Building the ‘Mind the Gap’ Art Suite: week 2

Sunday, 6th July 2014

Destination Specialist

sweden lapland icehotel art suite mind the gap

In the 150th anniversary year of the London Underground, British film director Marcus Dillistone built his “Mind the Gap” Art Suite depicting a Tube platform in ice at the world-famous Icehotel.

Read week 2 of his daily diary of the build as he encounters technical issues, talks art and environment, and explains the difference between different types of snow.

Follow the build: Week 1  |  Week 2 |  Week 3

Day 8 – Starting the tricky bit

Each day I try to best guess what the following day’s blog should cover. Yesterday I decided that today’s blog would be called ‘Starting the tricky bit’. I wasn’t wrong, and it has turned out to being a self-fulfilling prophesy.

They say a bad workman blames his tools, but when a band saw doesn’t saw then surely one has a right to blame it.

For those unfamiliar with band saws, they employ a continuous flexible saw blade, the ‘business part’ of which cuts down through a slot in a large flat work surface upon which you place the material to be cut. In our case this is a slab of ice.

The only bit of the blade that the user sees is the bit where it emerges down from the top safety guards to pass through the material being cut. The part of the blade that’s cutting can be seen so that the material can be moved in relation to the blade.

The downward-cutting blade then disappears down into the base of the machine where it passes around a lower roller and back to the top, it’s a continuous cutting action. Overall it’s a large but pretty simple contraption that, nevertheless, does need a little technical tweaking.

We need one of these saws because they make accurate cuts, and they are also very efficient at repetitive uniform cutting. It’s the ideal tool to cut the numerous ice blocks that will become the roof of the tube train. We’ll need something like three hundred 20cm x 20cm x 13cm ice blocks to complete the roof, so a band saw is the most efficient option (or it should be).

I had always planned to use this machine at this point in the production process, so I requested that the 2 meter tall device be installed for today. It came complete with a hundred metres or more of armoured 32amp power cable that has the thickness of one’s thumb.

I remember this band saw from the last time when I did work at ICEHOTEL: it was being used to make hundreds of ice slithers for the walls of the suite ‘Dimensional Journey’ by David Luxembourg & Jens Dyvik. I think the demands of that relentless project knackered it psychologically.

If we now have to make these blocks by hand, i.e. by marking up blocks and then chain-sawing them, it will increase our workload many-fold.

As I prepare to cut the ice blocks for this demanding structural purpose I am reminded of woodworking classes at school where we had to determine the ‘face side’ and ‘face edge’ of a piece of wood. The face side was the edge that was cut straight, flat and true. It was the point of reference for any further cutting. It’s the same with these big blocks of ice. You need to establish a straight-cut flat edge as a starting point. Once you have that, you can then cut other sides at right angles with confidence.

Our neighbouring artist from the suite next door is sculptor Rob Harding, a fellow Brit who works in Spain. He has massive experience of working with ice. He popped in to borrow a hammer and saw the issues we were having with the band saw. He had previously made a dome-shaped ice installation, and suggested that we simplify the block shape from a traditional keystone form, i.e. a trapezoid, to a basic rectangular block with an infill of slush. The slush (mushy ice) will quickly freeze solid, binding the blocks rather like an ice weld. Rob’s idea appeals to me, especially as things production-wise are currently rather problematic.

It is vital that the roof lasts through the ICEHOTEL’s winter season until it closes in spring 2014, so I set up a test this evening using this slush-bonding technique. I am sure that Rob is right, and we can save time here, which is good as I don’t see a new band saw on the horizon any time soon.

Incidentally the reason the band saw wouldn’t saw properly is because the blade kept jumping off the large flywheel at the top. Something is amiss in the set-up somewhere, so if there’s an arctic band saw expert out there, please get in touch ASAP.

This technical hiccup is rather worrying schedule-wise, and I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. But the support team is very ingenious, so I am pretty confident that collectively we’ll find a solution. At least I now know what’s on top of my Christmas list: a shiny new band-saw.

Day 9 – Relentless

There comes a time on an ICEHOTEL build when one knows pretty much exactly what has to be done all the way to completion; you know how things are going to be fabricated, and all you have to do is to get on with it ASAP. I consider this the ‘relentless’ stage, when tasks come thick and fast, and never stop until the suite is handed over to paying guests.

To give an idea of a typical ‘relentless’ day, here’s what we did today:

The 9am production-meeting-cum-breakfast happened as normal: we ate and listened. I chewed my crisp-bread in a timely way so that the crunching didn’t drown out something important. The Swedes seem to be able to eat these quietly – it’s weird.

My sole contribution to today’s meeting was to ask the creative director, Arne, for the Swedish translation of ‘the band saw is knackered’. My point made, a plan-B was agreed – a small chainsaw on a jig. The Support Team will cut the blocks for the roof, and we will fit them.

From the basement ‘café’ the walk to the ICEHOTEL build site is three minutes. First one crosses the Jukkasjarvi road, which is covered with shiny compressed snow (they fit winter spiked tyres here). Then one passes the hotel’s ‘warm reception’ (which has a double meaning – both good). From here you can see ICEHOTEL growing daily out of the snowy plateau. Today they’re building the roof of the ice bar; it’s heavy stuff, and one must be aware of construction vehicles whizzing around carrying huge payloads.

I entered ICEHOTEL by the front door: this is set in a ten metre high catenary arch which is an ICEHOTEL trade mark. The famous reindeer skin doors have just been fitted, so I grab an antler handle and go in.

My suite is one of the farthest from the entrance. It’s off the main hall and down a smaller corridor. I asked to be positioned here to help maintain the illusion of it being at the end of a tunnel from London.

The morning’s first job was to remove the wooden arch support from under the ice arch that we built last night. I knocked the supporting wedges away with a small sledgehammer (I thought that sledgehammers had something to do with sledges, but in fact the name derives from ‘sleagan’, the Anglo Saxon for ‘to strike violently’).

Sledgehammer employed, the large wooden former dropped down a couple of inches, and the ice arch above didn’t budge a millimetre. This ice is so amazingly strong.

The arches that conjoin to create the train’s long arched roof are made in stages. It’s a repetitive process:
1) Position the arch-shaped wooden support;
2) Jack it up to the right height with wedges;
3) Place eight pre-cut ice blocks on the wooden support (making sure the edges touch cleanly);
4) Measure the remaining gap for the final ninth keystone block (it all needs to have a tight fit);
5) Insert the keystone block;
6) ‘Weld’ the ice blocks together with an icy slush (it’s what doubles for cement here).

When done we allow an hour for the arch to freeze absolutely solid before we remove the wooden former, and repeat the process again. It sounds so straightforward writing this here, but getting it all to fit is way trickier than it sounds.

During the hour it takes for an arch to set we do other necessary tasks. Today we added another 300Kg window block. These blocks form the tube train’s windows. But unlike the real thing, these are about 25cm thick and form a key part of the buttress structure that supports the roof we’re building.

It’s a three-person job to safely position such a large block. Once in position the block needed to fit flush up against the adjacent block, so a bit of chiselling and chain-sawing was required to get the edges close. The blocks were touching in some places and not in others. The tool of choice for cutting away the last few millimetres of ice between blocks to create a flush fit is the long thin Japanese saw. These saws have huge teeth, up to 4cm long, and can be slid into the tiniest of gaps.

By the time this block was set in place fully it was time to drop the wooden former on the arch we’d built earlier. Again the next bit of the arched roof holds beautifully (I hung off it to test its strength).

After another arch was built, and an early supper consumed, we returned to sandpaper the tunnel entrance before it gets forever out of reach behind the growing tube train structure below.

Magdalena did the polishing, whilst I started to add compacted snow to cover the first section of the Tube train’s roof. The roof is about 25% done as I write, and the process now definitely feels relentless!

Day 10 – Ice, snice, water, and slush

Imagine being at a party and ending up with someone talking about different types of snow! My excuse is this blog. I am obliged to mention these elements, as they’re the lifeblood of the ICEHOTEL project.

It’s cold in the arctic, and this makes snow powder dry. Try to make a snowball, and the snow runs through your fingers like sugar. You couldn’t build anything out of this stuff. This is the reason why we use snice, a snow/ice mixture that I have mentioned before.

For snow to be good as a building material it needs to be solid, or as a white paste that soon becomes solid. For dry ‘sugary’ snow to become solid it requires water. But if you put snow in water it goes grey, and turns into slush. Now slush can be quite useful in its own way, but what we want is a hard pure white substance that complements ice beautifully.

In my view snice is the ICEHOTELS’s unsung partner; in fact SNICEHOTEL might be a more accurate name if it didn’t sound flu-like.

The hotel’s main structure, its arched roof and walls are made of snice. This moist snow is blown onto massive formers or into moulds on a dramatic and industrial scale creating clouds of icy mist. But snice is also produced in small quantities in-suite for repairing and joining snice carvings, or smoothing snice surfaces (such as the roof of the tube train).

My build partner for my 2010 suite ‘Frigid Dare’ (sleeping inside a giant fridge) was Alina Palimaru. She became a snice expert because the design required vast quantities of smooth snice to simulate the moulded interior of a fridge.

Making snice is an essential skill for an ice-artist, so just in case you ever need some, here’s what you do:
1) First put on some faux-fur-lined rubber gloves, seriously, they’re essential.
2) Get a bucket and put 2-3 inches of fresh snow in the bottom;
3) Go and get a second bucket with water in it – get this just before you’ll use it, otherwise it’ll freeze solid;
4) Take a small plastic scoop and transfer small amounts of water into the bucket with the snow in it;
5) As you drizzle the water in, stir the snow with your other hand to fold the snow and water together;
6) Don’t add too much water or the snow will go grey and civilisation will end;
7) When the snow is white and sticky use it on whatever needs snicing immediately, because it will freeze rapidly.

Here ends the snice-making lesson, so next time it snows in Basingstoke, grab a couple of buckets, make some snice, and join the party!

Ice is beautiful, and naturally-formed pure arctic ice has a unique quality. You cannot compare it to ice cubes out of the freezer, or frozen puddles in winter. This ice has a solidity, clarity and sheer mass that are entirely unique. To see it is to want to touch it, but please don’t touch the art!

To see such huge blocks of the stuff is one of the joys of visiting ICEHOTEL. It is a stunning natural material on its own, even before artistic intervention. It is also heavy, at approximately one tonne per cubic metre. As a building material it’s amazing. If two blocks are cut flush they can be glued together with just a little water. So structures can be built with bricks of ice as neatly as the almost seamless ‘ashlar’ stone construction used in towns such as Bath in the UK.

The final elemental material we’ll use on ICEHOTEL is slush. Slush is the reverse of snice, in that it has more water than snow and is a colourless grey. But I like slush. Slush is good, especially for the roof construction where we need to ‘weld’ ice blocks together. Once we have arranged ice blocks in an arch we use slush to fill any gaps. This slush will soon freeze solid. Slush is also the reverse of snice in that you don’t want it white, because if it is white it is weak, and a weak joint between ice blocks forming a roof is bad.

So there you have it – ice, snice, water, and slush, the elements of my sub-zero world.

Day 11 – The days are getting shorter

The days are getting shorter in every respect. They’re passing faster due to the relentless workload, and the arctic sun is up for ever-shorter periods.

Today the official day length was three hours, by the time we finish the suite next week the day length will be one and a half hours, and when I return to the UK for the 11th of December, the arctic sun will have disappeared until January 3rd. This is the land of the midnight sun, but that’s in the summer. In the winter the price for this is paid with dark days for a month. There is some dusky half-light in the middle of the day, but the sun stays well below the horizon.

Schedule-wise it merely seems like the days are getting shorter. All of the artists and support team are cracking on at a pace, and more and more elements are now coming into play, such as lighting and signage. Everywhere there is activity. People are looking tired, but there is no panic (not yet anyway).

We are all being interviewed for the ICEHOTEL’s annual art catalogue, and photography for this will undoubtedly follow soon. The last week of a tough job like this is not when one wants to be photographed for posterity, but that’s how it is. At least the images will have a gritty authentic honesty to them.

Not only are the days getting shorter, but lunch breaks are too as the urge to stay ahead or get ahead takes effect.

There’s growing anticipation as the strange and diverse ideas that artists submitted for consideration in the warm light of summer, are now being realised in tons of snow and ice. Ideas that just two weeks ago were mere drawings, are now getting very large, and increasingly real. When one’s detailed plans take shape and actually work it’s reassuring.

The interest in the ‘Mind The Gap’ suite has been gratifyingly large, and it is very much appreciated. I can honestly say that nobody is more intrigued to see the end result than me.

Before I left London I had a drink with Giorgia from Canada Goose. She admitted that initially she and her colleagues didn’t believe that my weird idea was ‘for-real’ and that I really was going to make a London Underground Tube station entirely from snow and ice. Apparently they checked me out thoroughly before realising that I was entirely serious, that I had the patronage of ICEHOTEL, and that it really was going to happen!

I have no doubt that there are some incredibly busy days ahead, as we find that the devil’s in the detail. I know I have some tricky structural elements left to build (such as the train’s roof over the doorway), but I also have faith in my build colleague Magdalena, in The Support Team, and in my fellow artists who are all working towards a common goal, i.e. the best and most creative ICEHOTEL ever. I wish everyone reading this could get to experience it in real life – it is impactful down to one’s bones.

I have my interview for the art catalogue tomorrow morning at eleven o’clock so I need to read the questions in advance and try to think of something intelligent to say about the suite design, and the notion that it is.

Sunrise tomorrow is at 10.00, my interview is at 11.00, and sunset is at 12.54. That’s my day sorted, so now on to long night-shifts! The days may be getting shorter but the catalogue of good memories is growing with each passing day.

Day 12 – We’re Talking Art

Today I had a phone interview with the publisher of the ICEHOTEL art catalogue for the 2013/14 season. The art catalogue is a large, glossy, and beautifully produced coffee table book about ICEHOTEL, and the unique art contained in all of the art suites. 

The catalogue records the art for posterity before spring when the whole shebang will become liquid again, and flow back into the Torne River from whence it came. When one works so very hard to build a suite, this is a sobering concept, but equally it is a beautiful notion that imbues the art with a special quality and precious lifespan.

ICEHOTEL is rebuilt from scratch starting every November, subject to good weather (‘good weather’ here meaning cold enough for snow).

As an artist in a broad sense, rather than the ‘smock, palette and easel’ sense, I am never quite sure exactly what art is, or where art starts in relation to the other visual stuff that bombards us daily.

One dictionary defines art as:

“The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

This sounds about right for ICEHOTEL, but the question I have to ask myself is: “does a London Underground Tube Station built from snow and ice in the Arctic constitute art?”

Actually, I dislike art criticism or excessive analysis of creative work. In my view art should speak for itself, and if it doesn’t, then it fails at the first hurdle. I like to let people make up their own minds, and react as they see fit. But as I had to give my work some academic consideration for this morning’s phone interview, I will share some of my thoughts.

I like art that looks at day-to-day life, and then questions our perception of it.

I see the two art suites that I have created for ICEHOTEL as being ‘notional’ art. Notional art is my own term for taking an odd notion, and making it real to coax an emotional response – putting the idea ‘out there’ and seeing how people react.

One of the artists here, Alessandro Falca, told me that when he first saw the design for ‘Mind The Gap’ he had no idea who had submitted it, but that it reminded him of my 2010/11 suite ‘Frigid Dare’ (sleeping in a giant fridge). I was flattered that there was some sort of continuity.

I like notions that question our own perceptions of reality. A tube station built entirely from snow and ice certainly begs one question, a question that even the most cynical person might bother to ask… “why bother?”

I can understand that reaction. Maybe that’s the thing about art – bothering about something that doesn’t much matter to our daily ‘animal existence’ of food, water and sleep (punctuated by a few bodily functions, and the occasional urge to reproduce).

The ‘Mind The Gap’ art suite at ICEHOTEL certainly doesn’t matter to mankind, it is but one of many millions of pieces of creative work carried out consciously or subconsciously by people around the world every day. Creativity is man’s lifeblood, it is what separates us from primeval slime, and artists do not have the exclusive right to participate in making it.

Today was a long hard workday. Although I am creating a piece of art as a large-scale installation, on a practical level I am doing little more than many construction workers do week-in week-out. That said, standing on a ladder, at nine in the evening, with sub-zero temperatures indoors, scooping slush out of a bucket and drizzling it onto the ice block roof of a faux tube train (in the arctic), might make me certifiable.

Whatever one’s personal ‘take’ on man-made art may be, one thing we can all appreciate for its beauty and emotional power is the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights.

I was invited to a party this evening, just a half-mile stroll away across the frozen river, but felt that I really needed to carry on with work. Leaving the suite at 9pm, covered from chest to toe in crispy frozen slush from the work I had been doing (and in desperate need of tea), I emerged into –20ºC and the dark, silent, crisp night to experience a stunning show of nature’s power and beauty; a vast curtain of green light slowly waved its way across the night sky above me: lilac and red hues flickered along the fluorescent edge of the ever-changing display… If anything is art, this is it.

Just like the transient nature of ICEHOTEL, the aurora shows itself in a fleeting way. If the northern lights were to appear like clockwork every day at six, it just wouldn’t be the same.

Seeing the northern lights is a massive bonus and privilege on any arctic trip. I am fortunate to have enjoyed it many times: from the Yukon in Canada, to here in Arctic Sweden. But, frustratingly, you never know when or if the treat will come, but when it does, oh boy, it is one artistic experience you will never forget, and I defy anyone to say “why bother?”

Day 13 – Man and other (arctic) animals

It’s a hostile environment here for man. Tonight it shows a relatively average –20ºC/-4ºF on the thermometer outside my cabin. If you add the cooling effect of the 7mph wind (known as wind chill) you have an effective wind chill temperature of –27ºC/–18ºF.

If you ride a snow-mobile at over 50mph, when the static temperature is –25ºC, the effective temperature on your body (with the wind chill factor) is –50ºC.

I wrapped up carefully for the walk back to my cabin as I was covered in a thick layer of ice from the build process. I have been using wet slush to cement the roof of the tube train, and also cutting ice blocks with a chainsaw which creates a cloud of water vapour that subsequently freezes on everything it touches, clothes included. Although the parka became rigid on the outside, like cardboard, I never felt cold.

When people live in such environmentally hostile environments they generally take care to coexist with their fellow humans as well as with the local animal population.

ICEHOTEL is 200km north of the Arctic Circle and about 20 minutes drive from the mining town of Kiruna in Swedish Lapland. Kiruna is the last town in Northern Sweden before a vast wilderness takes over. Kiruna (KRN) is also the airport for arrivals at ICEHOTEL.

The northern wilderness has now become a centre for space exploration: at ESRANGE they launch various types of small-payload rockets. In the future, Virgin Galactic may launch from here.

This region is a long way north from Sweden’s main centres of population. Here the indigenous people are the Sámi. They are not Swedes per se, because historically the Sámi people have roamed the Lapland area that spreads right across northern Norway, Sweden, and Finland.

As with many indigenous peoples, the Sámi live ‘as one’ with their environment, they traditionally herded reindeer over vast tracts of the north (and still do). But when the national border between Norway (then Norway/Denmark) and Sweden (then Sweden/Finland) was clearly defined in 1751, the Sámi’s cross-border migration became an issue. The matter was addressed in the Lapp Codicil of 1751, which is still in force today.

Nowadays the local people up here, whether Sámi or not, coexist with a number of wonderful creatures. Most famous are the reindeer (known as Caribou in the US and Canada).

Reindeer live a relatively wild existence, but are owned and herded (even though they probably don’t know it!). A reindeer’s hooves are hollow which helps them dig through snow to find food during the long winters. They provide a wonderful resource for man, from delicious meat (a lot like venison), to warm skins for clothing and insulation.

Reindeer meat is a staple on the ICEHOTEL restaurant menu, and a well-prepared fillet of reindeer is as delicious a meal as you’ll find anywhere.

The elk (or moose) is, in my view, an even more magnificent creature. It’s an extraordinary looking beast and I have been fortunate enough to see them up close (very close), and they are not much afraid of humans. They seem such gentle giants, with antlers that grow to six feet across.

When I was in the Yukon (Canada) I was given some moose antlers but declined the offer when I conjured up the image of me at baggage reclaim at Heathrow.

The other common beast here is the husky dog, and baby were they born to run! A husky can travel 150 miles in a day, and run at 50mph. They are extraordinary creatures that come in different ‘varieties’, such as the Siberian (smallest type), the Alaskan, and the Greenland (biggest) husky. The merits of each type are the source of much discussion, especially amongst mushers, the people who drive dog teams.

Huskies get pretty excited before a run, and they are primarily working dogs, so it’s best not to try to pet them when in harness. Maybe I shouldn’t mention that they have a bite force of 320lb as it might give the wrong impression. Many people have huskies as pets too, and they’re generally very approachable. One of the staff at the ICEHOTEL restaurant has a lovely Greenland husky. He happily sits outside in the snow waiting for his mistress, and loves the attention of anyone passing. His coat is wonderfully thick, and dense, and fit for purpose.

Visitors at ICEHOTEL are able to see reindeer, travel on reindeer sleds and meet Sámi people. Guests can also take dogsled trips. Travelling across a frozen river on a dog sled ride is a memorable experience, and it is highly recommended. Don’t worry if the dogs get thirsty during your exhilarating ride, they’ll take a bite of snow as they run!

Day 14 – How does it feel?

ICEHOTEL is a ‘whole body’ experience at every level. When I open my eyes in the morning I am in a warm comfortable bed. When I swing my feet to the floor and switch off the ‘revving motorcycle’ alarm I know that there’s a long day ahead.

After the normal round of ‘getting up’ stuff, things then change from the norm.

I allow 30 minutes from eyes open until the breakfast meeting. A third of this is suiting up: first a base layer, then socks and a middle layer that depends on the ambient temperature. So far all’s okay to wear at room temperature.

The main event is donning the boots, the down-filled bib pants, and the red Canada Goose Resolute parka (now my ‘signature’ garment). But this doesn’t go on until I have everything to hand. Wearing this lot at plus 20ºC in a room becomes yucky very quickly.

I have many pockets in my parka so I try to organise stuff in a standard way.

Then I take up my hard-hat and the bag containing the four different types of gloves I’ll need: general gloves for warm hands, thin inner gloves for precise work and marking up, heavy work gloves for lifting ice, chainsawing, moving ladders, etc., and finally the ‘fur’ lined rubber gloves for handling water, slush and snice.

I always take the gloves back to my cabin to dry them out. If left in the suite overnight they freeze solid and are hard to put on, especially the rubber gloves (a protracted process that can involve heating them under one’s armpits). Damp gloves left on a block of ice can make a strong bond.

Stepping outside, the air is cold, clean and crisp. One’s nose hairs become stiff as the cold air freezes any moisture on them. It’s a slightly weird sensation that wears off. It is getting noticeably darker every morning as the hours of sunlight reduce daily.

The snow underfoot is cold and powdery. It makes a squeaking sound that you almost never hear in the UK. I take a short cut through the trees, and after a couple of minutes walk I arrive at the restaurant entrance. There’s a brush to remove loose snow from one’s clothing. Not to do so when entering a heated building means sitting in damp clothes, which is an unnecessarily unpleasant sensation. Staying comfortable throughout the day helps one work better, for longer.

I negotiate wooden spiral stairs down to the restaurant basement carefully, they weren’t designed with Arctic boots in mind, where one has and extra inch of boot all round.

The parka is hung up and a coffee grabbed. I also a have a couple of glasses of lingonberry juice (rather like cranberry juice). It is thirsty work and one has to stay hydrated.

The downstairs area is a haven of warmth and companionship. Here is where lunch and dinner are taken, at unusually early hours by standards elsewhere, lunch at 1130 and dinner at 1630. One burns a lot of calories when doing hard physical work in sub-zero temperatures – I’m eating more, but weighing less, it’s the ice-artist’s diet.

It’s back into the cold for the walk to the ICEHOTEL site, it was -20ºC today, but felt colder due to the wind off the river. As you get close to the build site the snow cannons can also add a fine mist in to the air, which chills one’s face.

How it feels working inside the ever growing ICEHOTEL rather depends on the task in hand. The warmest it gets inside is –5ºC.

Although commissioned as an artist, one must also be the main fabricator of the design, so one participates in every activity. It’s important that Magdalena and I are ‘connected’ with the build materials and shape the art ourselves.

Generally speaking the heavy work reduces as you go along, and the finer, more artistic work takes over. Every suite requires ice, so this needs to be moved around and lifted. Everyone has their lift limit, and ice is heavy and slippery. Heavier blocks can be slid on super slippery flat sleds. Moving and positioning ice is a task performed daily.

Bonding ice blocks together requires water and/or slush, so on go the rubber gloves for scooping and pouring. Leather gloves soon become wet and hands very cold if they’re used for this.

If there’s a lot of slushing to do, such as bonding the roof blocks of the tube train, then one’s hands can get numb (bad news), so it’s good to plan a session of this before a break so one can warm up. Slush can also get on your outer clothes, where it freezes hard making garments as stiff as a board.

When working inside the hotel there’s no daylight, so one is largely unaware of the time of day, unless you have to go outside to fetch ice, snow or water (which one often does).

When collecting water a ‘little and often’ approach is adopted as standing water soon freezes. There’s a 100m walk to a lone tap on the side of the warm building. It often requires a dull blow to get it going.

Fetching snow requires a wheelbarrow and wide snow shovel. One learns where to find the best snow for the job in hand; the snow cannons provide masses of snow, but within the huge piles there’s often a best spot to be found, clean, lump and ice free, but ideally slightly moist. Finding the ‘right’ snow is a bizarre skill that’s of very little use elsewhere. I now feel I can find reasonably good stuff even in the dark.

This is all basic building work, but with a unique twist in that everything is water in one form or another. Bizarrely this year, Swedish officials have demanded that ICEHOTEL have a fire alarm fitted in each room, an interesting requirement of an hotel made entirely from water!

Almost every task has physicality to it, so one must pace oneself, eat sensibly, hydrate, and get neither too cold, nor too warm. Pacing oneself is also important safety-wise, tiredness or undue haste can lead to accidents, and it is a hazardous environment with slippery materials in abundance, plus sharp tools such as chainsaws and ice chisels.

It takes a few days to get into the rhythm of ICEHOTEL work, but then one’s in the groove and just hits the ground running every day.

When possible I try to avoid doing very repetitive work that taxes just one set of muscles. At the end of the day one is usually pretty exhausted, but during the slow walk back to the cabin one can hopefully reflect on a good day’s effort and solid progress.

The joy of a warm shower, writing the daily blog, and then sleep is sometimes delayed if there’s a display of Northern Lights. One has to stop and take in their magnificence.Last night I added 45 minutes to my day to photograph a huge display directly over ICEHOTEL. The green and red hues of the aurora juxtaposed with the orange lights on the snow-cannons.

I sleep deeply and well, and wake the next day with a new ache that must be worked off.

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