We haven’t talked about quirky sleeps for a while here. Time to remedy that. And what’s quirkier than a hotel that exists only temporarily? Built when winter arrives and slowly melts away into nonexistence when spring makes its presence felt. Then the process is repeated next winter. My immediate thought is of Sisyphus. Pushing that boulder up the hill, only to have it roll back down again. Endlessly. Sentenced to eternity in frustration. A fate worse than death.
But then I see this icy creation. And it is indeed a creation: not merely a building, but a work of art – outside and even more inside. I throw thoughts of deceitful Greek kings to the side and decide to just enjoy this stunning wintry vision. It’s actually a reminder to live in the moment. Its beauty is ephemeral, but then so is our earthly existence.
So – to enjoy this exceptional artwork – but sleep in it? All night? I’ll be frank with you: I’m not that keen on extreme temperatures, one way or the other. Give me a nice 20 – 22°C and I’m a happy camper. In fact, if someone had told me that those icy accoms wasn’t going to work out after all, I might not have been all that upset. Not then and there. It’s one of those things you look forward to when you book, and sort of want to chicken out from when it’s actually happening, but then, when you wake up the next morning and for the rest of your life, you’re really happy you did it. Know what I mean? Sort of like running a marathon, I expect.
Come with me as we explore a world made of ice. Let me take you through this northern fairy tale. In fact, let’s make a night of it.
Odd word, isn’t it? Well, Sorrisniva is a name of Finnish origin, meaning cascading stream. More importantly, it is the name of the world’s northernmost ice hotel, located just outside the town of Alta in Finnmark in the very north of mainland Norway. We’re at 69° 58′ 36″ N here folks, on parallel with Murmansk in Russia and Nunavut in Canada; not all that far from the North Pole.
This is the 21st year Sorrisniva is in operation. Built of snow and sculpted blocks of ice, it opened on 20 December 2019, and in keeping with tradition and Mother Nature, the hotel will melt when the sun comes back in full. Closing date this year is 7 April 2020. The ice hotel is a whopping 2500 m2, made of 250 tonnes of ice and 7000 m³ snow, and all done by local workers, including the ice furniture and sculptures. It takes about five weeks of hard work to get everything ready.
Now, this hotel isn’t merely a place to lay your weary head. It’s also an art gallery. If you’re in the neighbourhood, and curious about ice hotels, but can’t see yourself sleeping in below zero temps, at least you can browse the rooms and the intricate icy carvings.
What to bring for a night at Sorrisniva
But we’re made of sterner stuff, aren’t we? We’re here to sleep, so we’ll need some gear. Here’s what I brought:
the short version:
- wool/thermal underwear
- wool socks
- wool sweater
- wool scarf, large
- wool hat
- (ski) gloves
- ski pants
- bikini/bathing suit
And you don’t want to forget your phone or camera (which go in the sleeping bag with you).
How to sleep in an ice hotel
Now that we’re all good to go, let’s get on with it. The process at Sorrisniva goes like this:
We simply go through these friendly doors here, pass by several pairs of snowshoes (free to use whilst here), then enter the reception. From there, hang right for the large restaurant shaped like a traditional lavvoo (Sami tent), and left for the cosy sitting room, where logs crackle in the fireplace.
Warm-up. Snap by The Nordic Escape.
Further along are small lockers for valuables you don’t want to share a sleeping bag with. (I put the Mac, chargers and wallet in there). Then, there are toilets (aren’t you glad you don’t have to go to an ice toilet?), showers and changing rooms, a sauna, and just outside the door, two jacuzzis. Behind the reception is a luggage room.
Upon arrival, the friendly receptionist will tell you which frosty room will be yours and give you a quick tour of the facilities. The ice hotel is open to visitors until 20.00 (8pm). Then, at 21.00, cupboards will be opened, revealing pillows and sleeping bags designed to withstand temperatures down to -25°C. We’ll help ourselves to two sleeping bags each; one to crawl into, and one to open and use as a duvet. Now, we’re not exactly going to be hanging out in our room. We’d best wait to grab the sleeping bags until we’re going to bed, so they’ll keep warm as long as possible.
We also learn it’s a good idea to move around a bit before we get into the sleeping bag, (rather than just chill in the ice bar, y’know). Whether we’re cold or warm, that’s going in the sleeping bag with us. If we’re warm before crawling in, that will insulate.
The art experience
Sorrisniva isn’t only the world’s northernmost ice hotel, it’s also Norway’s largest. This year, there’s 28 rooms including 5 suites. Let’s pop in.
From the back door of the reception, it’s about 20 metres to the icy wonderland. Good to know for loo get-ups in the middle of the night, innit? We go through that door there, and enter a world of fairy tales. A blue world. Blue as a Nordic winter night. Lighting systems complement the crystalline structures.
The entrance hall is a gallery, with sculptures representing this year’s theme: Nordic folklore. Here’s Three Billy Goats Gruff, a favourite children’s bedtime story in these parts, about how 3 clever goats outwit a gullible troll (hiding underneath the bridge with me, see?)
At the other end of the entrance hall is the bar. I’ve visited an ice bar before, and drunk icy cold drinks from glasses made of ice. The same is possible here; the bar is open until 2300.
But for the most part, this bar is empty. Leaving us with plenty of opportunity to play around.
All playful pics snapped by The Nordic Escape‘s slick self-timer.
By now, you’ll have discovered for yourself that this is more than just a place to sleep. Around the corner is an ice chapel. Weddings are held here, and other religious services. More ungodly events, too; dinner parties, fashion shows, etc. As the owners say
It’s a place to be, and a place for sharing.
Fairy tale sleeps
The bedrooms line two hallways where circular lamps lead you along.
I’m in room 24, a suite named Askeladden (Ashlad), named for an unlikely hero of Norwegian folklore. Ashlad is a clever fellow who succeeds where all others fail. Speciality: fooling – and occasionally killing – trolls. Or rather, using his wit to make them kill themselves; frequently, it’s death by porridge: there’s only so much of it a troll can eat before exploding. Handily, there’s a bowl of porridge by the door here. Hmmm, I wonder, could we find a modern version of Ashlad to take on Internet trolls? I’ll give it some thought. But I digress.
Ashlad’s digs. And mine.
Other suites are modelled on Nordic fairy tale figures. Here’s Huldra, a mythical seductive forest beauty who lures men inside the mountain, never to be seen again. Too late do they discover she has a cow’s tail. But huldra or not, this room – and this bed – is so pretty, it surely must be the honeymoon suite.
This green suite belongs to the Troll, with its very own giant throne. Queenie’s taking over.
“First I’m going to have a little drinkie, and then I’m going to execute the whole bally lot of you.”
This cheery place is Tusser (underground dwellers, the Norwegian version of leprechauns). The bed is inside the mushroom. Can you see it?
And finally, the last suite, Igloo, is a gorgeous midnight blue one, with two rooms: the outer has an icy loveseat and table; the inner bedroom is shaped like an igloo.
The regular rooms: less art, same comfort. I rather like the simplicity here; easier to imagine it’s 1911, and I’m just about to plant the Norwegian flag on the pole at the other end of the world.
Victory awaits him, who has everything in order – luck we call it. Defeat is definitely due for him, who has neglected to take the necessary precautions – bad luck we call it.
Good night sweetheart, good night
The first thing you’ll notice as you enter your room, is that you can’t close the door, simply because there isn’t one. Just a curtain. We’ll have to trust each other, all of us sleeping in the hotel tonight. Which is as it should be. Trust is an important part of the psyche up here in the northern world.
And here’s my bed: watched over by a giant troll. That’s all right. We’re friends. After all, the trolls of fairy tales can’t help being stupid. Could the same be true of Internet trolls? Sorry, another digression.
The bed has a thin mattress and is covered with reindeer hide for nice, comfy insulation. In the sleeping bags, we wear long thermal underwear – or ECWCS for you military types out there – and socks. Furthermore, wearing a scarf, a hat and gloves are recommended. I have a scarf but skip the gloves. Also, the hat somehow slips off during the night, which is no problem.
So how do I sleep? Well, it takes a while. I don’t like to wear much clothes in bed, so that whole wrapping up thing feels a bit clumsy. I also tend to toss around a bit, which is fussy with all the gear. All the while, I’m thinking at least I don’t have to go to the loo. And then that thought comes back again. And again. And before I know it…
I have boots and coat at the ready, though, so not the freezing experience I had feared. It’s strangely exciting, being the only one about in this surreal ice world in the middle of the night. Everyone else is asleep – or possibly tossing and turning. I wouldn’t know. Ice is quite noise proof; any sound is muted. In fact, silence is total at this hour.
Once I finally nod off, I sleep rather well, all warm and snug in the sleeping bag. The only place I freeze is on my nose. Not much of a problem for my fellow ice hotel sleepers, so I may have a particularly sensitive nose; it wakes me up a few times during the night. If I were to repeat this frosty experiment, I’d bring a thin wool/silk scarf.
Showers and breakfast
I wake before the alarm, say a quick goodbye to the red-eyed troll that has watched over me during the night and hurry inside for a warm-up shower. And here’s a good a place as any to mention a small negative. Well, two actually: the shower is the kind that shuts off after a few seconds unless you stand directly in front of the cell. I usually turn my back to the shower, so not easy keeping it running. And the toilets, while functional and clean, are a bit dated and, well, un-cosy (harsh words from a Norwegian, I tell ya; we take cosy seriously.) Bit of a cafeteria along the highway-feel to it. Easy stuff to fix, Sorris.
Breakfast, however: yum! – and included in the price (as is the default in Norway). We help ourselves to a buffet with pretty much anything you could want, including local specialities (how does reindeer sausage or smoked red-fish for breakfast strike you?) and delicious fruits from the southern world, very exotic up here on the frozen tundra.
Other fun stuff
You may want to try out those snowshoes, or a spark (kick sledge). The jacuzzi is also free to use, but you need to book a time. If you’re lucky, you might see northern lights just outside the door – or, it’s possible to book a tour to hunt for that elusive Aurora. Sami siida is a family-run operation, offering encounters with Rudolph, Comet, Vixen, etc. (except these very real beauties have Sami names). Dog sledding is also possible, as is snowmobiling through the Alta Valley and up on the mountain. You can make your own ice sculpture after a crash course with one of the ice hotel builders – or how about some Arctic ice fishing?
Further ice hotel practicals
Getting to Sorrisniva ice hotel
There is no public transport, so you have three options: overnight guests can use Sorrisniva’s shuttle service for 200 Nkr per person (20 EUR/22 USD), or you can take a taxi or rent a car. A taxi from Alta city centre or the Alta airport will set you back 500-700 Nkr (50-70 EUR/54-75 USD), respectively. I’d recommend having your own wheels, though. It’s that kind of country; few people and great, long distances. Like in the Australian outback, people think nothing of driving 5 hours to go to the movies.
Sorrisniva is a 17 km/20-minute drive from Alta. Drive south on E6, then you’re going to make 4 left turns. First left (south) on E45, then left on Gargia Road (Gargiaveien), then left again on Detsika Road (Detsikaveien), until you’ll see the sign for Sorrisniva for your final left turn. Pretty easy.
Electricity and Internet
Wondering if you need to bring a headlamp for reading in bed? No need. Just use the (very normal) lightswitch next to the bed. And Internet works fine throughout.
There’s no way around it, sleeping in an ice hotel costs money. Considering the cost of building and maintaining such a structure, though – and considering you get so much more than just a place to sleep – in short, this unique experience is totally worth the price, in this blogger’s view.
If you just want to have a browse about, entrance is NKr 200, standard art gallery rate.
Full specs and prices here.
Disclosure: Annette of The Nordic Escape and I travelled to Alta simply to hang out with our buddy, Ann-Mari of Alltid reiseklar and see Aurora Borealis. Then, momentum hit (i.e. Ann-Mari), and we were enticed to all kinds of delightful wintry Finnmark experiences. Sorrisniva very kindly invited us to spend a night on ice. As always, every word and opinion are all mine. Otherwise, this would be meaningless. Oh, and those Northern Lights? ‘Fraid not. Aurora was as elusive as ever. And we have an excuse to return.