Ice Hotel

Hot Ticket, Cool Luxury

There is no hotter ticket in Canada for the first ninety days of each year than a room at the famous Ice Hotel west of Quebec City. In the tradition of Harry Houdini, this one-of-a-kind structure of cool blue ice magically appears each winter and disappears with the thawing of spring. But while it stands erect, exuding its mythical blue aura, those seeking accommodations in the 34 distinctive rooms or Theme suites, will have to jostle with the sheiks, movie stars and oil barons ahead of you. This hip, international “Ice Pack” of clients makes their reservations as much as two years in advance.

As bizarre as it sounds, the Ice Hotel’s four-foot thick ice walls creates a solid insulation and produces a constant temperature, much like a “Thermos”. Surprisingly, the temperatures inside the Ice Hotel remain constant between -2° to –5° Celsius. What this really means, as guests try to sleep through a typically cold Quebec night in January or February, is that the exterior temperature may be –28° Celsius or worse, but the interior temperature will never fall below –4° Celsius. Positively tropical!

Covering a total surface of 3,000 square meters (30,000 square feet), the Ice Hotel is a tremendous construction undertaking, carefully timed and tuned to Mother Nature’s wintry pulse. In fact, 12,000 tons of snow and 400 tons of ice will be used during the five weeks it takes to build this feat of architecture. The earlier the Artic air masses begin to descend, the better for this temporary hotel enterprise.

If you are still speaking to each other after a night of surely unusual dimensions inside this romantic fairy-tale setting, you might even be game for exchanging vows here. The Ice Hotel Chapel will surprise even the most cynical, and Bride’s Magazine, the ultra conservative wedding yardstick, seems to agree. They featured an extensive spread in their September 2005 issue extolling the many virtues of tying the knot here.

To finish a day of nuptials, why not spend the night in one of the Theme Suites? Just before heading off to bed, enjoy a trip to the hot tub and sauna to complete a wedding night few can boast of having experienced. There are actually three different wedding packages to choose from: Magical, Exotic or Idyllic.

Whether you actually wed inside their chilly chapel or not, you can heighten any experience here by combining it with a range of add-on activities: Adventure Inukshuk (dog sledding), Portneuf Adventure (snowmobiling), Catshalac (Ice fishing), and Duchesnay (cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, and skating). I think it must have been the Ice Hotel Canada founder and CEO, Jacques Desbois, who coined the phrase, “To enjoy winter at its best, you must embrace the outside”.

To make it easier for folks to do just that, the Ice Hotel relocated itself inside the amazing provincial park system in Québec, and is now able to offer visitors an encyclopaedic choice of winter activities. Even smarter is the onsite option of using “normal” overnight accommodations inside rustic lodges, rooms and villas on the shores of the Lake Saint-Joseph.

The Ice Hotel accommodations come with an appropriate level of price tags, ranging from a weeknight for two at $595, to a weekend night Theme Suite for a family of four at $1595. Any of the overnight prices amazingly include two rooms; you get another private room at the Station Ecotouristique Duchesnay thrown in, just in case you are unable to sleep through the entire night in your frosty igloo.

The nightly tariff also incorporates cocktails in the Absolut Bar, one four-course dinner in the lodge and a full buffet breakfast the next morning, plus all gratuities, equipment and access to the hot tubs, sauna and the Ice Hotel itself during the day. Considering the level of exclusivity to this hotel (see sidebar), the prices are a great deal. No wonder they are booked so far in advance.

To embrace the winter with a little motorized help, there are separate snowmobile packages offered which include a 550 cc machine for one or two people, gas and oil, Artic clothing (boots, mittens, snow suit and cowl), visor and helmet, license and map of the trails. This allows winter vacationers a glorious chance to venture off into the pristine wilds of one of the snowiest regions in the country!

Day passes can be purchased and amount to an exceptional dollar-for-dollar value (adults $30/kids$15), as they include the services of the Interpretation Centre, a discover/rally site, access to the walking trails, an eco-tour, forest orientation, forest survival, snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, skating, snow slides and the games room.

If it sounds a little scary to be “out there” in the bush alone, you can alternately book a guide to go with you, but there must be at least two of you for this privilege, to a max of six snowmobiles per guide. One of the favourite rides through this wilderness domain in and around the Ice Hotel is the moonlight sojourn. If you are lucky enough to experience this romp on the night of a full moon, you are guaranteed to remember the light spectacle on the surface of the snow for the rest of your life.

The level of services and activities at Ice Hotel/Duchesnay is so unusual and diverse, that it is becoming one of the most popular special event and corporate retreat choices in North America. More and more groups and family celebrations are opting to book the whole gang into the complex, knowing that the vast array of activities, combined with the unorthodox accommodations, truly set it apart from other locales and assures any gathering of being memorable.

The royal treatment prevails here for group events with ice logos, a red carpet welcome, ice-sculpture and ice-carving demonstrations, ice bars and ice glasses, first-class live entertainment, hot and cold buffets and even fireworks. Corporate incentive types will also appreciate the Ice Hotel/Duchesnay combo as the ideal winter resort to sequester their team during think-tank retreats.

Digging in to the challenges of motivational tooling and team building in the morning, the group can then enjoy the rest of their day dog sledding, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, attending igloo construction workshops, ice sculpture and ice-carving workshops. Needless to say the hot tubs, saunas and Absolut Bar are popular destinations in the aftermath of such mental and physical pursuits.

The particular nature and location of our beloved Ice Hotel Canada, beckons you to visit, whether overnight, or as a day guest. Either way, you are sure to appreciate the magic and poetry of this singular achievement by Monsieur Desbois and company. This is the hottest ticket to cool luxury anywhere in North America, but you must hurry….it will be melting soon!