Chena Ice Hotel and Museum, Chena Hot Springs, Alaska

We decided to come to Chena Hot springs because the resort has built the world’s first year around ice hotel.  This takes a little explaining.  The resort hauled a high arched Quonset frame surplus from Prudhoe Bay and fit it out with cooling coils.  This keeps the temperature inside at 28 degrees F.  They sprayed the refrigerated Quonset with water to make it icy and used blocks of blue ice to build walls on either end and to partition off the rooms.  There are ice hotels in Scandinavia, but they are seasonal and melt.  American building rules make it is too expensive to build an ice hotel for one season.  For instance they are the required to have smoke detectors and a fire suppression system, in a building made of ice.  No kidding.  (There is a pic showing this.)

I heard about the hotel on the BBC while working in Kosovo.  Only Americans would build a year around ice hotel in a place where summers can hit 90 degrees.  Fox News was doing a piece on the hotel when we were there.  One of the ice sculptors made an ice television set, with the Fox logo to go over the ice bar.  The Fox News people were overly boastful.  They kept running down the other networks, “NBC news, stick a fork in it, it’s finished.”  Fox claims it will bring winter tourists to Alaska – that is if they can thaw out their cameras.  They had trouble making them work in fifty below zero weather.

This ice hotel has hand carved ice chandeliers with fiber optic strands leading to them changing light color on each to create an aurora effect.  There is a bridal chapel with an ice lectern and ice candlesticks, and theme rooms – the bridal suite, polar bear room, igloo — you get the idea.  Everything is made of ice, (except the bedding, smoke alarms and the fire suppression system) the beds, the light fixtures, the chairs even the glasses in the bar.  There are no toilet facilities at the hotel but each guest has a room in the lodge about a hundred and fifty yards away.  There is also an outhouse.

I watched an ice sculptor turn a martini glass on a lathe.  He can make three an hour.  Drinks at the ice bar are very expensive but the martini is sure to be chilled.  Ice glasses can’t be reused.  How would you wash them?  Each glass can take about four refills so the hotel makes its margin on the third round.  A shot of Vodka in a simple ice shot glass costs ten dollars.   (Less than at the Ice Bar I attended years later in Copenhagen.  So Chena may be a bargain.)

A night in the ice hotel costs $285 a person. (2004) I doubt that I will avail myself of the honor.  Given my age I have trouble sleeping through the night without having to use the facilities.  While the caribou skin bedding and winter sleeping bags are toasty getting out into a 28 degree room to use an outhouse at minus fifty will rule me out of this peculiar hotel.  I don’t want to even think about an ice chamber pot.

I wrote this in 2004.  The idea of keeping the Ice Hotel frozen throughout the summer didn’t work so well that year.  The hotel melted.  They went back to work and using cooling based on geothermal energy, an absorption refrigeration unit based on the same principle as a propane refrigerator.  They succeeded in building a permanent ice palace, now renamed the Ice Museum.  The pictures here are from the 2004 version when it was a hotel.

Tomorrow we will travel to Eastern France and travel along the “Road of the fortified churches.” In the border lands wars happened with alarming regularity.  Many towns didn’t have a castle to retreat to so they built their churches like castle keeps complete with loopholes.  While the Protestants were generally the enemy of these Catholic towns they could rightly sing “A Mighty Fortress.”

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