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Ice Hotel Becomes Museum

Ed. Note: The following appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on 11/29/2004.

"Ice Museum in Works for Hot Springs "

By DANIEL RICE , staff writer

Now that the ice hotel at Chena Hot Springs Resort is history, resort owner Bernie Karl plans to bring the enterprise back to life as a museum.

The Aurora Ice Hotel, which was open to guests last winter but melted under the early summer sun, won't be back again this year, Karl said.

In its place, however, will be a four-gallery museum constructed out of ice. Crews are busy at work on the new ice museum and hope to have the structure ready for visitors by New Year's Day, he said.

Like the ice hotel before it, the museum will feature an ice bar with martini "glasses" and other drinking accessories carved out of ice. The galleries will showcase ice art created by local carvers.

"It's going to have an ice chapel that will be available for weddings," Karl said.

From the outside, visitors can expect to see a building that looks similar to the ice hotel, which welcomed its first guests in late December 2003, before closing to guests the following March.

"It's going to have a Gothic arch to it," Karl said. "So it's going to look identical to what we had last year; it's just going to be bigger."

The museum will be 133 feet long by 42 feet wide.

Karl said he and Steve Brice, the champion ice carver who helped construct the ice hotel, learned several important lessons from the experience. They originally planned to keep the hotel open throughout the warm months by using Styrofoam panels and pumping coolant through tubes in the walls.

The plan didn't work, however, and by early summer the elaborate ice chandeliers were collapsing from the ceiling, convincing project organizers to abandon their hopes for a year-round ice hotel and to let the structure melt.

As Karl puts it, "I took a frozen asset and turned it into a liquid asset."

This year, he said, the builders have devised a better system for keeping the structure frigid once the warm weather returns. Using 4,000 gallons of coolant and old equipment from the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, they plan to devise a system for keeping 20-below-zero air circulating through the skeleton of the museum.

"It's going to be a permanent structure," Karl said.

To that end, crews have already poured a concrete foundation and plan to erect a steel frame.

Karl said he hopes that once the structure is complete, the museum will be an even bigger draw than the ice hotel. Especially in the summer months, the resort needs to develop attractions that will convince people to make the trip to the facility located 60 miles east of Fairbanks at the end of Chena Hot Springs Road, Karl said.

"Even though the place is beautiful and the gardens are beautiful, there has to be a reason for them to drive that 60 miles, and we think the museum will be it," he said. "We think it will be the most visited attraction in the Interior."

Reporter Daniel Rice can be reached at or 459-7503.

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