with a smile on her face. “Four and a half hours.”

Originally born on the Swedish west coast, Beatrice moved to London where she stayed for seven years before landing the job at the Ice Hotel.

“I think it’s good that life up here is totally different,” she says. “If I had moved to Stockholm I’d just compare it to London all the time. With this place, I simply can’t”.

SEE PICTURES: Art Suites and vistas at this year's Ice Hotel

Creative director and part owner of the Ice Hotel, Arne Bergh, is another one who likes life in the Arctic. He’s been here since the early days of the hotel. Tourists were never strangers to Jukkasjärvi, which was the first place in northern Europe to offer white-water rafting, he explains

“In the late 70s, early 80s, companies would come here during summer to have conferences and enjoy the rafting. But eventually other places in Sweden started to offer the same thing, so they had to come up with something else,” he says.

That "something else" started off as an ordinary art exhibition in an igloo, but that all changed a few years later when a group of tourists didn’t have a place to sleep.

“They ended up borrowing sleeping bags and staying in the igloo. The next day they were very positive about the experience, and that’s how the idea of the Ice Hotel came about,” Bergh says.

Throughout the years, the hotel has never lost its connection to art. Ahead of every winter season, the Ice Hotel jury receives between 200 and 300 sketches from artists and designers from all over the world, eager to come and build an ice suite. Only a small number of them are accepted, resulting in 13 individually designed unique suites added to the hotel’s 52 rooms.

“The applying artists can be everything from fashion designers to graffiti artists. They (have to be) willing to come here and do it themselves,” Bergh says.

One of this year’s artists is British film director Marcus Dillistone, who is building a “Mind the gap” suite, depicting a London tube platform in ice.

“I’m creating the last stop on the Northern Line”, Dillistone explains while tourists take pictures of his soon-to-be-finished masterpiece.

Marketing manager Karlsson believes that people who haven’t visited the Ice Hotel might not realise what an extraordinary art exhibition it truly is.

“I’m not sure everyone knows that we build the Ice Hotel from scratch every year,” she says.

“In October, there is nothing (here) and a few months later we have created this,” she says, pointing at the Icehotel which is near finished when The Local pays a visit. “And in May it’s all gone."

Bergh agrees, adding that there is something beautiful about the fact that the ice comes from the Torne River and then goes back in to the river again as it starts melting.

“It’s the cycle of nature.”

Malin Nyberg

The Ice Hotel’s Instagram account where you can follow the staff's everyday life.

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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