Recently I traveled to Chena Hot Springs, a beautiful, well-appointed, and environmentally responsible resort located about 50 miles east of Fairbanks, Alaska. While you would expect to find ice sculptures mid-winter in the 49th state, at Chena Hot Springs Resort’s Aurora Ice Museum you can find exquisite frozen artwork year-round.
The Aurora Ice Museum is the world’s largest year-round, man-made ice environment in the world. Inside are sculptures made by six-time world champion ice carver Heather Brice and her husband, Steve, a fifteen-time world champion ice carver.
With summer temperatures reaching into the 80s and 90s, you would think it would that it would cost a fortune to keep the ice museum cold all year. Remarkably, the electric bills are kept low due to the resourcefulness of the resort’s owner, Bernie Karl, who worked with international engineering teams to find a way to harness the Earth’s heat—in the form of hot water rising in the famous hot springs—to cool the ice house. At Chena Bernie and his partners figured out how to take low temperature hot spring water and create energy. Not only do they now generate all of the electricity used at Chena Hot Springs Resort geothermally but they are also beginning to sell it to others.
When you visit the Aurora Ice Museum, be sure to bring a tripod. It’s a bit dark inside, so long exposures help ensure good depth of field. And be ready for a bit of post-processing: the wide range of tones begs for high dynamic range (HDR) photography.
Before you leave the resort, make sure do two things. First, take a tour of the geothermal power plant. Its heartwarming to see how far a creative and persistent business owner will go to create a sustainable, profitable company. Secondly, dine at the resort’s restaurant, where you’ll want to order a salad. All of the vegetables are raised in the on-site greenhouse, which, you guessed, is entirely heated and lit geothermally.