Spending the Night in a Canadian Ice Hotel
I wiggled myself into my thermal sleeping bag and extinguished the candle on my nightstand to hunker down for the challenge of sleeping the entire night in a pretty cool accommodation: an ice hotel.
Located in the Canadian province of Quebec, Hôtel de Glace is exactly what its name implies (glace is French for “ice”). Built anew every December, this winter attraction starts with snow — 30,000 tons worth — that is continuously churned out from snow blowers to build the hotel’s foundation. Ice is then involved in the building process. Blocks are partially used in the construction but also get turned into furniture and become stands for the hotel’s bar area.
Hôtel de Glace opens for business after the New Year in January and stays in operation until March (this year, it will shut down on March 26). Although it debuted in 2001, Hôtel de Glace has been on the grounds of Village Vacances Valcartier, a resort and spa about 20 minutes from Quebec City, since 2016. My reservation included the booking of a same-night hotel room at the main resort, where guests can keep their luggage and retreat to before and after their stay.
For visitors who might shiver at the idea of sleeping over, there are a number of scheduled tours of the property, offering peeks into different rooms and suites. These include a stop at the hotel’s lounge/bar area, with the opportunity to order a specialty cocktail served in a glass made from ice. The grounds also include a chapel with fur-covered seats, where weddings may be celebrated, and a side building displaying a collection of ice sculptures.
The 2017 version of Hôtel de Glace holds 44 rooms and suites, the bar/lounge, and a play area with a slide. Each sleeping accommodation is graced with wall carvings with various winter-like themess, but the furnishings are mostly a bed with a mattress with an icebox base and a nightstand.
Overnight guests of the ice hotel attend a mandatory sleep session, when a hotel employee advises you on how to prepare for bedtime. For PJs, you’re told not to wear any cotton-based clothing (as it soaks up moisture) but instead put on light ones made of synthetic materials. You don’t want to be over-layered either, as you will break into a night sweat; you’ll be your own body heater. If you’re getting hot inside your sack, take off what’s excess. (Our guide suggested that you could sleep naked, as this helps body heat circulate more, but I decided not to go that far).
As for what else you’ll be sleeping in, your main gear will be a cocoon-like sleeping sack (washed daily, we were assured) with a hoodie that you worm your way into and close up with a side zipper and strap. We’re also given a visual demo on getting into it, which reinforced the fact that some wiggling would be involved.
There is also a number of don’ts. Don’t: Put objects like jewelry (as I asked) or eyeglasses on your ice-made nightstand; you’ll find them frozen to the stand in the morning. Don’t: Take your sleeping sack out of its waterproof holding bag before we’re ready settle down for the night; it will get crispy and cold.
Of course, another important issue was addressed: what we needed to do if we had to use the bathroom. Basically, you have to get out of your sack, quickly put on your boots and any needed outdoor gear to leave your room, and head to an outdoor area with heated and lighted portable toilets (so go easy on drinking.) Leave your sack zipped up to retain its heat. Your room door consists of a curtain and your morning wake-up call involves staffers giving you a shout (last call comes at 8:30 a.m., so be out at least before 9 a.m. or you might wake up to find a tour group staring at you.)
Our stay also included access to an outdoor hot tub and sauna area, where guests can properly warm up and dry off before going to bed. But then I envisioned a mad dash in my provided robe to escape the reminding cold air and decided to pass on it.
Overnight guests at Hôtel de Glace are let into their rooms at 9 p.m. My game plan for the night was to first go for a cocktail at one of the three bar sections and then run back to my room at Village Vacances Valcartier to get dressed and use the toilet one last time. I also wanted to secure my snow-colored room key inside my pocket.
Apparently, there is no curfew inside Hotel de Glace, so guests can opt to return to their room at Village Vacances Valcartier at any time, particularly if they decide that they want to sleep there instead. I wasn’t sure I would stay the entire night in my ice room, but I figured I’d see how I felt – and how cold I would feel.
Room 41 was mine. It was cozy, reminding me of a studio apartment. I found my bed to be reasonably firm and the light switch readily accessible. I pulled out my sleep sack and put my boots inside its holding bag to keep them from freezing. While trying to fully remember my given instructions, I wormed my way into the sack. I tugged up the zipper and crunched myself down inside, while wearing my well-approved long johns and knit socks, along with gloves, snow pants, hat, and ski jacket (I tend to err on the side of caution). As an extra feeling of security, I kept one hand warmer inside one glove and another in a lined pocket. I pulled over my sleep sack hoodie and after a bit of maneuvering to get comfortable and removing a slightly sweaty hat, I slept. I woke up a bit during the night, but rolled back into a steady slumber.
Startled awake by my morning wakeup call, I unzipped myself, got dressed, left my sack on the bed, and headed out. Going back to my hotel room at Village Vacances Valcartier, I rewarded myself with a warm shower, put on a change of clothes, and headed down for breakfast inside the restaurant area. I don’t know if I would book a repeat reservation, but it’s interesting to check a stay at a place like Hôtel de Glace off my bucket list.