Have you ever seen an activity that people were doing and thought in your head: "I could never do that" or "you would have to be crazy!" On my list of crazy things I would never do there is: swim in shark infested water, jump from building to building, spend more than a week at a time in a place with no electricity, etc. Well sleeping in the Hotel de Glace, was also on my list and it seems I need to stop making a list of things I would never do and switch it to a list of things out of my confort zone. (Maybe jumping from building to building is a bad idea though.)
Last winter, I got a new job working as a receptionist for Hotel Valcartier, a beautiful brand new hotel just outside of Quebec City. What I didn't know since I wasn't in Quebec last winter, was that the Hotel de Glace is now owned by Valcartier. So all winter, I got to check-in people that would sleep in Hotel Valcartier and people who would get the chance to sleep in the exclusive Hotel de Glace. The experience is not for everybody as you sleep in below freezing temperature in a room with no window, but as I saw everyone trying it and giving it a chance, the desire to try it for myself grew. And at last, at the end of March, one week before it was set to be destroyed for the season, I convinced one of my best friends to experience it with me!
What exactly is the Hotel de Glace
The Hotel de Glace is an hotel built entirely out of snow and ice. It takes a few months to build every year and it has been open from the beginning of January to the end of March for 18 years now. This year, 45 rooms were built, half of them themed suites. Every year a different theme is chosen by the team and the hotel is decorated with the most impressive ice sculptures representing the year's theme. This year, everything was about the circus. One room had sculptures of clowns, another, magic tricks or wild animals, all of them made out of ice or snow and accentuated by coloured lights. The end result is always breath-taking and magical.
How do you prepare for a night in the Hotel de Glace
Although the hotel is outside in the cold Canadian weather, the air inside is maintained between 0 and -5 degrees Celsius as the snow acts as insulation and regulates the temperature. You are also provided a sleeping bag created to keep you warm in -30 degrees Celsius temperature. So you don't need to wear four sweaters and 12 pairs of socks, just a light layer of comfortable clothing preferably made of synthetics or wool so it doesn't retain humidity. Bring extras so you can change right before bed and be sure to wear dry clothing. It is important to eat a good meal at dinner and not to drink too much as you don't want to have to get up to use the bathrooms during the night. Also, bring a bathing suit and flip flops so you can take advantage of the Arctic Spa which can help increase your body temperature before going to bed. I think the most important part is not to stress yourself out. It can seem intimidating and scary, but the experience is well organized and has been tested over the last 18 years: you'll be fine!
what it was like
We arrived pretty late as I was working during the day, so we started by having dinner at a pub close by and then made our way to the Ice Bar to participate in the activities organized by the night guide. It was fun to get to know the other participants as we would all experience a night in below freezing temperature at the same time. For those interested, you could also get a cocktail in an ice glass or a bottle of champagne to celebrate the special occasion. I also tried my hand at ice sculpting and it is even harder than it looks. I tried making an elephant and it ended up looking more like a koala. I guess I better stay at the front desk because they wouldn't hire me as an ice sculptor.
Once the activities were over, it was time to go put on our swimming suits and go for a relaxing dip in the hot tub. We put on our robes and walked in the snow in our flip flops to our private hot tub and sauna, courtesy of Valcartier (thanks to the management team for the upgrade in the Deluxe suite. It was definitely appreciated!) This was my favorite part. The hot tub and sauna are located in a small open room connected to the suite. The snow walls make you feel disconnected to the outdoor world as it is completely silent and you can look at the stars above you and just relax. We enjoyed a nice glass of wine and talked for hours while enjoying the bubbling water and the warmth of the sauna.
Once our fingers were wrinkly and we were feeling at peace and relaxed, it was time to dry off and go to sleep. Putting on the sleeping bag is a challenge as you need to take off your winter gear and stand on the bed to put it on and then tighten the collar so the cold air can't get in, but once you are settled, the lights are closed and you finally drift off, it is the best sleep of your life. I don't remember having ever slept that well. We both slept through the night... and through our first wake up call! Although we went to bed late and were woken up early, I woke up feeling energized and ready to take on the day. Until about 5 PM when I was ready to go back to bed.
Would I recommend it
Definitely! Like I said earlier, it is not for everyone, but I think it's an experience to try at least once. It was way easier and more confortable than I thought it would be as I am not a winter person. I hate being cold and I don't get all excited for the first snow, but this was a wonderful experience. The hotel looks like you've stepped in an ice palace and every little part is beautiful so although it is not the most glamorous destination as you are still kind of camping, the location makes you feel like you are in wonderland, or maybe Elsa's castle.
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