Quebec’s Hôtel de Glace—or Ice Hotel for stubborn English speakers—does require about 500 tons of ice for its construction each December, but the sleek and slippery stuff is mostly confined to decorative uses: for furniture, sculptures, and glassware. The frosty fluffy stuff makes up the actual walls, giving them a texture less like ice cubes than sherbet that’s been in the freezer too long.
The snow is tightly packed to create rooms that trap the body heat of the people inside (a trick learned from the Inuits) and molded into pointed arches for sturdy supports and high ceilings (a trick learned from Gothic architects). It takes a team of 30 builders and 15 sculptors and decorators about six weeks to make 40 or so themed rooms and suites, a central hall adorned with chandeliers and artwork, an ice bar, and an ice chapel used primarily for weddings.
All of the above—except, with luck, the marriages begun in the ice chapel—will be gone by the end of March. But in the two and a half months before the thaw sets in, scores of overnight guests will bed down in North America’s “only ice hotel.”
The Hôtel de Glace has been part of winter in the Quebec City area since 2001. Inspired by Sweden’s Icehotel, the first Quebecois version was built against the dramatic backdrop of Montmorency Falls. It was later moved to a lakeside nature retreat and then the former site of a zoo before landing, in 2016, at its current home, Village Vacances Valcartier, located about a 45-minute drive northwest of Quebec City. Among locals, this year-round family resort is best known for its elaborate network of 36 snow tubing hills. There’s also an indoor water park, a spa, a bricks-and-mortar hotel, shops, restaurants, and, in the warmer months, outdoor water slides, hiking trails, and cabins.
Those spending the night at the Ice Hotel should expect to spend quite a bit of time in the bricks-and-mortar facility because that’s where lockers and bathrooms are. Rooms at the Ice Hotel are strictly for sleeping. If you were imagining ice closets with ice hangers and ice bathrooms with ice toilet seats (brr!), think again.
This results in a lot of back-and-forth. Let’s say, for instance, you’d like to have a cocktail in the ice bar and take a soak in one of the outdoor hot tubs before retiring to your igloo. That means you have to go to the locker room to gear up for the cold—donning a hat, scarf, gloves, coat, thermal underwear, snow pants, and boots—before heading to the bar, then go back to the locker room to take everything off and slip into your swimsuit for the hot tub, then go back to the locker room to dry off and brush your teeth and re-gear up for the cold, and then finally trudge to your room at the Ice Hotel, where you’ll remove your outerwear yet again before crawling into a sleeping bag. It’s kind of exhausting.