Have you ever wondered just how much time you can spend outdoors in subzero temps in the depths of winter? How about in a hotel made of ice and snow? Take a good look at the image above. Notice that the bed is made of ice? And those are snow carvings on snow walls? And that’s a fur blanket for a touch of warmth? That would be real fur and faux warmth, natch.
I’m talking northern hemisphere here. Quebec, Canada, specifically. So believe me when I say that Quebec City’s 32,000-square-foot Hôtel de Glace is c-c-c-cold. Heck, to say that winter in Quebec is ridiculously freezing would not be exaggerating in the slightest, so needless to say that the Hôtel de Glace (Ice Hotel) is really more of a novelty hotel for adventure seekers. Who wants to pay to trade down a warm, cosy bed at the Four Points by Sheraton Québec Resort, which is included in the night rate, for a slab of ice?
I’ll be totally upfront right now: I didn’t sleep in the Ice Hotel. For one, I can’t afford it, since accommodation starts at $400 Cdn per person! (You’ll be wanting that extra body next to you for heat, so that works out to a whopping $800 Cdn a night for a couple! Mighty expensive novelty, there.) And two, I was only in Quebec City for a day. Crazy gal that I am (this was back in 2009), I travelled overnight – both ways. I arrived at an early 6 a.m. and left at a late midnight. That made for a looong, near-frostbitten day and night outdoors, wandering Le Carnaval de Québec and the stunning Hôtel de Glace. And three, though I love gallivanting in snow (I really do), I don’t desire sleeping in it!
The ephemeral Hôtel de Glace, at its former location 30 mins north of Quebec City, is a marvel of snow and ice! It's a maze, too, the interior a series of rooms off long corridors – rooms you can stay in, if you're so brave as to, ahem, brave a night in this 32,000-square-foot icebox that averages -3°C inside.
One of the reasons I was wary of staying at the Hôtel de Glace back in 2009 is that there appeared to be no proper toilets at the time. Nope. See the giant women/men sign on the left? It's pointing to a row of porta potties, which are a small step up from outhouses only because they usually dispense antibacterial hand cleanser. For overnight guests now, at the new location just 10 minutes from Quebec City, there's a heated bathroom, a lounge and lockers in the Celsius Pavilion near the hotel.
winter wonderland: the beauty of ice and snow
So, yes, I freely admit I did not overnight it at the hotel. Snow is actually an excellent insulator, and the hotel interior hovers around -3°C inside, regardless of the temperature outside. My friends go winter camping in much colder temperatures, and they build quinzhees (snow shelters) to sleep in, so I know the idea of sleeping in a hotel made of ice isn’t as insane as it sounds. But two hours of exploring the hotel’s grounds and 36 intricately carved and colourfully lit rooms was more than enough time for me to lose feeling in my oh so precious fingers and toes. (The shuttle bus to and from downtown Quebec City, which took around 30 minutes, was just enough time to warm me back up!) I like to think of the hotel as a glammed-up snow fort with some strategically placed, girly ice accents: all of the rooms are made of packed machine-made snow, and the sparse selection of furniture – beds in the suites and a few benches and tables in common areas like the entry and bar – is made from huge blocks of ice. It’s a cool tourist attraction, indeed!
Of all the 36 rooms, the entry was my favourite. It was this arched snow tunnel with carved ice columns and a crazy-cool ice chandelier that changed colours, from green to teal to blue to yellow to pink! People tended to huddle here, sitting on the ice benches and chilling at the ice tables.
What can I say about a magical chandelier – made from faceted blocks of ice – that's illuminated a rainbow of colours from within? Spectacular!
Where there's alcohol, there's warmth. So of course, even more people were attracted to the Ice Bar! I'm not joking that everything in this space is snow and ice: drinks are served in ice glasses (read: giant ice cubes)!
We snatched this nook as soon as we could, because there weren't many seats in the Ice Bar, which can fit 400 guests. The ice bench is covered with a fur pelt, so our tushes were toasty. OK, not toasty, but definitely not frozen! Despite being surrounded by snow and ice, we were quite cosy while sipping our cocktails served in ice glasses.
the suite life: where you sleep
Each themed suite has stunning carvings on the walls (the hockey and jazz suites were especially awe inspiring). The private rooms are open to the public till 8 p.m., after which they’re reserved for overnight guests. Though they do remain open in a way – the suites don’t have doors! They’re not directly open to one another, as the openings are staggered, but certainly it’s possible for guests to poke their heads into other rooms. So no hanky panky! And although it’s true that the beds are made of blocks of ice, there are a good few inches of blankets and mattress and wood between you and the ice. Plus, sleeping bags rated as low as -30°C are provided. If you don’t overdress and don’t bury your mouth in your sleeping bag, you’ll be fine. You’re trying to reduce humidity, as it’s the damp, not the temp, that will make you chilled – so your goal is to not sweat! Sleeping in just a layer of thermals is A-OK. The trick is to do a few jumping jacks to raise your body temperature before you crawl into your bag, so your body heat will warm the air around you. I swear by it when I camp!
The suites are themed and showcase intricate carvings on the snow walls. This one is of a Native Canadian in a feather headdress.
The Hôtel de Glace is in Canada, so naturally there's a hockey-themed room! This suite was my favourite, with fun scenes of excited players gracing the walls. Carvings and textured surfaces made the space seem cosy – as cosy as a room made of snow and outfitted with an ice bed can be!
I couldn't resist curling up under a fur blanket to test out a bed. Honestly, the fur did nothing to keep me warm, but I imagine with expedition thermals and a -50°C sleeping bag, I could sleep without shivering. (I don't really believe that: I rely on a -20°C sleeping bag in summer, and that's after doing jumping jacks! Apparently I'm weird that way.)
I think, if I had $400 splurge on a night at the Hôtel de Glace, I might just do so. Though I know myself, and I know every time I’d warm up at the Four Points Sheraton Québec for a shower or breakfast or dinner (all included, along with a bed if you so wimp out, with your accommodation), I wouldn’t want to leave the resort. But at the same time, sleeping in a hotel made of ice would make for an awesome experience! Maybe, maybe…
What: The stunning Hôtel de Glace, 1-877-505-04234 (toll-free)
Where: Quebec City, Quebec, Canada
When: First week of January to the end of March
Cost: Day trippers are rewarded with inexpensive rates: for 2012, $17.50 (adults), $15.50 (seniors/students), $8.50 (kids), $43.75 (family). Overnight rates are per person: $400 (Northern Discovery), $450 (Adventure), $500 (Romantic Getaway), $550 (Ultimate). Wedding packages start at $2,299.
How: A shuttle bus runs to and from Old Quebec a few times a day. For 2012, transportation and hotel day admission combined is $34.95 (adults), $21.95 (kids); round-trip transportation alone is $19.95 (adults), $9.95 (kids); tickets can be purchased day-of at the tourist office.
Why: Must you ask? It’s a hotel made entirely of ice and snow! Go back and reread all of the above, from the very first pic.
Bonus: Quebec City’s Carnaval de Québec (Quebec Winter Carnival), a 17-day winter carnival, takes place from the end of January to mid-February. It’s a treat to combine Carnaval with the Hôtel de Glace.
For more on Le Carnaval de Québec
and winter fun in Quebec, check out…
Why I Adore… Le Carnaval de Québec
Say “Bonjour” to the Cool Carnival
Knuk & Bonhomme: My Favourite Unexpected
Site at Carnaval