When my girlfriend from college, Jessica, who I went to Orlando with this past summer, and I were trying to decide what to do this winter, we had a few ideas. We thought about diving with the Manatees in Florida (which I hope to do next January) and we discussed ice climbing, but then I saw a Groupon for one of the things I’ve wanted to do most on my list: Stay in an ice hotel. Considering staying in an ice hotel is typically crazy expensive ($800 a night), this was both great timing and a great deal at “only” $250 a night.
I first talked about ice hotels back in 2010. Back then, this is what I had to say about Hotel de Glace: “Apparently I’ve not given “Northern Montana” enough credit! Packages can include dogsledding and hot tubs and saunas under the stars. More expensive per night than Romania but I have a feeling that traveling to Quebec is slightly less expensive than adventuring to the depths of Transylvanian mountains in the Winter.” Little did I know then I’d find myself there 4 years later!
Flights were booked and plans were made and the second weekend of February found me flying to New Hampshire to meet up with Jessica. After hanging in New Hampshire for a couple of days in which time we went to a ice fishing derby where I stood on a frozen lake for the first time in my life and saw ice fishing and “bob” houses for the first time, we got on the road to make the 5+ hour trip to Quebec City, Canada.
We were in Quebec City at the same time as their Winter Carnaval and I’ll talk more in depth about QC and the fun and firsts experienced there in a separate post.
Jes and I checked in at the Hotel de Glace about 7pm. After a quick self-tour of the ice hotel, we found our room. When I had booked there was only one room available the night I needed so I had “upgraded” to a suite, which just meant it was a room that had been specially decorated. (The regular rooms were plain with no designs on the walls and were much smaller).
This was ours:
Ice is really hard to photograph. But seriously. This was awesome.
At 7:30pm we had to attend an information session to learn how to sleep in an ice room. For the night I had wool long underwear, wool socks, and a super duper Patagonia R4 fleece. I was instructed to first put on new socks (not the sweaty socks I had been wearing all day) and then stand on the bed (not the ice floor) and step into a liner, that was like a thin sleeping bag made of a sheet. Wearing the liner, I was to squiggle into my mummy sleeping bag, rated to keep me warm in the 22 degree temps of the room. Drawing the elastic strings tight around my head, only my face would be exposed. I was assured I would be completely warm. In fact, many people complain that they are too warm. I found out that was not particularly true in my case…
Jes and I continued to explore, visiting the Chapel and taking a few trips down their ice slide. We ooohh and aaahhhed over other rooms.
We made our way to the Ice Bar, which I’ve had numerous experiences with (here, here, and here). But it never gets old! And in this case I wasn’t limited to just 30 minutes. Jes and I had a few drinks and just sat back and enjoyed the experience.
After enjoying our drinks at the bar we made our way to the locker rooms to put on our bathing suits and venture out into -12 degree weather to the hot tubs. Under the stars we enjoyed relaxing in the hot tubs and I marveled at ice forming in my wet hair. When we finally got brave enough to do the inevitable, I found that my flip flops had also turned to ice and it was like trying to put bricks on my feet. In nothing but robes we ran to the sauna to dry off and get warm again. And then it was time to prepare for bed.
After drying off and getting dressed we went to our room. I went first.
Once I was in the bag I was quite warm. It was immediately a little disconcerting that my face was exposed to 22 degree temperatures while the rest of my body was warm. But it was 1:30am and I had been busy and active all day and actually fell asleep pretty quickly.
Until I woke up due to cold feet. Once I was up, I was up. I kept trying to ignore them but realized finally that I wouldn’t be able to go to sleep if they were cold. While the rest of me was warm and bundled up, the long bag extended past my feet and I think there was an issue of lack of radiating heat down near my feet. I tried pulling my long johns down to cover my feet, giving me two layers there but that didn’t work at all. I was trying to avoid getting OUT of my sleeping bag, which would require putting my cold layers back on that had been in my bag out in the 22 degree temps and walking back to the locker room to retrieve new socks. So within the sleeping bag I became a contortionist and managed to wiggle out of my fleece and slip it down to my feet. I zipped up the fleece around my feet and tied my sleeves around them for good measure. I had found a solution.
I remained warm for the rest of the night although I wasn’t sound sleep. I woke up regularly to turn over and then it always took a bit to go back to sleep. When I would turn onto my side, I would turn within the bag, rather than the bag turning with me, meaning my air hole would be at my cheek and my face would be within the bag.
There was a skylight in the room and our “door” was just a curtain (no bother for doors, it’s not like anyone was going to walk in on you and find you indecent! You were always fully dressed in that cold!) so I at a certain point I could see that it was light outside as light streamed down the hallway. I just couldn’t tell what time it was. They were set to wake us up at 8am and I could tell people were already up and moving around. Both Jes and I were awake but were afraid it was still 5am and not time to get up yet. About the time we were talking about getting up, someone stuck their head in to let us know it was time. With our bedtime, wake time, and my cold feet time, I’d estimate I got about 5 hours of sleep, which honestly isn’t that bad.
After getting dressed and having breakfast, we re-toured the ice hotel during the day and saw lots of things we had completely missed at night. And then it was time to head back to the States. Our stay in a ice hotel was pretty magical. And really met my expectations. I never planned on getting the best night’s sleep; the stay was about the experience, not about comfort. Besides, I can sleep later. How many can say they stayed overnight in an ice hotel? Even the night we stayed several gave up and went down to the common area to sleep in chairs, sofas, and the floor rather than stick it out in the ice room.
I was so excited I got to be able to do this. This is easily one of the more awesome things I’ve done on my list.