Consisting of around 500 tons of ice and 15,000 tons of snow, Quebec City’s Hôtel de Glace is North America’s only ice hotel. It takes fifty people about six weeks to build the hotel each winter, crafting its rooms, bar, chapel, passageways, slides and chandeliers. Lit with atmospheric non-heat emitting LED lights, you’ll get plenty of ambiance, if not warmth, standing next to the double glazed fireplaces. Not to fear, the romance and creative vision of the hotel will warm your heart just as surely as the interior temperature of -5°C will chill your bones.
At around 9pm, the day visitors who wander about viewing the different rooms are ushered out and the overnight guests gather in the Celsius, an adjacent, blessedly heated building for the briefing. If you’re going to spend the night in a popsicle, the goal is not to become one in the morning. All guests are required to sit through a training session.
“The two most important things I can tell you,” explains our bilingual dreadlocked guide, “is don’t go to sleep cold, and under no circumstances go to sleep wet.” Put your glasses on the bedside table (made of ice) and it will soon be part of the installation. Spending the night in a hotel made of snow and ice requires a rather adventurous guest. It becomes clear that those seeking luxury and comfort will prefer your run-of-the-mill thawed hotel.
All guests are assigned lockers in the Celsius, where we’ll you’ll find bathrooms and showers. Nothing goes into your room except your pajamas, boots and outdoor jacket. And while the builders have invented ice glasses to serve chilled vodka cocktails, they haven’t invented ice plumbing, so no, there are no toilets in the ice hotel. Beds sit on a piece of wood atop blocks of ice, with carved ice headboards and striking sculptures in the 1.2m thick walls. We are shown how to wrap ourselves in our cocoon sleeping bags, which are designed for -30°C conditions, and therefore should have no problem keeping us warm at night. Slide into the bag liner, then into the bag itself, blow out the candles, and turn off the glow lights with the switch cleverly built directly into your ice bed. Couples expecting a hot, passionate night in their Winter Wonderland are in for a disappointment. Exposed skin is simply not a good idea, and the sleeping bags are designed for a snug, solo fit. Although being Quebec, a province of passion, the designers merely ask that you get creative. How else to explain the naked, life size couple staring at my bed? Or the hands grafted onto the headboard suggesting a night of icy consummation? Perhaps there’s a connection between hot thoughts and body warmth.
Before bed time, there’s plenty of time to explore the large, public areas. Music thumps in the ice bar, where 400 people can gather to drink and dance, and you never have to ask the friendly bartenders for ice in your cocktails. The chapel hosts dozens of weddings each year, with guests sitting on benches covered in deer skin, and doors covered in fur. There’s a room explaining the annual theme, sponsor exhibits, slides for adults and kids, and the fresh smell of ozone in the air. Overnight guests are encouraged to hit the hot tubs and dry sauna before they go to sleep, warming up the body for the night ahead. I arrived after the Celsius kitchen had closed, so the attendant at the front desk, staffed 24 hours a day, ordered me a pizza. I half expected it to arrive in a frozen box. Light snow is falling when I leave the hot tub, shower, put on my thermal underwear, and get ready for the night ahead. Please, please, please don’t let me need to pee in the middle of the night! Everything is locked up, making it exceptionally easy for guests to vacate by 8:30am, staff to collect sleeping bags, and the rooms to open for public viewing tours by 9:30am. No housekeeping required, other than raking the floor and straightening out the fur covers on the bed and benches. The hotel has been built, and rebuilt, since 2001, and is open from the first week in January until the last week of March.
Lying in the deep silence and darkness of my room, I wonder if the builders and designers are heartbroken to watch their efforts melt each spring, or excited at the potential to start fresh each season? How many other hotels can literally reconfigure themselves each year? Watching the vapour of my breath, I lie awake, wide-eyed and aware of just how unique this experience is. 99% of overnight guests stay for one night. Dress warm and prepare for an adventure.