Chill Out at the Ice Hotel and Have “An Ice Stay!”

“Beautiful. And frigid.” This is the comment left by one brave guest at Canada’s famed Ice Hotel Glace on the shores of beautiful Lac St.-Joseph, a mere 20 minutes west of Quebec.

This frozen fortress gets its name from, not surprisingly, the fact that nearly everything in the hotel is made of solid water. This includes the walls, ceilings, beds, furniture, chandeliers — even the glasses you drink from at the bar.
Fun for adults and children, this icy enclave is a snow fort for kids of all ages. It takes almost six weeks to build and is rebuilt every year, each time slightly different from the year before. More than 12,000 tons of snow and 400 tons of ice are used and once the weather warms up, around early April, the edifice is demolished with less drama than it took to build it. The idea for this hotel in Canada came from the Ice Hotel in Sweden.

You can dance the night away in the disco or check out the hot tub or even admire the ice chandelier (just how do they get it to stay up there?), and then look for the Himalayan photo exhibit with its pictures of the trek to the world’s highest mountains. (And feel glad you’re only spending one night in the cold. Those explorers did it for much, much longer and in hazardous conditions, too! Brrrr!)

For those not feeling very adventurous to stay here, you can easily take a tour of the property for just a few dollars — more than 70,000 people come through for one every year. But, if you are feeling courageous, spend a one-of-a-kind night in temperatures hovering between 23 and 28 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 2 to minus 5 Celsius). It’s definitely worth every chilly moment (and you get bragging rights to boot).

You take an information class showing you how to get into your mummy bag — it’s warm enough for temperatures that plummet to minus 40 degrees (your fridge, by the way is only minus 8 degrees). Honeymooners get to zip their bags together and yes, there’s even a wedding chapel on the premises. (Kind of gives “cold feet” a whole new meaning!) Romantic rooms include the ice bed shaped like a sleigh and the Nephertite room.

You can warm up in the outside hot tub to increase your core temperature; you’ll need to wear your winter hat but don’t worry, everyone does — hats and hot tubs go surprisingly well together. You then dry off in the dry sauna and travel back to your room in your spa robe (which is provided), boots and hat. Your clothes for the next day go at the bottom of your sleeping bag so they stay warm and don’t end up cold the next morning.

The secret to a good night’s sleep is actually to make sure you don’t breathe inside your sleeping bag — this causes humidity and you’d eventually get cold. Oh, and don’t wear cotton, even if it’s what your thermals are made off. Cotton, once it gets wet with perspiration, also makes you feel cold. Even wearing that day’s socks to bed can do the same thing, so be sure to put on fresh man-made material 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 frozen water, the inside is made of wood, with a foam padding on top. A pillow is provided inside the hood of the mummy bag. (If you leave your snow boots outside the bag, they’ll be fine in the morning.)

The rooms are pretty much bare apart from the ice beds and the snow lying between them (remember you’re there to sleep, there would be no point in hanging around, much too cold). There are no Picassos or Monet’s on these 4-foot-thick walls. And, although you won’t find a nicely locked door between you and the other guests (it’s just a curtain), everything feels perfectly safe. Also interesting to find out, the lights in the room are actually placed inside each bed itself, so you don’t have to move anywhere to turn them off.

At breakfast the next day, you can see the proud, beaming faces of the 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 once tucked into their bag and how surprised they were to find snow boots remarkably dry and comfortable, before heading to the inviting hot showers 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, 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 to learn some just don’t make it back down from the lodge, several short, yet endless, yards away, and end up carrying out the rest of their night on a couch in the heated locker room!

But once you’re up and at it, 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 locally fished trout.

Incidentally, a stay at the Hotel de Glace would not be complete without a chilly libation at the N’Ice Club — try Absolut Vodka “in” the rocks (the drink is poured into a glass formed from ice), or hot chocolate to heat you up, but be careful where you put your glass down, whether the drink is hot or cold, it tends to slip of the bar. And you might not even notice because you’ll be off dancing to the pounding beats of the latest Euro-pop hits. Those visitors who turn into “cool” dancers are quite happy to boogie on down in groups or just dance on their own. There’s no need to worry about rejection or “getting the cold shoulder” here.

After a successful night at the Ice Hotel, I looked forward to returning home to my toasty 50-degree weather. But snow boots and thermals snugly packed away, I surprisingly missed the Ice Hotel and all its quirky offerings.

Was it beautiful? It was breath-taking; like nothing you’ll see anywhere else in North America.

Was it frigid? No, not for the adventurous in spirit.

More importantly, was it worth it? Absolutely. It’s an experience forever frozen in my memory.

The season runs from January 4 to April 1, 2008.

Ice Hotel Canada: www.icehotel-canada.com; 877.505.04223

Quebec Province: www.bonjourquebec.com; 877.266.5687, 877.BONJOUR

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