A couple of days before the 2015 winter market started, I visited one of the truly unique experiences that Jokkmokk offers: The Snowball Stay beside the Åsgård hostel. It can be described as an outdoors bedroom, located inside a snow sculpture shaped like a giant snowball. It was created from a cube of packed snow, sculpted by hand into a somewhat flattened snowball shape, which was then carved into through a small opening on one side to create a room inside the ball – once again by hand.
The entrance is a small hole that you crawl through to get to the space inside. The size of the circular “room” inside the sculpture is about two meters in diameter, with a roof height of approximately 120 centimeters at the center. The beds consist of thick, cold-resistant sleeping bags placed on a couple of reindeer hides. The floor, just like the rest of the sculpture, is made of packed snow.
For the winter market blog last year, I took some photos and wrote a post about it (in Swedish), and the snowballs (there were two of them last year) got a lot of attention in international media. And now, the Snowball Stay is back for a new season!
Unfortunately, none of the guests who took the chance to experience a night inside a snowball last year have written any article about it, so when the Snowball Stay was ready for accepting guests this year, I wanted to make sure that more people could find out about this opportunity. In order to get a true first-hand experience published, I checked in as a guest myself. Yesterday night I crawled into the snowball, hoping to get a good nights sleep but not really knowing what to expect. As it turned out, I did sleep very well and it was truly an amazing experience. Here is the full story:
Arriving to Åsgård
Since I live in Jokkmokk and my workplace is close to the Åsgård hostel, I brought a bag of extra clothes and some snacks to work, and then walked directly to Åsgård after the work day was over. I arrived just before 18:00, and met up with Cecilia Lundin (who runs the hostel – and who is also the sculptor of the snowball). I was given a good and detailed briefing about what to expect, how much clothes I would need to wear and how to access the kitchen and the bathrooms that were located in the smaller of the two buildings of the Åsgård hostel. I was also shown the “backup room” which is available to Snowball Stay guests, in case the temperature would drop too low or the guests would change their mind about sleeping outdoors. I interviewed Cecilia about upcoming winter market events and the current number of bookings, and learned that the Snowball Stay will be open for guests until the beginning of March – and that there are still plenty of available days after the Jokkmokk winter market. For the winter market, however, most days were already booked.
As it turned out, I would actually be the first guest staying in the 2016 version of the Snowball Stay – so it was the Snowball Stay premiere for the season!
Dressing up and preparing the snowball
After the briefing, I moved on to prepare the interior of the snowball. Cecilia had lit some candles inside the snowball and placed an ice door over the entrance, so I took some photos before the candles were removed. For safety reasons, candles are not allowed inside the snowball – so I had brought a couple of small LED lamps (very much recommended for future guests – the LED:s proved to be very useful). I placed two reindeer hides on the left side of the room, and my bag of snacks and extra clothes on the right side. I used one of the sleeping bags as an extra layer on top of the hides, and placed a pillow inside the second sleeping bag (the one I would sleep in). Regarding the sleeping bags: They are thick enough to keep you warm even if the temperature drops down to -25 degrees Celsius, and there is an optional extra inner sleeping bag made of fleece is available to provide more warmth during colder nights. I opted to not use the extra fleece layer since it wasn’t very cold outside and I was wearing warm clothes already.
I walked to Åsgård wearing my work shoes, a low and light shoe that is comfortable enough to wear when working indoors while still being warm enough for walking short distances outdoors during the warmer winter days. But I had brought a pair of winter boots with a detachable inner layer, so I switched to my boots before going out to the snowball, and once I was inside the snowball I then took off the outer layer of the boots and kept the inner layer on as a pair of extra socks. I also kept the jacket on, and put on a face mask (a hood usually used under the helmet by snowmobile drivers) that covered my neck and most of my face. Finally, I had a cap with four small LED lights on my head – and once the bed and the clothes were all in order I was ready to close my eyes…
I spent a few minutes just taking in the feeling of lying on my back inside this piece of art, hearing the sounds of nature outside and imagining how other people would react to the same experience. The last thing I remember thinking was “How will I ever be able to describe this feeling in an article without making it appear strange…”. After all, it was my first time sleeping outdoors in the winter, and in some way it felt rather strange to do it when my own home (and my family) was only a short distance away. But to sum it all up, it felt both overwhelmingly exciting and completely undramatic at the same time. And very calm and comfortable.
Sleeping – and waking up
I fell asleep sometime around 20:00. I had intentionally made sure to get fewer hours of sleep the night before, and got up really early in the morning, in order to be really tired once I entered the Snowball Stay – and it worked beautifully. The outdoor temperature was -12 degrees Celsius when I went to bed, and I have no doubt that I could have slept just as well even if it had been colder. With the face mask over my face and the warm sleeping bag, it was all very comfortable. And I slept really well, which surprises me a bit since I usually don’t sleep well away from home.
Just after midnight, I suddenly woke up. At that point, I had been sleeping for more than four hours. I don’t really know why I woke up, but I would guess that the temperature in the sleeping bag had become a bit too high. I felt very warm, and after a few minutes I decided to get up, put my boots on and go to the bathroom. When I removed the reindeer hide from the entrance and looked out from the snowball, I realized that it had started snowing, and I felt that the outdoor temperature was significantly warmer than it had been a few hours earlier. During the time I had been asleep, the falling snow had covered the track that I had made when I had arrived…
I picked up my water bottle and drank from it, and noticed that ice had started to form inside the bottle (which had been placed beside my bag of extra clothes), so the temperature was still a few degrees below 0. At this point, I was wide awake – and I started feeling flashes of inspiration strike me. After the bathroom break and a short walk around the hostel backyard, I got back to the snowball again.
Back in the sleeping bag, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep in yet some time. My head was full of impressions, emotions and ideas – and when I go into that creative mode, I can’t just close my eyes and expect to fall asleep. I sent a text message to my wife, and got a message in return saying that she was still awake. Rather than spending the next couple of hours just lying awake with my thoughts as the only company, I concluded that I had done what I had set out to do – to experience what it feels like to sleep in a snowball. About one hour after midnight, I packed my bags, placed the reindeer hide over the snowball entrance, took one final photo – and then walked back to my own home. I started editing photos and writing this text as soon as I got back home, and after I had got most of it written down, I managed to get a few more hours of sleep. This time in the comfort of a warm house and my own bed.
Sleeping in the snowball was quite an experience, even for me – and I have lived in the municipality of Jokkmokk all my life. For visitors and guests coming from other parts of the world, it would very likely be an even more amazing experience. After trying it myself, I can recommend it with all my heart to anyone who wants a unique and exciting outdoor experience in the northern Swedish winter. There is no need to worry about the temperature, the sleeping bags make sure that you won’t be cold. As for comfort, it felt pretty much like sleeping in a tent during a camping trip – it worked really well for me. And of course, the one thing that makes the Snowball Stay so special is the fact that you are surrounded by snow. It is not an igloo, but an actual oversized snowball that has been carved out by hand to create the space you sleep in. A piece of art in itself. And the fact that there is always a regular indoor room prepared for Snowball Stay guests, is a good guarantee that you will have a pleasant stay – even if you would choose to shorten the outdoor experience after giving it a try.
(Regarding the upcoming winter market events at Åsgård: The amazing fire show that I attended during last years market and wrote about here (note: Swedish text) will be back again this year, on Friday, February 5th, and Saturday, February 6th. I’m planning to go there on Friday to experience it again and hopefully record some video. More about that in a future post…)