In 2023, it was a long vacation in Sweden again. If you want to know about only a specific part of it, here are some shortcuts.
As in the previous year, the dogsledding part of the vacation started in Saltoluokta.
Since that is somewhat tricky to reach (and it's even more trickier to catch up with a dogsledding tour, once it has departed), I put some 'buffer days' at the beginning of the trip, in case my luggage got lost or a flight got cancelled.
The travel arrangements worked out fine, however.
So I had an extra day in Gällivare without anything to do. And like in the previous year, I used a rental car to drive to Jukkasjärvi and look at the Icehotel.
As I've also visited the Icehotel in 2021 and 2022, I've no seen the Icehotel in three consecutive years.
I am still amazed by all the effort that goes into the Icehotel that's built every winter, though I am starting to have my doubts about the (all year round) Icehotel 365 (which probably should be Icehotel 366 next year).
But more about that later.
The form of the Icehotel (the part that is erected each year) hasn't changed in the last three years (it had been different back in 1997, which was the only other year in which I had seen it)
There's a long corridor and from that four smaller corridors branch off.
And on the sides of those corridors are the rooms located.
Additionally, at the middle of the main corridor there's one room that opens directly to the main corridor, called the Ceremony Hall.
This room is used for various kinds of events, mostly weddings.
In the previous year, it had a 'white balloon' style, but this year the design was more 'leaf' oriented.
Of the four corridors, two of them have 'standard' rooms on the sides.
They all feature a bed, surrounded by an ice 'pedestal' and a some, usually trapezoid looking, ice columns placed somewhere in the room.
I've put 'pedestal' in quotes, as the beds are not really on a block of ice. To keep them moderately comfortable, the mattress is not put on an ice block. It is placed on a wooden bed base, which is supported by the ice blocks on the sides. This also makes it easier to put lights and power cables below the bed.
While the standard rooms are neat, the main reason for visiting are the suites.
These are at the sides of the other two corridors. What distinguishes them from the other rooms is that each of them is individually designed by a team of ice sculpturing artists. Each has an individual theme and ice sculptures or snow carvings to match.
Depending on the mood and interest of the artist responsible, they cover a wide range from abstract styles to whimsical and detailed fantasy worlds.
For me, the most abstract suite this year was Frö. The bed looked a bit like a half-filled water balloon or an extremely fat leaf. It is supposed to represent the "inside of a seed", but that doesn't make it any more interesting.
Other "nice idea, but still kind of dull" rooms were "Hidden Milan", "Garden" and "What is to come" and "Enclosed Space".
"Hidden Milan" took its inspiration from Milanese courtyards.
The columns and arches look great, but they look like they should be lining the corridors. Using it as a room with a bed in the middle seems a bit off.
The "Garden" suite feels somewhat empty.
There's a big, 'snowflaky' shape at the entrance, with a section that mirrors the shape of the missing part of it at the back of the room. All abstract and geometrical looking, but that's all there is in the room. The room would look neat on a postcard, but that's it.
"What is to come" seems similar to Frö.
There are some bifurcated, somewhat ellipsoid, shapes scattered around the room (supposedly representing seeds hidden by a prehistoric squirrel). And that's it.
Unlike "Hidden Milan", which looks good as an art-room, but not a place to sleep in, "Enclosed Space" is nearly the opposite.
"Enclosed Space" is a bed surrounded by (almost) a dome of ice.
So it is a somewhat 'cozy' space to spend the night in. Like staying in a small tent.
There's not much else in the room. But then again, you are staying in a small, enclosed space, more or less shutting out the world. So it isn't important what is outside.
The other suites were more elaborate and, in most cases, had more realistic looking elements.
Even if they were simply pencils.
Either the ideal room for a creative artist or a corporate pencil pusher - with not much inbetween - is probably "Dreams of Pencils".
A room containing oversized pencils, carved from ice, with the bed on top of a large pencil box.
A cool combination of a good concept and simple forms.
It's refreshing to see a room that has a somewhat 'abstract' look, but a clever idea behind it which justifies the appearance.
The only strange thing about the room is that it looks a lot like the standard rooms. So while it is nice to see it when walking through the ice hotel, I wouldn't want to pay the extra cost for a 'suite' to stay in it and have essentially the same experience as in a standard room.
While "What is to come" and "Frö" covered the theme of seeds, flowers and the promise of spring in a rather abstract way, "Galanthus Nivalis" approached the topic in a bit more recognizable manner.
"Galanthus Nivalis" is the Latin name for the common snowdrop plant, which are among the first bulbs to bloom in spring.
The room contains blooming flowers formed in snow, large plants carved into the snow at the back of the room and a flower picture craved in a large ice block.
The common snowdrop works really good in this environment. Partly because they bloom early and sometimes even appear when there's still snow on the ground. But also because the flowers are white, so they look 'right' when made from snow.
For me, the room also featured the best use of lighting, as most if the lights are hidden in the 'flowers', providing a natural 'hiding place' to put the LED bulbs, while giving soft, indirect light and making the plants look alluring.
While "Galanthus Nivalis" found a way to express "plants and spring" better than "What is to come" and "Frö" did, "Bauh-Ice" found a way to have an abstract, highly geometrical, look and provide a reason for it.
The name "Bauh-Ice" echoes (although in a somewhat distorted manner) the Bauhaus movement, which promoted a design style based on simple geometric shapes, usually devoid of decorations.
The Bauhaus style not only provides a justification for the simple aesthetic, in a way that, for example, the renaissance wouldn't. It also comes with a vast list of design examples to serve as an inspiration for the Icehotel suite.
And most of the buildings erected in the Bauhaus style didn't go much for colourful designs (they typically are some kind of off-white or light grey), so having only white snow and transparent ice to work with is something that fits well.
The remaining new suites were less abstract and contained lots of small details.
The most 'technical' design was in "High Score", which included elements from various classic computer games and consoles, including a oversized game controller, various Tetris pieces and space invaders.
I am not quite sure whether I really would like to sleep in a bed that has a big illuminated "♥High Score♥" sign over the bed, but then again, why not?
Another game element in the room was a mushroom in the style used in Mario games.
While the mushroom here is somewhat simplified (mostly a sphere on a cylinder, with three circles drawn into the sphere), it provides a convenient link to the somewhat more realistic (as much as a half meter high illuminated mushroom carved from snow can be called 'realistic') mushrooms in the next suite, called "The MushRoom".
There is a bit of an "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" feel to it (or maybe a bit more of "Honey, I shrunk the kids"), like being shrunk down to being a centimeter tall and walking around on the forest floor.
I especially like that the bed is well integrated into the room. In most rooms, the bed feels like a later addition. Like a necessity to turn a gallery room into a hotel room, akin to putting a camp bed into a museum room. But in the MushRoom it seems more like a protected place somewhere near the root of a tree or a huge mushroom. (Or at least as protected as it can feel with two giant snails staring at you.)
Two more rooms left in the "winter only" part of the Ice hotel. Both of them with elaborate designs.
"Maighdeann-Ròin" is about 'the other type of mermaid'.
The most common mermaid in tales is the chimera-type, with the torso of a human woman and the tail of a fish.
But there's also the mythical selkie, which is, essentially, a were-seal.
So selkies appear either as humans or seals, but not as a mixture of both.
Although the tales don't specify whether selkies are supposed to be shapeshifters or whether it's more like a human within a sealshape. There seems to be a common element of a selkie ("Maighdeann-Ròin" is simply the Gaelic word for it) in human form hiding their sealskin somewhere, so at least it's implied that the human form is somehow emerging from the seal form and not so much transformed from it.
The art in the room follows the 'human within a sealskin' idea.
There are a woman and various seals carved from snow, but there are also some carvings in ice columns, representing seals swimming in the sea, which show a human form embedded within a seal shaped outline, fitting the 'human within the seal skin' idea.
The most elaborate suite in the building is "Home nature".
It has a large mural in the entrance area, separated by a wall from the main room.
It depicts a large waterfall in a forest setting.
Most other rooms also use a mixture of snow and ice sculptures and carvings, but in this mural, the use of materials depends on the subject depicted. All the parts that represent water are done in ice, with the rest of the scene done in snow.
The main room has a large, snow carved, moose head hanging over an elaborately carved bed.
In one corner of the room are three highly ornate stools (and a table) carved from ice.
This furniture made the room the most difficult to take pictures in, as there were always groups of people taking pictures of themselves sitting on the chairs. Most of the time, there was a small queue outside the room of people waiting until they could go in and take a picture.
And that's it for the part of the Icehotel that will be gone in spring.
Lots of nice rooms in there and well worth a visit.
But there is also the Icehotel 365.
Essentially a giant refrigerated building with rooms that can be visited all year round.
And I'm increasingly disliking it.
The basic idea is a great one.
Having a permanent Icehotel structure allows for more elaborate room designs and artwork.
And it allows visitors to stay in an ice-cold room (and have drinks at the icebar) during summertime, where there's more of a contrast between outside and inside and it's a short walk out to warmer weather.
Sleeping in the cold is a bit less exciting in the wintertime, when you might as well sleep outside (and probably be much colder, as inside the Icehotel there's a relatively constant -5°C). In summer, it feels a lot more like stepping into a different world.
But the issue with the Icehotel 365 is that the ice rooms age badly.
I think that I read somewhere that the lifetime of a room in the Icehotel 365 was supposed to be three years. So about a third of the rooms there should be replaced every year.
I am not sure where I read that. I can't find any reference to that now.
There are 18 suites in the Icehotel 365.
From 2020 to 2021, three of them changed.
From 2021 to 2022 only one of them got replaced. ("Blue Houses" became "The Ice are the Window to the Soul".)
So, assuming two new rooms per year, this means the average lifetime of a room will be about nine years. Possibly not quite as long. (Let's hope the change of only one room was a one-time event and it'll go back to three rooms per year. Even then it's six years lifetime for a room. Which kind of fits the fact that "Dancers in the Dark" is already featured in some articles about the opening of the Icehotel 365 in 2016, so by now the room is six years old.)
And it is starting to show that these rooms are getting old.
The best (or worst) example for that is the 'Hang Loose' suite.
It looks a bit like an art gallery, with various sculptures in the room and pictures hanging on the wall.
In 2021, the pictures looked like this:
In 2022 it was already difficult to see what was depicted, as there was a layer of hoar frost on the surface.
Obviously this hasn't gotten any better in the year that has passed since then.
The problem is even more obvious with the next picture.
In 2021 it was still clearly showing a windmill.
The lines were a bit less precise in 2021 due to the frost on the picture, but it was still showing a windmill.
But by now it is not only hard see what is depicted, but large chunks of the frame are now missing.
It is similar here, where parts of the frame are missing and some of them have been badly repaired by replacing the frame with piles of snow. (And it is difficult to make out what it is supposed to depict.)
I don't have a separate photograph of this picture from previous years, but it's the picture on the right in this photo from 2021, which shows how the frame around the picture looked then.
At least they repaired the ear of the bunny in the "Toybox" suite, which had gone missing in 2021.
But all the suites are increasingly showing signs of decay, whether on the decorative bands around the frieze in "Cabinet in the Woods", the music notation in "Raindrop prelude" or the no longer clear ice columns around the trees in "A Midsummer Night's Dream". There is a stack of 'letter cubes' that spell "Welcome" in the "Toybox" suite. In 2021, you could easily read that. Now it's difficult to see the letters on the first two cubes and you guess more what they say, based on the remaining letters, than you are able to read it.
And for something like the Icehotel 365, that's a bit of a disaster.
A night in a room like the "Toybox" suite will cost you around 1000 Euro for a night.
And at that price, visitors will expect a bit better than 'still sort of ok'.
I know that a big part of the cost of staying at the Icehotel is due to location, uniqueness and the cooling system.
But still. These are prices of suites in luxury hotels (pretty much the same price per night as a Junior Suite at the Adlon in Berlin). And it's hard to imagine that they could afford to have the wallpaper flake off the wall, broken chairs fixed with duct tape and cracked windows.
And that is, essentially, how most of the rooms in the Icehotel 365 look now. I am not sure whether this will work in the long run.
The annually rebuilt Icehotel is fantastic. I hope the Icehotel 365 will not be the thing that ruins the whole operation.
It seems to me that the best thing to do would be to rebuild at least half of the rooms in the Icehotel 365 each year, preferably at the same time the new Icehotel is made outside.
That is probably the worst time for business in any case (as it's not yet the winter season, but no longer the summer season either and few tourists are likely to venture north in November or early December). So closing down half of the rooms in the Icehotel 365 should not be too bad, even though there are no rooms in the Icehotel outside yet.
And that would not only mean that rooms only exists for a maximum of two years (keeping them from falling apart). But there would also be more variety and a larger number of new rooms to look at every year. (I don't know the numbers, of course, but I suspect that the income from day visitors is at least as high as the income from overnight guests in the 'cold rooms'.)
But changing only one room from one year to the next is something that seems unlikely to work in the long run.
Of course, it would also help to make the rooms in the Icehotel more spectacular and worth preserving for a longer time. But rooms like "Crescents" or "The Drift" look less exciting than most of the rooms in the annual Icehotel, so it's hard to see why they need to be in the Icehotel 365.
At least that is something that seems to be improving.
A room like "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (which they added last year) looks special (even though the clear ice isn't as clear as it was) and something worth preserving for a while.
The same is true for "The Ice are the Window to the Soul", which is the new room this year.
There's lots of clever work with images and mirror images, made in different materials, working with negative space.
Like two faces mirroring each other, one from packed snow and the other one carved out of an ice block.
Or two runners competing. Partly embedded in a block of ice and partly sticking out of it. Looks great (though I think it's likely that some of the limbs will be broken off and lying on the floor before the year is over).
And, behind an 'ice curtain' the main piece.
A human shape as an empty form in a block of ice.
Depending on the pool of reference, this can be seen as an allusion to bodies found in Pompeii, encased in ash instead of ice, or as a Snow White figure, encased in a glass coffin. But it might be also something allegorical.
But as a room it contains more elements of a higher complexity than most other suites, so it makes sense to have this in the Icehotel 365.
There might be another way to justify keeping rooms in the Icehotel 365 for a longer time, but it's difficult to see how it could be reliably achieved.
It seems possible to design rooms that 'age gracefully' over time, so that the frost adds some 'patina' to the room and lets it change in interesting ways.
I am not sure what would be a good way to achieve this, but I noticed that "Dancers in the Dark" had a noticeable different feel to it.
Back in 2021, there were small snowballs hanging from the ceiling on little strings.
By now, there has enough humidity out of the air frozen to the strings that it is starting to look like 'snowcicles' (like icicle, but more snowy) are growing out of the ceiling.
Not an big change, but an effect that could be used intentionally to make a suite change over time without looking dilapidated.
In any case, looking at the pictures of the room again made me realize for the first time that the shape along the side of the room is meant to be an extension of her dress.
But enough of the rooms in the Icehotel.
Time to head for the Icebar and go for a drink. (A non-alcoholic mocktail. I needed to drive back to Gällivare after that and the penalties for driving with even small amounts of alcohol are severe in Sweden.)
After that, there was the chance to have a small look 'behind the scenes', as they were preparing the material for the 'ice carving' courses they offer. The 'source material' came in on large palettes before they put it on larger ice blocks that served as working platforms.
Some of the results were put on an ice table outside. (It's not the kind of artwork that you can take with you after you made it and put on a shelf at home.)
It seems safe to say that they didn't discover a hitherto unknown ice carving talent on that day.
In any case, enough Icehotel for 2023. So back to the car, heading towards Gällivare and to the dogsledding part of the vacation.
More about this can be found here.