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The Ice Hotel

February 26, 2002

A public radio commentary

I spent a night sleeping in one of the most incredible structures in the world: The Ice Hotel in the Arctic Circle of Sweden. My stay began with a tour.

SOT: "We have this check in tour because this is not a normal hotel. And to be able to survive the night and enjoy your stay here we have to teach you how to live her. Tonight it's very cold, its minus thirty degrees and its actually a bit dangerously cold, so you have to be aware."

With that warning I entered the Ice Hotel, passing through two reindeer skin covered doors set in a huge ice wall.

SOT: [Sound of door opening, foot steps on snow.]

VO3: Inside the Ice Hotel all sound dies in the three feet thick snow and ice walls. The only sound is my own footsteps.

SOT: [footsteps on snow]

Just inside is the Great Hallway. A mist rises from its floor; it's roof made of great arches thirty feet tall, held up by massive pillars carved from sparkling, clear ice. The arches look like they've been transplanted from a great Gothic cathedral, and then frosted with translucent snow and ice.

I survived the night, then in the morning tracked down the Architect of the Ice Hotel, a man named Ake Larsson. I asked him what the magnificent arches were made from.

SOT: "I call this material snice -- the density is just between snow and ice.

To make arches they use snow cannons to blast this special "snice" mixture into arch shaped molds. But what inspires him to create these arches made of snice?

SOT: "Yes, I spend the summers around Europe to look at old Cathedrals."

I asked him how he felt about his Ice Cathedral disappearing at the end of every winter.

SOT: "Happy. Because then I start to draw a new one."

Yet still I wondered why anyone would create something so intricate and beautiful, yet short lived. I returned to the Ice Hotel to search for the answer. I found an artist working on a huge ice statue of a women.

SOT: "Lady of the river. Yeah! Ah, A very big lady, the mother of the river."

The statue is very detailed, and has obviously taken days to carve. Yet, it will be gone in a few months. So I ask why does he like working in ice.

SOT: "Yeah, its perfect. No body can buy it, the water takes the life back. Yeah, it's perfect for me."

He tells me that because the water takes the life back this sculpture reminds of the illusion that art last forever, even bronze or granite eventually decays.

Now I see why someone would design an Ice Hotel, instead of a bricks and mortar building. A permanent building may be used for centuries, but its beauty is often ignored. Constructing a building of ice makes us appreciate it; no one can buy it to preserve it forever, so we are forced to cherish it in the moment.

Copyright 2002 William S. Hammack Enterprises