Putting on the Ice

Ice Hotels are the new Ritz Carlton's. Eoghan Corry writes about the latest super cool trend in holidays


Ice hotelWhoever designed the first igloo would be fascinated at how his idea has come back into fashion. Sleeping under snow has become, er, cool..

The Ice Hotel Group opened their first hotel in Sweden nearly a decade ago. Now the group's five star igloos are scattered like snowflakes all over the world, with trademark ice sculptures adorning the rooms, sweeping glass ice stairways and bars where people drink vodka out of ice glasses that slowly melt in your gloved hands as they drink. Nothing prepares you for the experience of staying there. Lots of writers and broadcasters have tried to describe it. Most of the accounts of a night in the ice hotel turn out to be about the writer not the experience.

You can see why. Words do not do this experience justice. Pictures of halls of white with shaded lights won't represent the scenery. And anyhow the Ice Hotel gets you thinking about yourself and how you will react to the cold.
When the lights go down and you are alone in your extreme sports sleeping bag, facing the prospects of a night at minus three to minus seven (admittedly the most comfortable minus three to minus seven imaginable) your thoughts turn back to your vulnerability in the face of extreme temperatures.

Ablutions become an obsession, because the prospect of frostbite en route to the bathroom is reasonably high or as reasonably high as you can imagine in a €300 a night hotel.

Each bit of our anatomy becomes a worry. You become obsessive about the nose or ear that begins to freeze – because it is not covered, or is it? The question of the head takes on a life of its own – how much of it can you reasonably keep out of your sleeping bag?

Ice brings us into a world of introspection, and maybe that is why a night in an ice hotel (just one, most people are happy to leave it at that) has become one of the great 21st century must-dos.

There are restrictions: each person's stay is limited to seven hours, which means time is precious.

I did it as I would at home, pyjamas, bare feet, sleeping bag and laying on the ice bed covered by animal skins, wishing I had brought an ice teddy bear. My dreams were vivid, clear, an out of body feeling with sounds and images echoing icily in the snowy Narnia waste. Maybe it was another side effect of the icy introspection. I woke up feeling I had rarely slept as well as I did in that sharp clear air.  And I wanted to stay there again, and again and again. Maybe

I should check if those guys selling properties abroad do any igloos.

Lillehammer has got the latest of the Ice Hotels   – a splendid heap of frozen water with 14 decorated bedrooms and 40 beds which was officially opened on 5 January.

It was not due to come on stream until 2009, but this is Norway. It cost about €300,000 to build, and the ice had to be shipped in from southern Norway because still water makes clearer ice.

They built it inside Lillehammer's signature family attraction, the Hunderfossen Winterpark (slogan: “cold and freezing adventures that warm your soul”) and more than 100 loaded trucks with snow and about 50 tons of ice had been used by the time the speeches were made; the quartet of sopranos had delivered their soaring melodies in the ice wedding chapel and the vodka had been poured into ice cold glasses. Many of the first night guests were from Ireland, including a honeymoon couple from Mayo.  It says something about the greening of Norway's most famous alpine ski resort.

The experience starts in the nearby Quality Hotel, a campus of dwellings around a main block scattered in the forests beside Hunderfossen railway station, a seamless two-hour train journey from Oslo international airport (a more troublesome four hours from Torp).

You check in and travel with your sleigh along 400 metres of pathway. When you arrive you see an igloo, because ice hotels don't look much on the outside, basically the pile of snow that it will turn into in May.

At 7am your night porter will wake you and you return to the Quality Hotel for hot drinks and a sauna. This is the first of the Ice Hotels to have such an elaborate wedding chapel (they call it the cathedral) a determinedly agnostic building with sculptures which can seat 100 people on ice benches covered with animal skin.

The Ice Hotel opened this month and closes in April before the big melt begins and will be rebuilt again next year over a three month period. They say they will change the design so it never looks the same in any two years. Who thought igloos would come back into fashion?


  • Eoghan Corry flew to Oslo with SAS, who fly four days a week from Oslo to Dublin. Prices from €52 each way, 33 per cent discount for children up to 16-years-old, 20 kilo baggage allowances, and direct trains from the airport to Lillehammer.
  • He stayed at the Quality Hotel and Resort Hunderfossen and the Ice Hotel. www.choicehotels.no  or Tel +47 6127 4000