Winter Harvest at ICEHOTEL
ICEHOTEL is located in the village of Jukkasjärvi, on the bank of the Torne River. Originating from the great lake Torneträsk, it is one of Sweden’s longest rivers and one of Europe’s last unexploited waters. Each winter, ICEHOTEL borrows several thousand tons of ice from the Torne River. As soon as the winter arrives and the ice forms a solid lid on the Torne, a section on the river is marked out. All winter this field is kept free from snow so that the ice can grow thick and clear.
“Ice that grows in “upwards” is mixed with snow and becomes milky, so we can’t use it for ICEHOTEL. We want it to grow downwards, towards the river bed. That’s how we get the crystal clear ice that has become the signature of ICEHOTEL, says Alf Kero, who manages the ice field and harvest in spring. The slow, natural freeze gives the Torne River ice unique properties that cannot be created artificially, for example using tap water or tanks. Ice from the Torne River is perfectly clear and completely free from air bubbles, cracks and sediments. And, thanks to its pristine natural source 200 km north of the Arctic Circle, it is also free of pollutants. This results in premium quality ice that is an ideal material to use for sculpting and building. Since it’s natural and contains no additives, it is perfectly fine to drink it straight from the river, and also makes superb ice glasses and plates.
“We harvest ice from mid-March until mid-April. By then, the ice is about 80 centimeters thick. We use custom-made tools that have been specifically designed for our requirements. Each year, we learn something new and refine the technology”, explains Kero. The ice field is divided into a grid pattern that marks the size of the ice blocks. Then, the difficult task of sawing out and lifting the heavy blocks from the river begins. Beneath the ice, the wild river is still flowing. The tractors must not be too heavy and the drivers need to know exactly what they are doing, so the machines don’t end up in the freezing water. Each ice block weighs two tons. The top layer is sawn off, to remove the milky surface that is mixed with snow. The ice is then sorted in two categories; crystal clear, which is used for ice glasses and dishes for example, and the ice that Kero calls “veiled”, which is used for sculpting. Veiled ice, he clarifies, has veils of white-ish formations inside the blocks, making them beautiful statement pieces. The ice is then stored at about -5 °C until the coming autumn when it is used for the next season’s ICEHOTEL.