Although I was surrounded by ice and snow, it was cozy and warm inside my Arctic-rated mummy bag at the Ice Hotel in Québec, Canada. The candle on my nightstand (sculpted from a huge block of ice) flickered as I drifted into dreamland.
This season is the 17th year for the Hôtel de Glace de Québec (and the first at its new location at Valcartier Vacation Village). My overnights — I stayed there twice — happened when the hotel was built on the site of the former zoo and, earlier, when it was located at Station Touristique Duchesnay.
The basics remain the same, however. There are 44 rooms and suites, a wedding chapel, ice slide, open-air hot tub, sauna and (of course) the Ice Bar. Liquid refreshment takes on a whole new meaning when it’s served up in a glass made of ice.
The Ice Hotel is fashioned anew each season. It takes a staff of 50 about six weeks to build it — 30 to complete the structure and the rest to do the ice and snow sculpture décor. More than 15,000 tons of snow are manufactured on site, churned and molded to be especially dense.
After the floor is constructed of two-foot-thick blocks, huge metal molds are erected and more snow is blown to cover them. A three-week “seasoning”, and wooden retaining walls are removed. The icy walls are about four feet thick at the base; the largest vault ceilings rise more than 19 feet above our heads.
Theme for this year’s hotel décor is Northern Perspectives. The snow-walls are sculpted to represent the North, from the pole star to Arctic wildlife — all overseen by the artistic director of the Hôtel de Glace, Pierre l’Heureux.
What’s it like to spend the night? Except for the long, cold trek to the “facilities” (they’re not en suite), it’s marvelous.
The snow muffles sound, so you feel alone in the vastness of the Arctic. It’s warm inside the sleeping bag, and I’d stuffed my clothes down by my feet so they’d be warm, too, when I dressed. I draped my coat over the mummy bag for extra warmth. My boots? Well, they were a cold shock to my feet.
Zipped into in high tech nylon and fleece (the mummy-style bag was rated to -30°), I certainly was more comfortable than the 17th Century French fur traders who lived in the area, although I’m sure we all were grateful for deerskins helping to insulate us from the frigid ground. Full disclosure: overnight guests at the Ice Hotel also can count on a plywood frame and foam mattress to raise them above the chill.
The Hôtel de Glace isn’t just for sleeping. Some 400 hardy souls can crowd into the bar to sip adult beverages from glasses made of clear ice and dance the chill away. An ice slide across the hall from the bar seems to become more attractive as the alcohol consumption increases. There’s an area of hot tubs and a sauna out under the stars if you’ve brought your bathing suit (or not). Daytime tours are available to those not willing to spend the night in an ambient temperature right around 27°.
And, of course, there’s a chapel should you decide that your winter nuptials would be enhanced by exchanging vows under an ice ceiling while your guests sit on reindeer-skin-covered benches made of ice.
Book online via the hotel’s website or one of the booking sites like Travelocity. There’s still time to snag a room this winter — the Ice Hotel’s website says it’s open until March 26, 2017. After that, you’ll just have to wait for 2018’s edition.
(Photos by Susan McKee, who was the guest of Tourisme Québec during her overnights in the Ice Hotel)