A review of the cold accommodations
Ice hotels - including one in Sweden and another outside Quebec City - have appeared in countless magazines, often as backdrops for winter fashion photographs. The buildings, which include guest rooms, bars, art galleries and wedding chapels, are made almost entirely of ice, and they are dazzling. But would you want to spend a night in one? Given that you can tour the Ice Hotel by day for 15 Canadian dollars (about $13 at 1.17 Canadian dollars to the U.S. dollar) and that an overnight will cost at least 400 Canadian dollars, it's a fair question. Here's my answer, based on a one-night stay last January: Spending a night in a room at 23 to 28 degrees Fahrenheit is an adventure. But if you've done it once, there's no reason to do it again. So plan to stay just one night. And, while you're at it, book a backup room at a "regular" hotel. That gives you an out if you just can't bear the cold. I slept like a log, but having the backup room meant that I had a nice warm place to shower in the morning.
The Ice Hotel Quebec-Canada is about 30 minutes west of Quebec City, and three hours northeast of Montreal. It is built each winter on the grounds of the Station Touristique Duchesnay, a large resort with snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, skating, ice-fishing and dog sledding. The biggest and newest building, the Auberge Duchesnay, is surrounded by older, lodgelike buildings. You'll be eating in the auberge; backup rooms are 157 Canadian dollars there, or 127 Canadian dollars in one of the lodge buildings.
Every one is different; some suites even have fireplaces, and one has a hot tub, too. In each case, there's a bed consisting of a block of ice covered with a thick foam mattress and a fleece sheet, on which you unfurl a sleeping bag (provided by the hotel) just before turning in.
Set in the courtyards of the Ice Hotel, the bathrooms are prefab buildings, like those you might find at an outdoor rock concert. You won't see these in Vogue.
One courtyard, accessible only to overnight guests, includes a sauna and two hot tubs. In the two bars, with 18-foot vaulted ceilings, drinks are served "in the rocks" (in glasses made of ice).
The website contains a list of things you're expected to pack, including thermal underwear. When you arrive, you'll be shown how to use your sleeping bag; as part of a half-hour-long orientation you'll also be told where to stow your gear (if you don't have a backup room) and what to do in case of an emergency. Then it's time for dining in the Auberge, drinking in the bar and seeing how quickly you can get to sleep. The sleeping bag was more than adequate to keep me warm, and I never bothered with the long johns. Nonetheless, when I first opened my eyes, at around 6 a.m., I was ready to flee the room - my sleeping bag was clammy, and the prospect of using the bathroom unappealing. So I raced up a hill to my room in the lodge, proud that I had made it through the night and ready to rejoin civilization.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Ice Hotel Quebec-Canada will open for the season on Jan. 5 and will close on April 1 - or when the building melts. "The last two weeks of March are very unpredictable," said Sylvain Auclair, a hotel spokesman. Rooms start at 398 Canadian dollars per night, for one or two people. If you book a backup room, there's no reason you can't let friends or family use it. They'll get to see the Ice Hotel, at little or no cost, and you'll have access to their heating.
The Ice Hotel Quebec-Canada, 143 Route Duchesnay Pavillon Regie, Ste.-Catherine-de-la-Jacques-Cartier, Quebec, (877) 505-0423; www.icehotel-canada.com.