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Spend the Night in a Hotel Made of Ice

Published by Tammy Burns, Writer

Country: Canada

The Experience

The first thing they tell you at the Ice Hotel is not to put your head inside your sleeping bag. You’ll want to. It’s cold in the Ice Hotel and your nose will want to tuck itself under the covers to keep warm. But if you do, your warm breath will mix with the hotel’s cold air and you’ll end up with a sleeping bag with an opening coated in ice.

The Hotel de Glace in Quebec, Canada, is a boutique hotel made entirely of snow and ice – 20,000 tonnes of it. Redesigned and rebuilt every winter, it takes over a month to complete. Construction begins in December, when steel frames and wooden walls are mounted as a base. Snow is then blown over the frames and, once the snow and ice hardens (usually after three days), the frames are removed and the Ice Hotel is left standing, ready for a grand re-opening every January.

The name Ice Hotel isn’t an exaggeration. Everything inside the hotel is made of ice. The hotel’s café has tables and chairs made of ice, a counter made of ice, and even glasses made of ice. There’s an ice chapel with pews and an altar made of ice, and an ice discotheque where clubbers get their groove on in full snowsuits while a DJ spins from a stage made of ice.

The rooms are like little snow caves, windowless, with curtains instead of a door. Inside the suites, ice and snow sculptures adorn the walls, and ice couches and chairs with snow “cushions” are the only furniture apart from the bed. In all the rooms, beds are wooden frames encased in ice. A mattress draped with animal pelts provide a cushion to sleep on and some protection from the cold around you. Some rooms boast fireplaces, but all the heat is piped outside of the hotel, lest you risk melting your room. At night, the room is eerily quiet, all the sounds of life muffled by the thick snow walls around you.

But before a night in the Ice Hotel can begin, guests must sit through a lesson on how to not get frostbite while they sleep. Gathered in the early evening in the main (heated) lodge next to the Ice Hotel, they are soothed by the warmth of the lodge’s roaring fireplace and sip cups of hot chocolate while a staff member holds up one of the arctic sleeping bags that are supplied by the hotel. The sleeping bags are good to minus 30 degrees, and since it’s normally minus 3 to minus 5 degrees inside the hotel, staff will assure you that you shouldn’t have any problem staying warm.

The lesson then begins: a step-by-step demonstration of how to climb inside an arctic sleeping bag. First, there’s the inner layer that fits snug against your body and forces you to wiggle yourself in, squirming like a giant inchworm. Then, you manoeuvre your constricted body into the outer layer of the sleeping bag and pull a hood over your head. You zip yourself up, pull the drawstrings on the hood, and the only pieces left exposed are your eyes, nose, and mouth. You’re ready for a night in the Ice Hotel.

Just remember that rule about your head.

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When to Go to Ice Hotel Quebec

The only time of year to visit the Ice Hotel is from the first week of January to the last week of March.

Although the hotel opens in January, it often isn't fully completed at the time of opening. It's best to go in February when the temperature is sure to be at its coldest and the hotel will be in full swing.

Odds n' Ends

Soak in one of the hot tubs immediately before going to bed; the warm water will raise your body temperature, which will keep the inside of your sleeping bag warm.

At night, wear different clothes than you had on earlier in the day. This includes fresh socks, underwear – everything. Worn clothes will be damp from having been on your body all day. Also, sleep in light, non-cotton clothing. Dress too warmly, and you’ll sweat and wake up with the chills. Cotton retains humidity and will make you feel damp – and cold – all night. The Hotel de Glace's website (www.icehotel-canada.com) has a list of suggested clothing.

Don’t put your head inside your sleeping bag! Take it from experience, after this writer learned the hard way when she woke up with the inside of her sleeping bag coated in a layer of ice.

Don't worry - the bathrooms are indoors and fully heated, so you won't have to sit on a toilet made of ice. However, the washrooms are communal, so you'll have to make a mad dash from your room and down the hall. It's best to make sure you go before you get undressed and into your sleeping bag for the night!

A night at the Ice Hotel will cost around $350 per person. The price includes dinner and breakfast at the neighbouring (indoor, heated) hotel, Auberge Duchesnay.

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