First guests check into novel hotel built of ice

Posted: Tuesday, December 30, 2003

FAIRBANKS - David Lerman curled up on a caribou hide-covered ice bed on Christmas Eve, reading "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock" by battery-powered candles.

Lerman, 44, who works for the Internal Revenue Service in Fairbanks, was one of the first two guests at the newly constructed Aurora Ice Hotel at Chena Hot Springs Resort.

"I guess that's kind of my theme - to go where no man has ever gone before," said Lerman. "And that's what I've done is make history."

The other guest was one of Lerman's co-workers.

Lerman, who moved from Rhode Island about a year ago, first learned about the ice hotel during a barbecue for volunteers for Ice Alaska, the nonprofit group that arranges the annual World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks.

Since then he's followed the construction process, including the efforts required to get a state fire marshal's approval that the hotel would be structurally sound and safe for the public.

Lerman, taking advantage of the IRS' use-it or lose-it leave time policy, chose Chena Hot Springs and the ice hotel for an end-of-the-year vacation.

Carvers worked into the night Christmas Eve as Lerman and co-worker Lorraine Gaffan enjoyed a soak and swim in the hot springs. Just after midnight, he helped some of the carvers put the finishing touches on the room that he and Gaffan would share - with separate sleeping bags.

When they finally settled in for the night, Lerman said he had a hard time believing they were the first guests at the United States' only ice hotel.

"I was really expecting someone famous like Tiger Woods or some movie star to take advantage of it and do something novel," Lerman said.

The 30-foot-high Gothic palace is intended to be a tourist draw similar to ice hotels in Scandinavia and Quebec. Resort owner Bernie Karl has said the lodging costs $878 for a two-person, two-night stay that includes Arctic-grade sleeping bags and other survival gear.

The room that Lerman and Gaffan stayed in is the only one that is finished and has been used during the past few days to house visitors who booked spots early, said Amy Jones, a front-desk employee at the resort.

The ice hotel eventually will have six bedrooms. The ice hotel's bar is open to visitors.

Lerman woke up early on Christmas Day, hopped back into the hot springs and then called friends and family around the country to tell them where he'd spent the night.

"I really live the Trek experience," Lerman said. "I always try to find the most unique things to do."

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