The Ice Hotel in Quebec City is exactly what the name implies — a hotel made of ice and snow. Technically, the hotel in Quebec City that I stayed in is called The Hôtel de Glace. The original Ice Hotel is in Sweden and since Quebec is a French speaking province and the hotel here is owned by a different company, we must call it The Hôtel de Glace. (Glace is French for ice, in case you hadn’t picked up on that).
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Building an Ice Hotel in Quebec City
A visit to the Hôtel de Glace is a must-see-and-do during Winter Carnaval, but it is a separate entity. Starting about December 1, workers begin constructing forms for what will be four-feet thick walls of snow. Then up goes the arched doorways and the roof. Construction continues 24 hours a day until opening about January 1. The season ends with the spring thaw – obviously.
The walls act as insulation, so even though some nights — like the night I was there — it’s -20° F, it’s a consistent +22° inside.
Now, put your critical thinking skills to work and think about plumbing and frozen pipes. Yep, no bathrooms indoors. Bathrooms are all outdoor heated porta-potties, which are just delightful creations of mankind under the best of circumstances.
Now, consider it’s 3 a.m. and you’re all snugly warm in bed and nature calls.
Sleeping at The Ice Hotel
So you stay in bed, which is really a big queen-sized block of ice. Seriously. That big block of ice is covered by a piece of plywood, a thin mattress and some furry blankets. But you survive because each guest receives a Northface sleeping bag rated to -40°F and a mummy sack.
You know it’s going to be an unusual hotel stay when you have to attend a mandatory training session before going to your room.
The instructor advised us to first spend a good 15-20 minutes in the outdoor hot tubs in order to get our body temperatures as bubbly as possible. My colleagues and I did, and freaked out as icicles began forming on our hats, noses and ears or any body part out of the hot water for more than 30 seconds.
The most painful moments ever in my life were those 30 seconds or so it took to get out of that hot tub in -20° and run back into the nice, heated locker room.
If none of this sounds like something a sane individual would do, listen to the next advice that came from our training session. Our host told us NOT to sleep in anything cotton, that our pajamas should be of synthetic material because it holds less body heat that would transform into moisture and make us cold. In fact, she suggested that most people stay warm and toasty by sleeping nude.
Sleeping Naked at the Ice Hotel in Quebec
Yeah right, like I’m gonna sleep naked on ice. My momma raised no fool. However, I decided to experiment. I slept in a big baggy T-shirt and my lower half was not clothed, except for a fresh dry pair of socks. I wiggled into my bag, snuffed out my candle, and pulled my hat down over my face. Immediately warm and comfy, I fell asleep in just minutes.
About 3:30 a.m., I woke up shivering and guess what? It was just my upper body that was cold and damp. Below my waist, I was toasty and warm.
I couldn’t get warmed up again, so I cried uncle and ran back to the heated locker room to find a dozen other guests already there, asleep on the couches provided for such emergencies.
So that’s one I can check off my bucket list — been there, done that and don’t feel the need to do it again. But you should do it. And take my advice. Sleep naked!
And if you’re looking for a summer experience in the province of Quebec, check out the Magdalen Islands. I fell in love with this place out in the middle of the St. Lawrence Seaway.