“Beautiful. And frigid,” is the comment left by one guest at Canada’s Ice Hotel, about 15 minutes from Québec City. And it gets its name, not surprisingly, from the fact that nearly everything in the hotel is made of frozen water. That includes the walls, ceilings, beds, furniture, chandeliers — even the glasses you drink from at the bar.
We took our kids there for winter vacation, and this frozen wonder is a snow fort for kids of all ages. It takes almost six weeks to build every year, each time slightly different from the year before. Over 30,000 tons of snow and 500 tons of ice are used to create the 44 rooms and suites. Once the weather warms up, around early April, it takes a mere six hours to demolish it. The original idea came from the Ice Hotel in Sweden and some guests have experienced both of them.
Visit the Ice Bar for a drink (hot chocolate is available for the kids) but be careful where you put your glass down, as it tends to slip off the bar. By day, the kids can try the ice slide or rock out to the beat of the disco. Families dance happily in groups or on their own, so there’s no need to worry about rejection or “getting the cold shoulder” here.
You can take a tour of the hotel, or you can join the adventurous and spend a whole frozen night here in temperatures that hover between 23ºF and 28º F (-2º to -5º C). Staying over is by far the best part.
How to Sleep in a Fridge
You take an information class that shows you how to get into your mummy sleeping bag which is warm enough for temperatures that go down to minus 40º F. As a point of reference, your fridge gets to minus 8º F. Honeymooners get to zip their bags together and yes, there’s even a wedding chapel on the premises. Makes you want to ask: “Did you get cold feet?” but that would be too corny. Romantic rooms vary each season and might include an ice bed shaped like a sleigh, a Nephertiti room or one with a four-posted bed made of crystal ice columns.
The best practice for the family is actually to go into the outside hot tub to increase your core temperature. You’ll need to wear your winter hat but don’t worry, everyone does, and hats and hot tubs go surprisingly well together. Then you dry off in the dry sauna and put on your spa robe (provided), boots and hat. Your clothes for the next day go at the bottom of your sleeping bag so they stay warm for the next morning. Our kids thought this part was hilarious and loved all the squirming to get into the bag.
The secret to a good night’s sleep is actually to make sure you don’t breathe inside your sleeping bag as that would cause humidity and you’d eventually get cold. Even wearing that day’s socks to bed can do the same thing, so be sure to put on fresh socks right before you climb in.
The beds are surprisingly comfortable and don’t worry — you’re not sleeping on ice itself, although the outside of the bed is made from the frozen water. Instead, the inside is built of wood, with a foam padding on top. A pillow is provided inside the hood of the mummy bag. Leave your snowboots outside the bag, they’ll be fine in the morning. Oh, and don’t wear cotton because once it gets wet with perspiration, it makes you feel very cold. The whole family can snuggle together for extra warmth on one bed.
If you’re not checking out the hot tub, dancing the night away in the disco, or admiring the ice chandelier (just how do they get it to stay up there), then look for the Himalayan photo exhibit with its pictures of the trek to the world’s highest mountains, and feel glad you are only spending one night in the cold. Those explorers did it for much, much longer and in hazardous conditions. Brrrr!
The Morning After a Bed on Ice
At breakfast next day, you can see the proud, beaming faces of the young and old snow warriors who survived their one night of sub-zero temperatures. Most people only do it once; we are creatures of comfort, after all. They regale their fellow travelers with stories of how long it took them to get to sleep, how warm they felt in their bag and how surprised they were to don their snow boots still remarkably dry and comfortable, before heading for the hot showers in the warm locker room of the auberge.
Sad though, is the face of the visitor who had too much to imbibe (even if it wasn’t alcohol) and had to get out the sleeping bag to don warm clothes and make a bathroom visit in the wee small, freezing hours of the night, only to return and go through the whole undressing and back into-the-bag-again process. It’s not surprising that some just don’t make it back down from the lodge situated several yards away outside and end up spending the rest of their night’s sleep in the heated locker room area. We were quite glad we’d limited the kids as to how much hot chocolate they’d had the night before.
Activities outside the hotel include cross-country skiing, ice-fishing, snowshoeing, dog sledding and skating. Or you can simply stay warm by eating. The food at the Ice Hotel is to die for and everything you’d expect from a five snowflake resort. You can enjoy options like cheese fondue (try the bread, cheese and a grape all in one mouthful) or the local trout.
At weekend’s close, this writer and family headed to a cozy 50ºF back home. Snow boots and thermals packed away, we were surprised to miss the Ice Hotel and all it had to offer. “Awesome. I never knew they could do so much with ice,” said my 10-year-old daughter, Christine. The kids were quite happy as they got bragging rights with all their friends at school for actually sleeping in a hotel made of ice.
Was it beautiful? Breath-taking, like nothing you’ll see anywhere in North America. Was it frigid? Not for the adventurous in spirit. More importantly, was it worth it? Absolutely. It’s an experience that our family, for one, has frozen in our memory. Just take a look at this video:
Trip Planning Details for a Night in the Real Frozen
In January 2015, the Ice Hotel celebrated its 15th anniversary and, since its founding, has welcomed over 50,000 overnight guests. For 2015, overnight rates are CAD$219 per person in a standard room, up to CAD$350 per person in a decorated suite (many have fireplaces), including a welcome drink, breakfast and use of the snowsports gear, sauna and hot tubs.
A million more visitors have come to the chilly attraction for the tour alone. There are six guided tours daily, in French or English, priced at CAD$45 for a family of four, or CAD$18 adult, CAD$16 students and seniors, CAD$9 ages 6-12 and free for under-5s. There are also reduced rates for visitors after 8pm, special packages that include a hot meal or a drink at the Ice Bar, and the option to add on activities such as snowshoeing and sledding for a CAD$5 equipment rental fee. If you fall in love with the place as we did, you can buy a Season Pass for just CAD$10 more than the price of your tour.
Note that tours are a huge part of the hotel’s revenue, so rooms are open to the public during the day and til 8pm, though the public may enjoy the grounds and popular bar till midnight. Overnight guests get exclusive access to their room between the hours of 9pm and 8:30am. With so much going on outside and in other parts of the hotel, this is more than ample time. And don’t forget to inquire about weddings and other ceremonies in the popular frozen chapel.
Check with the Quebec Province tourist office (877/266-5687 or 877-BONJOUR) in mid-November for the tentative opening dates of the annual Ice Hotel. Their helpful staff will help you plan other, pre- or post-freeze fun for your winter weekend.
The hotels’ season is short, sometimes just a few months between January and April, so be sure to book ahead. For reservations, contact the Ice Hotel Canada or call them at 418/623-2888 or toll-free at 877/505-0423. The Hôtel de Glace is located at 9530, rue de la Faune Québec (Québec) G1G 5H9 Canada.
Photos and video courtesy: Ron Bozman
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