Ice hotels are nothing new in Sweden or Canada, but no American city has ever taken on such a project until now. This is the first and only ice hotel in the United States. It's located in interior Alaska where there's an abundance of ice and cold in winter.
The ice hotel is in of all places Chena Hot Springs, northeast of
Fairbanks. And it's the weather angles we find so fascinating. Here's a
place that exists because geothermally heated water bubbles out of the
ground at nearly 160 degrees. Yet the winter air temperature routinely
plummets to 40, 50, even 60 degrees below zero.
The contrast between hot and cold at Chena Hot Springs is everywhere.
In the flocking of the trees, including this one made of stacked moose
antlers and in the guests who aren't afraid to brave bathing suits in
below zero temperatures to soak up mineral rich waters.
Yet Chena Hot Springs is home to an ice hotel. It was funded by resort
owner Bernie Karl, sculpted by Georgia native Steve Brice.
"My ambitions were small and quaint. But Bernie said, no let's make it big and magnificent," Karl says.
"I've been sculpting seriously since 1996," Brice says. "I went to the
'98 Olympics and got beat in ice carving. Came back and I had to face
the guy who won. And I wanted to pull together something that was so
mind boggling that you know I'd take him," Brice says.
Humiliation can be very empowering.
Built on a framework of wood and wire and supported by refrigeration, everything here is carved from ice.
"There are some blocks that I have had that have been almost four foot
thick, five foot wide by eight foot that were flawless. You could read
a newspaper through it," Brice says.
The clear stuff comes from a rock quarry in Fairbanks. The plant-filled ice comes from a nearby pond.
"Here we have the main bar here. And eveything here is made out of ice.
The tables, the chairs, except for the caribou hides that keep your
bottom from freezing a little bit," Brice says.
"This is a shot luge. You pour it in the tail and it comes out the mouth, nice and chilled," Brice says.
"The guy Bernie, who is running the project, said if you can make a
martini glass that would be just the coolest thing," Brice says. "I
brainstormed on it for about four days and came up with this. I
developed a cutting tool to do it."
Ice chandeliers provide the light.
"70 crystals on each chandelier and each crystal has 5 fiber optics
going into it, glued into it. When all the halogen lights go out and
all the chandeliers only thing that's lit, gives it a magic
atmosphere," Brice says.
There are sculptures, artichoke finials, bubble balls and even a xylophone all here to reach out and touch.
Six bedrooms are in the back behind the caribou hides.
"This bedroom's very near completion. We need to finish putting a
little bit of snow in the bed," Brice says. "This one's the first room
that we have completed. We have a lot of ice formations on the wall and
we were gonna cover that but I just thought it looked so cool. We'd
just kept it in."
Each room comes equipped with smoke alarms and fire extinguishers to satisfy building codes.
"We have a down comforter. We have caribou hide. We have a high density
ligh foam mattress. The people who have stayed here have said they've
been plenty warm," Brice says.
In case the novelty wears of sleeping in an ice bed wears off in the
wee hours, guests are welcome to retire to their heated room in the
lodge, which is covered in the price of the just under $300 per person.