Everything's cool at Chena Hot Springs' Ice Hotel

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska -- The Aurora Ice Hotel at Chena Hot Springs Resort, 60 miles north of here, opened New Year's Eve, about a month later than expected. Eleven guests so far have occupied the three completed rooms and enjoyed the ice bar; three more rooms and a gazebo are expected to open by the end of the month. The inside temperature is 28 degrees.

When the resort decided to build the ice hotel on its property, it didn't think to file with the state's fire marshal, Gary Powell, said Brenda Hewitt, the property's vice president of marketing and sales.

At certain times, visitors to the Chena Hot Springs Resort and its new Aurora Ice Hotel have an opportunity to view the Northern Lights. That decision put a freeze on the property's plans to open Thanksgiving weekend. Powell thought the ice structure might be a fire hazard.

"It didn't seem like there'd be anything to burn," Hewitt said.

And because this ice hotel is the first of its kind in the U.S., there wasn't a lot of architectural data to draw from. Requests for information from Quebec on the ice hotel there went unreturned, Hewitt said, and even Alaska's governor's office tried (without much success) to glean information about ice structures in Sweden and Finland.

Finally, just before Christmas, Hewitt said, the resort was able to put together enough local expertise on structural engineering, architecture and ice sculpting to obtain approval to open as an overnight-stay property.

However, the fire marshal's office still required the hotel to install smoke detectors and fire extinguishers in each room.

"When we called around, people said, 'We don't have waterproof smoke detectors,' " Hewitt said. "So we've had to build little [casings]."

The resort pays agents 10% commission and 20% on groups of 10 or more.

Everyone who gets an ice hotel room is given winter wear and a standby heated room in a separate building, just in case.

The resort's two-night package, priced at $878 per couple, includes one night in the ice hotel, one complementary standby room and a second night in the guest's choice of the resort's Moose Lodge or Signature Room. The three-night version, for $1,067, adds a second night in the Moose Lodge or Signature Room.

For more information, call the Chena Hot Springs Resort at (800) 478-4681 or visit www.chenahotsprings.com.

To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].

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