Like many high-class hotels, the one in Jukkasjaervi lends clothes to guests who are improperly dressed. It’s not a matter of style, but of survival: The hotel is made of snow and ice.
The only kind of tuxedo that would fit in at the Ishotellet - or the Ice Hotel - is the sort sported by penguins. Guests who mill around in the lobby prefer snowsuits to Armani.
Not that anyone does serious lounging in a lobby where the seats are ice blocks covered with reindeer skins. Instead, guests admire the vaulted snow ceiling and the ice chandelier (lit with low-heat optical fibers), playfully pretend to watch the ice TV and then head for the bar.
Over shots of vodka - there’s no beer because its low alcohol level means it would freeze in the 23-degree room - they talk bravely of the night to come.
“I’m not worried. If I don’t make it through the night, at least I know I’ll be well-preserved,” said Tom Andrews of Hinsdale, Ill., a guest on a night when the hotel - heated only by candles and human metabolism - seemed toasty compared with the minus-8 temperature outside.
The Ishotellet, now in its eighth year, has become an unlikely success story, drawing tens of thousands of people a year to Jukkasjaervi (pronounced YOU’-kus-yair-vee), an end-of-the-road hamlet 100 miles above the border of the Arctic Circle.
Last year, about 4,000 people spent the night. The $75 room charge includes mummy-style sleeping bags, foul-weather gear and friendly guidance.
“Do some push-ups before bed. You have to be warm before you get into bed,” clerk Johan Woutilainen said.
He also comforted a nervous guest who worried that the snow walls might collapse. The Swedish military has tested this igloo-style construction by firing rocket-propelled grenades at it, “and it only made a little hole,” he said.
Safety wasn’t the question on Jennifer Hanley’s mind as she stamped her feet and clapped her gloved hands and wondered why she’d ever left her warm hometown of Miami. She also knew the answer: Her Swedish boyfriend Isak Hanno had talked her into coming.
“I guess it’s true love. What else?” she said.
The one-story hotel is built every December and lasts until sometime in May. This year’s version sprawls over about 22,000 square feet and includes 29 rooms with beds that sleep up to five people, a chapel and an extensive art gallery.
The annual rebuilding gives designers a chance to refine their ideas, and they’ve developed a style of striking elegance. The main hall is a long barrel arch of 5-foot-thick packed snow, bracketed by windows of translucent ice-blocks sawed from the nearby Torne river.
Because the river runs slowly, the ice freezes with few air bubbles and the density gives it a distinct blue glow, similar to the eyes of the neighborhood sled dogs.
The candle-lit rooms range from Spartan to Spartan-with-class, including some that have ice sculptures. The VIP suite even has a laser light device that simulates the aurora borealis.
What they don’t have is bathrooms; facilities, with running water, are in a separate building.
This was a topic of strategic concern in the bar. Andrews and friend Jim Ertle, both doctors, called on their medical knowledge to note that alcohol gives a deceptive sense of warmth, but increases the need to get up in the middle of the night.
Then they ordered more drinks.
As closing time approached, the guests lapsed into an apparently worried silence, and bartender Jan-Aake Hamlin offered encouragement, noting that the igloo’s extreme quiet promotes excellent sleep.
“Some people say they hear a sound they’ve never heard before - their own hearts beating,” he said.
Tucked in a sleeping bag, the long winter’s nap is unexpectedly cozy - except for sleepers’ noses, which have to stay outside the bag.
In the morning, a smiling maid brought hot lemonade to each guest’s room and reminded them that the nearby sauna was open.
“It was a good night. I slept well,” Andrews said. “But I admit, my bladder was pretty taut by morning.”