Monday, January 29, 2007

Le Hotel de Glace

Has anyone seen that book "1000 Things to Do Before You Die"? I can't really recommend it since I find it way too Eurocentric, with about 10 pages devoted to the city of London, but a mere 2 devoted to the entire country of South Africa (give or take). So it bothers me to admit that the idea of staying at an Ice Hotel came as a result of that book. I was browsing through it, when I came across a blurb about the Swedish Ice Hotel. I casually mentioned to Shawn that it would be nice to stay there. He responded with an incredulous "You?! You would stay at an ice hotel?!!" What followed was an even more immediate realization on my part that now no matter what, hypothermia be damned, we would have to stay at an Ice Hotel. For economic reasons, the one in Sweden was replaced with the one in Quebec and the plans were set in motion.

For anyone not familiar with the Ice Hotel idea, it is exactly what it sounds like. It is a hotel which is erected every winter, using only ice and snow to build the rooms, furniture, glassware...pretty much everything you can think of. As a guest, you get to stay in an ice room, drink at the ice bar and get your groove on at the Club N'ice. At the moment, there are two "licensed" ice hotels, one in Sweden and the other in Quebec, and imitators are popping up all over the world. Come springtime, the entire thing is simply pushed into a nearby lake, only to be rebuilt the following year. I had all of this information going in, however, nothing could have prepared me for just how incredibly cool this is. (To get it out of the way early, when I refer to anything as 'cool' in this post, it is not a pun. Even I have some standards.)

Upon check-in, you are given a locker and key to store your belongings in a heated room, scheduled for an orientation later that evening and most importantly, given a blue tag to wear which identifies you as an overnight guest. As you wander the hotel among all the red-tagged day trippers, that blue tag becomes a badge of courage (some might say, stupidity, but why be so negative). You know that at some point, they are going to get into their warm bus and head back to Quebec City and a warm hotel room, while you, the blue tagger are in it for the long haul. You will soon be sleeping on an ice bed. By choice. The blue tag also singles you out to the staff so that they can make sure and tell you not to worry. You may be strolling through the lobby, marvelling at an ice sculpture and a guide will approach, make some small talk, declare that you should not worry, and walk away triumphant, knowing that their work here is done. For some reason (stupidity might actually be the right word this time), I was not initially worried. Excited, yes. Worried, no. Only after my fourth or fifth "don't worry", did I raise the alert level to "cautiously concerned". In retrospect, I realize that all this reassurance was not an encoded warning, it was just a result of their being so wonderfully Canadian. They just can not help but be nice. Even though the hotel that is visited by 75,000 people a year (!), I got the feeling that I was in a small family run B&B, they are simply that attentive. Even the workers putting in the finishing details will stop to ask how your day is going, all the while holding a running chain saw.

When the sun goes down, the hotel, which is lit by special fiber optic lights that run inside the walls, takes on a magical, dream-like quality. The colors continually change, the ambient music in the club gets just a bit louder and for the first time, I realized just how great it is that I was going to get to spend the night here. It was time to hit the ice bar...but before I could do that, I had to attend an orientation where they explain all the rules to be followed in order to get a full night's sleep in the thermal, coffin-shaped sleeping bag provided for all guests. As it turns out, there are quite a lot of rules, most of which I inadvertantly ended up disregarding in one way or another. The cardinal rule seemed to be not to sleep in anything made of cotton. Since cotton is a plant, it tends to absorb moisture, which, if you happen to be staying in an ice room, will quickly turn to ice. We were told that it is better to sleep nude than to sleep in cotton. I, however, do not have the same degree of faith in this sleeping bag as our instructor does, and even after noting that my long underwear is 50% cotton, decided that if I didn't sweat, there would be no moisture, thus no problem. Next rule is not to breathe directly into the bag. The bag has a small opening for your face and the idea is that if you tie it tightly enough no air will get in. Breathing into the bag would only introduce moisture, and we now know what that will lead to. When the time comes to sleep, I find that my nose is cold and I end up burrowing like a gopher deep into the bag, face and all. Soon to be violated rule number 3 is about our socks. We are instructed to put on a new pair of dry socks immediately before going to sleep. Any socks we are currently wearing contain the "m" word and should be avoided. Problem is I am wearing all the socks that I brought and have already pilfered a pair of Shawn's in an attempt to retain feeling in my toes, so used socks it will have to be. Rule #4 is the one that I tried hardest to comply with. We learn that the sleeping bag works by retaining body heat, so if you get into the bag cold, you are in for a rough sleepless night. For this reason, there is a hot tub and sauna located in the courtyard of the hotel. The plan once you are ready to sleep is to strip down in a heated locker room and then sprint as fast as you can to the jacuzzi. Once out of the jacuzzi, you warm up a bit more in the sauna, dry off in the locker room and then virtually oozing body heat, return to your room for a peaceful slumber. I did exactly as intructed, only upon leaving the locker room, I made a wrong turn and found myself lost and wandering the icy corridors. All I could think of was that I was losing precious body heat. Fortunately, it turns out that panic and frantic scrambling preserves body heat quite nicely. The last rule involved the following day's clothing. It is suggested that you place anything you are planning on wearing in the sleeping bag with you to keep it warm. I should have listened to that one. I had no idea jeans could get quite that cold. Incredibly, that was the only problem I ran into. I flagrantly disregarded almost every single rule presented to us and still I slept more soundly than I had in ages. It was so warm and womb-like in that sleeping bag that I am surprised I was not still sleeping when the day trippers arrived the following morning. Me, the one that was there basically because I had felt challenged. I had made it through the night and I had loved every second of it.

As you can see, I have posted some photos, but trust me when I tell you that the pictures don't even begin to capture this place. I can't begin to recommend it enough for anyone who wants to experience something truly unique. It's the coolest.


  1. Great article! But here, the story tells more than a picture's thousand words.

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  3. berti you are tremendous. that's a good read. a miamiite facing the elements. learning for the first time all those survival tips i used when i was ...five :P

    it's a balmy 6 degrees outside right now. -17 with the windchill. inspired by you, i'm heading out for a 5 mile walk. i thank allah for all this extra fat. picture 'march of the penguins' but with just me ;]

    hope all is well.


    i have the berti web log saved as blerti in my favorites. it's catchy.

  4. I love reading your blogs! I wish you were doing this we traveled Spain, Germany, Chec Republic, Amsterdam (especially Amsterdam) so I could remember what we did. All I know is we always had a great time! The Ice Hotel sounds like an amazing trip- I don’t know that I would be brave enough to spend the night. Keep up the writing and I look forward to reading it.
    Cheers Michelle



  6. Good Question- ARE THE TOILETS MADE OF ICE??

  7. I wondered the same thing myself. Turns out there was nothing to worry about. The bathrooms and showers are in a separate heated room, although you still have to contend with getting out of your nice warm sleeping bag and racing over to the heated bathrooms. Still it is certainly better than having to deal with an ice toilet.

    Thanks for the comments. Glad you are enjoying the blog.

  8. Hey this is just amaizing, Sean sent this link to me, I had a lot of fun, watching this pictures, Hope to see you soon, Bye.Argenis