We sometimes have guests who now live in places where the winters have become warm and green. They come here to experience again the cold winters of their childhood.
You know you’re in a real winter landscape when you can safely walk out onto the river. Especially if someone has already turned it into a road (‘Warning’ says a sign, ‘Don’t fish in the road’).
Today we were talking to the man who lives on the other side of the river. He clears the ice of snow every year, tests its weaker parts to ensure the quality and thickness of the ice, and then makes it obvious to all-comers that this is a road. He isn’t paid to do this, and he said when he sees groups of visitors there on a paid-for tour – specifically brought there to be impressed by ‘a road on the ice’ – he does wonder whether it’s the tour company that should be paid, or the man who made the road.
He was joking of course. He doesn’t do it for payment; it’s a public-spirited gesture. But we agree it feels strange when something like this brushes up against a commercial, self-seeking tourist industry.
There have been warnings this winter about melting temperatures in the Arctic. Although we haven’t quite experienced the level of warmth they seem to have predicted, this winter has certainly been warmer than average. One day a couple of weeks ago it reached plus seven degrees, which is not at all common in December. The top layers of snow melted, our environment became icy, grit had to be spread everywhere, and all the usual ways of making things work had to be adjusted to new conditions. They say that at least there’s a ‘snow guarantee’ in Kiruna, but if we continue to get those sort of plus temperatures this could change.
The Ice Hotel has been good up to now at marketing its extreme brand of winter to people looking for an icy thrill. I had rather fallen out of love with it, after last year’s rather dull sculptures, unimaginative designs, and an ice bar which collapsed in the first month. This year, though, they’ve pulled out all the stops and the ice rooms and sculptures are unusual, beautiful, and impressive. They’ve made a ‘normal’ ice hotel, which will melt in the spring, and next to it they’ve built an ice hotel which is only ice on the inside, so that means it can be open all year round. Solar panels will keep the ice cold in the summer.
The idea of the 365 day ice hotel didn’t win me over at first. Why would you want to visit an ice hotel in the summer?
But then, perhaps they’re on to something. If our real winters are going to disappear, perhaps in the future the whole of Kiruna will be inside a giant 365 day environment bubble. Like the opposite of a giant greenhouse – a giant white house, where the temperature can be monitored and maintained at a steady minus 5 degrees and the snow kept cold.
Then visitors will have a guaranteed winter city, and, more importantly, someone will be able to charge an entrance fee.