How to Survive an Ice Hotel

No need for an air conditioner here. Image courtesy of the Kirkenes Snowhotel.

No need for an air conditioner here. Image courtesy of the Kirkenes Snowhotel.

Spending the night in an ice hotel is fun as hell—but it ain't easy

You can think of the Norwegian ice hotel—the Kirkenes Snowhotel—as one of the world’s few pop-up hotels. Built entirely by hand at the start of winter, the ice hotel is operational for four months a year. It closes its doors around the third week of April, right before it melts away.

This winter’s iteration features 25 rooms designed by Finnish and Lithuanian ice sculptors. Each room has it’s own theme, from mythology to favorite movie characters. 

So how do you survive a night in a hotel made of nothing but snow and ice? Here are 8 critical survival tips.

1.    Skip showering before bedtime. You’ll fool your body into thinking that it’s warmer than it is. The truth is that your body heat will drop substantially, particularly when you are resting.

2.    Try not to stress over it. Kids tend to have the best sleep at an ice hotel because they aren’t worried about whether or not they will be able to sleep through the night. The key is to approach your night in the elements as a big adventure, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

3.    Limit your liquid intake in the evening. Typically, ice hotels are designed with few amenities in an arm’s reach. At the Kirkenes Snowhotel, for instance, the ice hotel proper is a decent walk from the warm lounge and shared bathroom facilities. That means if you need to pee, you’ll have to be ready to take a hike. 

4.    Sleep in thermals and wool socks. The hotel will supply you with a sleeping bag, sheets, wool socks and a balaclava. That and a pair of thermal underwear is really all you need. Whatever you do, don’t wear your winter coat and ski pants to bed because you need your body heat to insulate the sleeping bag.

5.    Bring Vitamin C. I woke up with a dry, sore throat and wish that I had a packed of Emergen-C or chewable vitamin tablets for the morning after.

6.    Bring toe-warmers. I also made it through the night because I used a number of disposable heating pads and toe warmers for added warmth. You can pick up these items at an REI or sporting goods store.

7.    Bring a pair of eyeshades. If you are a little sensitive to light, definitely bring a pair of eyeshades. The mood lighting (pink, purple, blue, red) in the rooms can’t be turned off due to safety regulations.

8.    Arrive early for an excursion. The Kirkenes Snowhotel offers fun winter adventures such as King crabbing, cross-country skiing and even an airport pickup in a dogsled. In case you chicken out and decide that sleeping in an ice box is just not your style, you’ll at least have some wild stories to share with your friends back home.

My trip to the Kirkenes Snowhotel was made possible by Hurtigruten and Visit Norway. Views expressed are my own.