“Beautiful.  And frigid”.  That’s the comment left by one guest at Canada’s Ice Hotel on the shores of Lac St.-Joseph, about 20 minutes west of Quebec City.  And it gets its name, not surprisingly, from the fact that nearly everything in the hotel is made of frozen water.  That includes the walls, ceilings, beds, furniture, chandeliers—even the glasses you drink from at the bar.

Cold drinks at the N'Ice Club.

And this frozen wonder is a snow fort for kids of all ages.  It takes almost six weeks to build and is rebuilt every year, each time slightly different from the year before.  Over 12,000 tons of snow and 400 tons of ice are used.  Once the weather warms up, around early April, it takes a mere six hours to demolish it. The original idea came from the Ice Hotel in Sweden and some guests have experienced both of them.

Visit the N’Ice Club for a drink (hot chocolate is available) but be careful where you put your glass down, it tends to slip off the bar.  And the beat of the disco is bound to get you up rocking to the music. People dance happily in groups or on their own.  So there’s no need to worry about rejection or “getting the cold shoulder” here.

You can take a tour of the hotel or you can join the adventurous and spend a frozen night here in temperatures that hover between 23 and 28 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 2 to minus 5 Celsius). Staying over is by far the interesting part.

Stay warm in a mummy bag.

You take an information class that shows you how to get into your mummy bag—it’s warm enough for temperatures that go down to minus 40 degrees (your fridge, by the way is only minus 8 degrees).  Honeymooners get to zip their bags together and yes, there’s even a wedding chapel on the premises.  Makes you want to ask: “Did you get cold feet?” but that would be too corny.  Romantic rooms include the ice bed shaped like a sleigh and the Nephertite room.

The best practice is actually to go in the outside hot tub to increase your core temperature (you’ll need to wear your winter hat but don’t worry, everyone does, hats and hot tubs go surprisingly well together).  Then you dry off in the dry sauna and put your spa robe (provided), boots and hat on.  Your clothes for the next day go at the bottom of your sleeping back so they stay warm and don’t end up cold the next morning.

The secret to a good night’s sleep is actually to make sure you don’t breathe inside your sleeping bag as that would cause humidity and you’d eventually get cold.  Even wearing that day’s socks to bed can do the same thing, so be sure to put on fresh socks right before you climb in.


Cozy ice beds; the rooms are all unique,
different snow designs are on the walls.

The beds are surprisingly comfortable and don’t worry--you’re not sleeping on ice itself, although the outside of the bed is made from the frozen water.  Instead, the inside is built of wood, with a foam padding on top.  A pillow is provided inside the hood of the mummy bag.  Leave your snowboots outside the bag, they’ll be fine in the morning.  Oh, and don’t wear cotton, even if it’s what your thermals are made off. Cotton, once it gets wet with perspiration, makes you feel very cold.

Ice Hotel hallway; just how do they
get that chandelier to stay up there?

If you’re not checking out the hot tub or dancing the night away in the disco or admiring the ice chandelier (just how do they get it to stay up there?), then look for the Himalayan photo exhibit with its pictures of the trek to the world’s highest mountains. And feel glad you are only spending one night in the cold.  Those explorers did it for much, much longer and in hazardous conditions!  Brrrr!

At breakfast next day, you can see the proud, beaming faces of the snow warriors who survived their one night of sub-zero temperatures (most people only do it once, we are creatures of comfort, after all).  They regale their fellow travelers with stories of how long it took them to get to sleep, how warm they felt in their bag and how surprised they were to don their snow boots still remarkably dry and comfortable, before heading for the hot showers in the warm locker room of the auberge.

Looking out of the Ice Hotel at night:
the glow is other-wor
ldly and romantic.

Sad though, is the face of the visitor who had too much to imbibe (even if it wasn’t alcohol) and had to get out the sleeping bag to don warm clothes and make a bathroom visit in the wee small, freezing hours of the night, only to return and go through the whole undressing-and-back- into-the-bag-again process.  It’s not surprising that some just don’t make it back down from the lodge situated several yards away outside and end up carrying out the rest of their nights sleep in the heated locker room area!

Tours without an overnight stay are available from $14 and over 70,000 people each year come for the tour alone.  Since this is a huge part of the hotel’s revenue, rooms are open to the public.during the day and into the evening.  Guests get access to their room between the hours of 9pm and 8.30am.  With so much going on outside and in other parts of the hotel, this is more than ample time.

The Ice Hotel is only open in Winter.

Activities outside the hotel include cross-country skiing, ice-fishing, snow-shoeing, dog sledding and skating.  Or you can simply stay warm by eating.  The food at the Ice Hotel is to die for and you can enjoy options like cheese fondue (try the bread, cheese and a grape all in one mouthful) or the locally fished trout.

Next day this writer headed back to a cozy 50 degrees back home.  Snow boots and thermals packed away, I was surprisingly missing the Ice Hotel and all it had to offer.  Was it beautiful?  Breath-taking, like nothing you’ll see anywhere in North America .  Was it frigid?  Not for the adventurous in spirit.   More importantly, was it worth it?  Absolutely.  It’s an experience that I, for one, have frozen in my memory.

Feature and photos by Sheila O’Connor. Read the Jetsetters Magazine feature about Quebec City's Winter Carnival.