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Ben Nilsson/Big Ben Productions
Ben Nilsson/Big Ben Productions

How to Build an Ice Hotel

Ben Nilsson/Big Ben Productions
Ben Nilsson/Big Ben Productions

In the tiny arctic village of Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, dusk lasts most of the day at this time of year. Against the dramatic and ever-evolving pink and purple sky sits a structure that looks like a cross between a sleek nightclub and an igloo from outer space: Lapland’s storied IceHotel, the world’s largest and longest-running luxury hotel made entirely of frozen water.

A sprawling single-story structure built annually on the pristine banks of the frozen Torne River, the IceHotel is in its 23rd incarnation. In the late '80s, Yngve Bergqvist, who led white-water rafting trips on the Torne during the long arctic summers, invited some ice sculptors to create a winter river attraction. The result was an ice art gallery—a small igloo on the frozen river in which art work could be displayed. After a couple of years, an adventurous group asked if they could spend the night in the igloo. Afterward, they raved so much about the experience that Bergqvist decided to build a proper hotel. The first IceHotel was erected in the winter of 1989-1990. These days, it attracts 60,000 guests who want to spend a night in one of its 65 rooms. Of these, 15 are one-of-a-kind “art suites”—among this year’s are a UFO-themed room and a fairytale forest—designed and sculpted by visiting artists from all over the world.

Photo: Paulina Holmgren. Artists: Karl-Johan Ekeroth & Christian Strömqvist.

Staying in the hotel is kind of like camping out in a meat locker. The inside temperature is a constant 23 degrees Fahrenheit. Even the bedframes are carved ice—but a mattress, a reindeer pelt, and a sleeping bag make sleeping quite cozy. In the lobby’s Ice Bar, patrons huddle in heavy parkas, thick mittens, and snow pants. With the exception of a few cushions, every surface is gleaming ice—including the glasses in which the cocktails are served.

Photo: Ben Nilsson/photobigben.com. Artists: Åke Larsson, Mats Nilsson and Jens Thoms Ivarsson.

The hotel betrays a minimalist aesthetic that’s a hallmark of Scandinavian design. And the frozen architecture lends a serene quality even when the lobby is crawling with tourists. But when I visited on an impossibly clear and cold week this winter, the most remarkable thing about the place was going on behind the scenes: Amid the hustle and bustle, the IceHotel team was already quietly at work on the assiduous process of building next year’s hotel. It takes 1000 tons of crystal-clear ice cut straight from the river and 30,000 cubic meters of a pasty-white man-made mix of snow and ice that’s called, cutely, “snice,” to build the hotel each year. In a few months, everything from the king-size bedframes to the benches in the bar would be reduced to puddles—or, more precisely–reabsorbed into the river.

THE BIG FREEZE

Building the ice hotel isn’t so much an annual process as a never-ending one. But if you had to specify a starting point for the endeavor it would be sometime in November, when the river freezes over. That’s when the production team, led by production manager Alf Kero, sections out a 14,000 square foot swath of ice with red plastic rods typically used to mark snow-covered roads. All winter long, Kero and his team will cultivate and monitor this patch—which will eventually become the raw material for the next year’s hotel.

An average of two meters of snow blankets the village over the winter, but workers plow this special patch of river with a front-end loader to keep it clear of precipitation. This ensures that the ice grows downward, into the still waters of the river below, rather than hardening upward. The result is ice that is crystal-clear, free from bubbles and cracks, and it’s this naturally formed glass-like ice that the hotel has made its trademark.

In December, during the weeks that the sun doesn’t come above the horizon, the entire river, which reaches depths of more than 60 feet, is frozen solid. Because of all that ice, the temperature in Jukkasjärvi can be 10 to 20 degrees colder than the nearby mining city of Kiruna, just 11 miles to the east. But by February, as the days are beginning to lengthen, the river is slowly beginning to thaw from its bed up. This is when the team begins to gear up to harvest the ice for the next year’s hotel, carefully monitoring its thickness. When it’s around three feet thick, usually in early March, it’s time for the harvest to begin.

BUILDING BLOCKS

The ice patch is gridded out into squares that measure roughly 20 square feet, and then the team slices the ice using a vertical saw mounted on a front-end loader, specially designed for the task by the team with the help of a local construction firm. Each cube, weighing nearly two tons, is lifted out of the river with a forklift. “The river flow is quite gentle in the area where we pick up the ice blocks,” Kero tells me, “but the ice can be slippery and at times it can be very windy so it is important to wear suitable safety equipment and ensure that the staff is trained and working in teams, never alone.” Altogether, the team harvests 5000 tons of ice this way.

Once a block is out of the river, the crusty top layer is sawed off, and then the blocks are sorted by clarity. The clearest of them are designated for use in the hotel rooms and to manufacture glasses—for the hotel's bar and three more Ice Bars the IceHotel runs, in Stockholm, Oslo, and London. During the summer, while the temperature outside reaches the 60s and the sun stays up all night, the giant blocks sit in two giant sub-freezing warehouses.

Seth Apper, aXcess Travel.

You can still visit the IceHotel in the summer—right now, the production team is busy building an IceBar and sample rooms that are open inside the hotel’s hangar-like art center each year. Once that’s done and the ice harvest has been completed, the team turns its attention to the planning of next fall’s hotel. “The first steps are a number of creative brainstorming meetings, where we set out the plans for the architecture and art,” says Sofi Routsalainen, a member of the Art and Design group, which oversees the production of the hotel. Over the summer, they’ll carefully choose the 40 artists who will create next year’s art suites from 200 applicants.

WINTER IS COMING

As winter begins to descend, it’s time to get ready to start construction on the new hotel. It takes a team of about 100 people—including builders, artists, lighting engineers, snice casters, tractor drivers, and the art and design group—to build the structure. In October, as the river begins to freeze, the production team prepares the grounds and wall moulds and makes sure electricity and sewage are in order, while they wait for the temperature to drop. A support wall is erected out of steel vaults.

Paulina Holmgren

When the ground freezes and there’s been a week of temperatures below 19 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s time to start spreading snice for the hotel floor. Snice acts like a paste and looks like the crust that builds up in a malfunctioning freezer. It’s made by pumping water from the river and blowing it through “snow cannons,” which results in tiny ice particles mixed with air. The substance is structurally stronger and more resistant to the sun than sheer ice, and has the insulating qualities of snow. A hotel built of pure ice would be much colder inside, and would melt quicker in the spring.

To construct each corridor of the hotel, a row of arch-shaped steel vaults are erected, and then sprayed with snice and left to set for a few days. Once they’ve frozen, the vaults are lowered onto skis and pulled out with a tractor. Internal walls are built using the same process. Once the corridor is divided into a number of rooms, doors are cut using a chain saw, and the LED lights are installed. (There’s no plumbing—if hotel guests have to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, they must venture to an attached warm building. Ask me about this some other time!) When the rooms are completed, the team stocks some of them with extra ice blocks—these will become the art suites.

Paulina Holmgren

For more than two weeks each November, the visiting artists chosen to create the year’s art suites work in the freezing rooms, using chisels and chain saws to carve the rooms they have planned. Then in early December, once the reception area, bar, and at least one wing of rooms are ready, the hotel officially opens for business. From then until the structure becomes unsafe to occupy in April, visitors will fill their days with ice sculpting lessons and snowmobile sojourns. They might even attend one of the 150 weddings celebrated each year in the ice chapel. As for the nights: those are spent out on the frozen Torne, watching for the Aurora Borealis—and learning the value of a good down sleeping bag.

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How to Rescue a Wet Book
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Water and books don't usually go together. If you're one of the many sorting through waterlogged possessions right now—or if you're just the type to drop a book in the bath—the preservation experts at Syracuse University Libraries have a video for you, as spotted by The Kid Should See This. Their handy (if labor-intensive) technique to rescue a damp book features paper towels, a fan, some boards, and a bit of time. Plus, they offer a quick trick if you don't have the chance to repair the book right away.

The Kid Should See This also notes that literary magazine Empty Mirror has further tips on salvaging books and papers damaged by water, including how to clean them if the water was dirty (rinse the book in a bucket of cold water, or lay flat and spray with water) and what to do if there's a musty smell at the end of the drying process (place the propped-open book in a box with some baking soda, but make sure the soda doesn't touch the book).

Of course, prevention is the best policy—so store your tomes high up on bookcases, and be careful when reading in the bath or in the rain. (That, or you could buy a waterproof book.)

[h/t: The Kid Should See This]

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Lists
15 Common Stains and Easy Ways to Get Them Out
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There's a stain solution to nearly anything you've spilled, smeared, squirted, or slopped.

1. GRASS

Four people sitting on a bench with the photo cropped from the waist down. All of their denim-clad knees are covered in grass stains.
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Everyone loves a lush, green lawn—except when it’s smeared on your clothes. The next time you’ve got a Kentucky Bluegrass mess, just apply some pre-wash stain remover and let it sit for 15 minutes. You can also go the natural route and mix up a solution consisting of one part vinegar to two parts water. Then, use a old toothbrush or other small brush to work it in. Finally, launder as usual.

2. BLOOD

When it comes to bloodstains, look to the experts: ER nurses. According to them, the first step is to rinse the spot with cold water ASAP and blot it until you’ve gotten as much blood up as possible. Then, dab a bit of hydrogen peroxide directly to the stain and watch it magically rinse away.

If the problem is upholstery or carpet, you’ll also want to use the cold-water-and-blotting method, but this time, add a tablespoon of dish detergent to two cups of cold water. Carpet cleaner intended for pet stains may also work well.

3. KETCHUP

A blob of spilled ketchup on a white background.
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The next time you find yourself with this condiment running down your shirt, don’t despair. First, flush the spot with water, starting with the back side of your shirt. Pretreat the spot with a liquid laundry detergent and let it sit for a few minutes, then rinse well. Repeat this step until you’ve removed as much of the condiment as possible, then treat with a pre-wash stain remover and launder as usual.

4. TOOTHPASTE

Dribbling Crest on your shirt before heading out the door to work is certainly annoying, but it’s definitely not the end of your apparel as long as you act quickly. Remove the excess goop first, then get a cloth wet with warm water and blot the area. Next, add a few drops of laundry detergent to the warm water and continue blotting. Blot with clean, warm water to rinse and allow the spot to air dry.

5. RED WINE

A glass of red wine tipped on its side. Some liquid remains in the glass, while the rest has been spilled out onto a white napkin and tablecloth.
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This solution almost feels like a science experiment: Find the affected area and stretch the fabric over the opening of a bowl, securing it in place with a rubber band. Generously sprinkle salt on top of the fabric, then pour hot water through the fabric into the bowl and watch the stain disappear. Finally, toss it in the washer as normal.

6. GREASE

Got a grease stain? There’s a good chance that the antidote is sitting next to your kitchen sink. Any petroleum-based dish detergent, like Dawn or Sunlight, is designed to cut grease. While you probably use it to get your pots and pans sparkling, it has a similar effect on clothes. Just saturate the grease spot with the soap, let it soak in for a few minutes, then toss in the washer.

7. COFFEE

A yellow coffee cup tipped sideways, sitting on top of a blue dress shirt. The coffee has spilled all over the blue shirt.

If it’s a really fresh stain, you might be in luck (and also scalded). Running the stain under cold water from the back of the stain just might do the trick. If that doesn’t work, rub liquid laundry detergent on it and let it sit for 3 to 5 minutes. For old stains, soak the garment in cold water after you treat with detergent, then rub the fabric every 5 minutes to loosen up the stain. If it’s still stubbornly hanging on after about 30 minutes, soak it in warm water for another 5-15 minutes, then rinse thoroughly.

If this all sounds like a lot of work, try a gel stain remover, which does a good job at getting into the fibers of the fabric.

8. DEODORANT

Even if you’re extremely careful, putting on your shirt after you’ve already put deodorant on can be a tricky affair. But you don’t have to find a new shirt after those telltale white stripes show up on your shirt. Rub the smudges with pantyhose, knee highs, foam rubber from a padded hanger, or a dryer sheet. If you don’t have any of those things available, you can even rub the fabric of your shirt against the stain to loosen the residue.

9. MAKEUP

Various circular and square pans containing liquid and powder makeup, with brushes dipping into some of them.

If it’s concealer, eyeliner, blush, eyeshadow, or mascara, just use a little prewash stain treatment and wash as usual. Lipstick or lip balm may be a little more stubborn. If stain stick followed by laundering doesn’t work, try sponging the stain with a dry-cleaning solvent and washing again.

10. SPIT-UP

When the baby douses your shoulder with the remains of her lunch, you’re better off if she's breast-fed. Simply wash your clothes in normal detergent, then hang to dry in the sun. The sun’s bleaching properties should do the trick if the detergent didn’t.

Because of formula’s chemical makeup, formula stains are another matter entirely. After scrubbing at the stain with a stiff brush to remove as much of it as possible, sprinkle the entire stain generously with baking soda. Then pour club soda over the stain and let it soak until the mixture stops fizzing. Then, launder as usual, air dry, and cross your fingers.

11. MUD

The ankles of a pair of mud-splattered blue jeans hanging in front of a washing machine.

First, resist the urge to work on the stain while the mud is still wet. Most of the time, it pays to work on a stain while it’s fresh, but wiping at mud is only going to smear it around and make the stain bigger. Once it’s dry, shake off the dirt or vacuum it up. Then rub liquid detergent into the stain and let it soak for about 15 minutes. Rub the stained area with your fingers every few minutes to loosen the dirt. If the stain remains after 15 minutes, apply some stain stick, gel, or spray, and let it sit for five minutes. Wash with detergent as usual.

12. PAINT

Remove as much of the paint as possible with a paper towel, or, if the paint is dry, scrape it off with a dull knife or spoon. If the paint is water-based, all you have to do is rinse the stain in warm water until the color has run out, then wash as usual. If it’s oil-based, you’ll need to treat the mark with turpentine first, then rinse and launder.

13. INK


A pen in the pocket of a white dress shirt, with a blue ink stain starting to form in the bottom of the pocket.

The ink removal method will depend on what type of fabric you’ve marked with ink, but in many cases, rubbing alcohol or a solution of vinegar and dishwashing detergent will take care of it. Better Homes and Gardens has a quite comprehensive list of fabrics, from cotton to velvet, including detailed instructions for each. Your ink stain doesn’t stand a chance.

14. MARKER

Just because it’s permanent marker doesn’t mean you’ve got a permanent problem. Get the stain damp first, then spritz it with a non-oily hairspray. Blot at the marker stain with a paper towel until you see the color transfer from the fabric to the paper towel. You can also try the same method with rubbing alcohol, putting paper towels underneath the stain to absorb the color.

If you’re up for a bit of an experiment, soak the affected area in a bowl of milk and watch the marker ink change the milk colors. Repeat with a fresh bowl of milk until the stain is gone.

15. FRUIT JUICE

A clear glass tipped sideways on an off-white colored carpet, spilling red juice out onto the rug.

Contrary to most of the other advice for stain removal, you don’t want to get liquid detergent anywhere near a fruit juice stain—it will only set it. Instead, use white vinegar to blot the stain, then rinse with cool water. If the stain persists, try a digestant enzyme paste (unless your fabric is silk or wool) and let it dry for 30 minutes, then rinse.

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