The great white north–Canada–provides many opportunities for adventures that celebrate winter, particularly of the frozen snow and ice kind. While skiing, skating, and snowmobiling may be the first things to pop into your mind, there’s an even greater adventure to be had inside the snow and ice, instead of on it! In fact, here are some tips on how to survive your stay at Quebec’s Ice Hotel or igloos and have an awesome sleep while you’re doing it.
Staying at the Ice Hotel or Hôtel de Glace
The Hôtel de Glace is the only ice hotel in North America. Jukkasjärvi, a village 200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle in Sweden, is home to the world’s first ice hotel, plus there are now a few others in Norway, Romania and Finland.
In Quebec, the first thing you notice at the ice hotel is the evergreen trees, the only color in a white world, especially if it’s a foggy day. In fact, it looks like something the wicked witch might have made with snow instead of gingerbread.
Here are some things to know about the Ice Hotel, which operates from the beginning of January to the middle of March:
- The Ice Hotel has been operating since New Year’s Day, 2001.
- The hotel is 5 km north of Quebec City with the Laurentian Mountains providing a scenic backdrop.
- It currently has 42 rooms and theme suites.
- Like other hotels, the rate is set by how “fancy” the room is, ranging from ornate themed ice carved designs and real burning fireplaces to plain snow packed walls.
- The temperature inside the hotel ranges from 25 to 30 degrees.
- The Ice Hotel has electric lighting inside.
Inside Quebec’s Ice Hotel
The Ice hotel seems deceptively simple until you get inside. If you’ve never built snow forts as a kid, it may be hard to imagine what you’ll see there, which of course is lots of snow. While the amount of snow and ice required to build it varies from year to year, it’s still in the neighborhood of 20,000 tons of snow and 500,000 tons of ice. Since the walls are up to four feet thick, it takes a lot!
Even if you don’t plan to spend the night, you can visit the hotel and experience some of its wonder. From the entrance, the Great Hall is the first area you visit, an impressive cavern with ice carvings and an ice chandelier. As you might guess, the icy non-denominational chapel is the wedding destination of many winter-loving couples every winter, along with a night cuddling in front of the fireplace in their suite.
During the day, all of the bedrooms, including the suite, are open for visitors to wander through. Even if you’re not an art aficionado, the amazing ice carvings that make up the headboards and room decorations are bound to impress.
My favorite room, though, was the bar. There, you can belly–err–thump up to ice counter with your winter boots and order a cocktail.
But there’s a twist. Drinks come in see-through stubby glasses made of specially distilled water. The good news is that the “glass” won’t even stick to your lips when you try to drink, as cold things typically do. And if you decide to stay, you can even dance the evening away to music echoing through the icy pillars.
How to Survive a Night at the Ice Hotel
Once the open tours of the Ice Hotel close for the day, it’s time for the real fun to begin and the adventurers to prepare for the night.
It all starts with lessons that show you step-by-step how to climb into your sleeping bag and get everything all fastened down properly, right to the drawstring that tightens the top around your head, leaving only your eyes, nose and mouth sticking out. To me, the instructor looked like he was stuffed into a baby bunting bag!
While the countdown to bedtime winds down and you’re sipping a cocktail, you can try out the ice slide that shoots you onto the snow-packed dance floor. It’s a popular activity for kids staying over with their parents. But since I’m not even overly fond of waterslides, I skipped that one.
During the sleeping bag demonstration you’re given some tips to help ensure your adventure ends with a whole night on “ice,” so to speak. The most important is to take a dip in one of the outdoor hot tubs and raise your body temperature, which I highly recommend. The night I stayed was snowy, so in addition to warming up, I had the surreal experience of sitting in a steamy tub watching snowflakes as big as butterflies float down and disintegrate on impact, whether that was on my skin or the water.
After the tub wasn’t so surreal.
In fact, during the mad dash to my bed I frosted over like a snow cone. Tossing my coat on the snow floor, I wiggled into my fleece socks and pyjamas, then dived into the bag, pulling my clothes in after me. I’ll freely admit I didn’t follow many of the tips (e.g. sleep nude) given with our sleeping bag training.
However, I did have the best sleep ever with the sleeping bag pulled completely over my head with the hood laces tied just loose enough to leave me a nice little air hole. In fact, the attendants had to chase me out in the morning so the hotel could open for tourists to go through!
And if you’re wondering what happens if you don’t make it all night, Hôtel de Glace has that covered. In fact, your reservation includes a room at the Hôtel Valcartier on the same night as your stay, so you have somewhere for your luggage and a morning-after shower.
Before you leave the next day, you can have some outdoor fun, too, at the Village Vacances Valcartier winter playground.
Stay in an Igloo at Auberge Le P’tit Bonheur
If you’d like to take on winter for the night, but want a lower price tag, you can try sleeping in an igloo at Auberge Le P’tit Bonheur. It’s also just 20 minutes from Quebec City, similar in distance to the Hôtel de Glace.
Of course, many peoples who live in the great white north have built igloos, or traditional snow houses, for millennia. Igloos can be large and roomy, so a whole family could spend a winter comfortably inside, or small and cozy, which is the kind of igloo I slept in. In fact, there was just room for two of us to wiggle through the opening and stretch out on our mattresses thrown over caribou hides on the packed snow.
And the sleep? Well, equipped once again with top quality fleece pyjamas and socks, and that -40 degree sleeping bag, I slept like a baby. Experts claim that’s because of higher oxygen levels in the environment, plus, of course, it’s incredibly dark. So dark, you’re wise to wear a flashlight headband, so you can find your way around!
You also have other sleeping options at Le P’tit bonheur including a stay in their private rooms, sleeping in a dormitory, or in the teepees. And when it comes to winter adventures in the daylight, Auberge Le P’tit has all of those too, including dog sledding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and ice fishing.
More Places to Visit in Quebec
About the Photo
The photo in the header was taken by Linda Aksomitis at the Ice Hotel (Hôtel de Glace) in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.