Jan 24th
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Winter Fun at Quebec's Ice Hotel

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Chill out at Canada's Ice Hotel
and have a N'Ice Stay

Quebec's Ice Hotel on Lac St. Joseph“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. And the hotel gets its name, not surprisingly, from the fact that nearly everything in the structure is made of frozen water. That includes the walls, ceilings, beds, furniture, chandeliers, and even the glasses you drink from at the bar.

We took our kids to this unique hotel for our winter vacation this year. A frozen wonder, the elegant snow fort for kids of all ages takes almost 6 weeks to build. The Ice Hotel 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 Sweden’s Ice Hotel and some guests have experienced both of them.
Visit the N’Ice Club for a drink (hot chocolate is available for the kids) but be careful where you set down your glass as they tend to slip off the bar. The jolly disco beat is bound to get you all up rocking to the music. Families dance happily with groups of other families or on their own. No wall flowers, rejection, or cold shoulders here!

If time allows you can take a tour of the hotel for $14, or you can join the adventurous and spend a night here in temperatures that hover between 23 and 28 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 2 to minus 5 Celsius). Staying over is by far the best part. And, trust me, you won’t freeze.
Guests take an information class that shows how to get into the mummy bags that come with every room – they’re 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, of course, would be too corny. In one of the romantic rooms the ice bed is shaped like a large sleigh.

A bedroom iced with sunflowersBefore bedtime, however, the best practice is soaking in the outside hot tub to increase your core temperature. Like everyone else, you’ll need to wear your winter hat during your outdoor soak, then you dry off in the dry sauna and put your spa robe (provided by the hotel), boots, and hat on for the trek to your room. Clothes for the next day go at the bottom of your mummy sleeping bag so they stay warm and toasty. Our kids thought this part was hilarious and loved all the squirming to get into their mummy bag.

The secret to a good night’s sleep, when told by the staff, is actually to make sure you don’t breathe inside your sleeping bag as that would cause humidity and you’d eventually get very cold. We’re advised that even wearing that day’s socks to bed can do the same thing, so be sure to put on fresh dry socks right before you climb into your mummy bag.

The beds are surprisingly comfortable and no, we’re not sleeping on ice itself, although the outside of the bed is made from the frozen water. The inside of the bed is built of wood, with comfy foam padding on top. A pillow is provided inside the hood of the mummy bag. You can leave your snow boots outside the bag, they’ll be fine in the morning. Oh, and we’re also advised to not wear cotton, even if it’s what your thermals are made of. Cotton, once it gets wet with perspiration, makes you feel very cold. If you wish, the whole family can snuggle together in their individual mummy bags on one bed for extra warmth.

After checking out the hot tub, dancing the night away in the Disco, and admiring the ice chandelier, then you and the kids can look for the Himalayas photo exhibit with its pictures of the trek to the world’s highest mountains. This helped us feel glad we’re only spending one night in the cold. Those explorers did it for much longer and in hazardous conditions! Brrrr!

At breakfast the next day, our family joined the proud, beaming faces of the fellow young and old snow warriors who all survived our one night of sub-zero temperatures. Yes, most folks only stay one night -– we are creatures of comfort, after all. We and our fellow travelers regale each other with stories of how long it took us to get to sleep, how warm we felt in our mummy bags, and how surprised we all were to don our snow boots still remarkably dry and comfortable before heading for the hot showers in the warm locker room.

Sad though were the faces of a few visitors who imbibed too much and had to exit their sleeping bags during the freezing cold nightime hours, don warm clothes and visit the bathroom!

And then return and go through the whole undressing-and-back-into-the-mummy bag-again process. Some guests admitted that they didn’t make it back down from the lodge, situated several yards away outside, and they ended up deciding to sleep the rest of the night in the heated locker room area! We were glad we’d limited the kids as to how much hot chocolate they drank the night before.

As mentioned, tours of the Ice Hotel without an overnight stay are available from $14 and over Warming hands around the fire.70,000 -people each year come for the tour alone. Since this is a large part of the hotel’s revenue, the rooms are open to the public during the day and into the evening. Guests get access to their room between the hours of 9:00 pm and 8.30 am. With so much going on outside and in other parts of the hotel, this is more than ample time to spend in your icy room.

Activities outside the hotel include cross-country skiing, ice fishing, snow shoeing, dog sledding, and ice-skating. Or you can simply stay warm by eating. The food at the Ice Hotel restaurant 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.

The next day our family headed back home to California to cozy temperatures of 50 degrees. Snow- boots and thermals packed away, we had thoroughly enjoyed the Ice Hotel near Quebec and all it had to offer. The kids were quite happy as well – they got bragging rights with all their friends at school for actually sleeping all night in a cozy mummy bag in a real ice hotel. “It was awesome, I never knew they could do so much with ice,” said Christine, my 10 year old daughter.

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 our family, for one, has frozen in our memory.

More Information:

--Sheila O'Connor is from San Francisco and writes about family travel, parenting and women's issues. She travels with her kids, David, Andrew, and Christine. Photo Credits: John Jeremy


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