- The Hôtel de Glace is a hotel made entirely of snow and ice that gets rebuilt and then razed every year outside of Quebec City in Canada.
- This year’s ice hotel has 42 rooms and is 42,000 square feet, and, as I learned on a recent stay, its design is mind-blowingly intricate.
- I feared being uncomfortably cold in my room, but the sleeping bag was surprisingly toasty, and despite not sleeping deeply, I made it through the night.
- Editorial Note: Insider paid a reduced press rate for the suite, which usually costs $US379 per night.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
“Most people say they sleep in the nude,” the front-desk guy at Hôtel de Glace – an ice hotel located outside of Quebec City in Canada – told me as I checked in, sounding as sceptical as I must have looked.
He went on to tell me that around three to 10% of guests leave their ice rooms sometime in the middle of the night to sleep in a regular room, claiming that most of these people jump ship because they’re too hot (the hotel provides super warm sleeping bags) or too drunk after getting carried away at the ice bar.
Of course, I didn’t believe him. Based on absolutely nothing but my own fear and the fact that I’m always cold, I estimated that the amount of guests who called it quits would be closer to 50% and figured they’d leave because they were frozen solid.
“There’s no shame in leaving,” he assured me, which made me feel better because I was scared. Turns out, my fears were unfounded, however: I made it through the entire night, and was surprisingly toasty in my sleeping bag.
Keep scrolling to see what spending a night in a hotel made entirely of snow and ice is really like.
Editorial Note: Insider paid a reduced press rate for the suite, which usually costs $US379 per night.
Upon checking in at the Hôtel de Glace outside of Quebec City, Canada, the first question I was asked was “so, are you scared?” to which I gave a resounding “yes.”
I write this wrapped in a blanket at my office: I am cold in the best of circumstances, so I couldn’t imagine doing well inside a giant ice cube.
Let me backtrack a little to explain why I was worried about my stay. Upon booking the room at the ice hotel, I was emailed a preparation guide that highlighted the importance of dressing correctly and outlined a “three-layer technique.”
While my husband, who I dragged along to keep me warm, waved it off as common sense, the preparation guide stressed me out.
What tipped me over the edge was the fact that every room booked at the ice hotel comes with a second room in the Hôtel Valcartier, which indicated to me that most people couldn’t hack it.
The Hôtel Valcartier is located right across from the ice hotel inside the same resort, called the Village Vacances Valcartier, a sort of water park and winter resort.
Turns out, the second room fills much more mundane purposes — more on that later.
The regular room (not pictured above) was really just a pit stop for showering, changing, and storage.
The Hôtel de Glace is made entirely of snow and ice (500 tons of ice and 20,000 tons of snow, to be precise).
It has existed in some shape or form since 2001, and gets rebuilt every year.
It’s in business from around January to March, which is when it gets knocked down.
I was told that it takes five weeks to build and five hours to raze.
The hotel’s design changes annually, and doesn’t usually repeat itself.
However, this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Hôtel de Glace, and so the establishment put the best designs from over the past two decades on display.
This year’s hotel is a whopping 42,000 square feet and features 42 guest rooms.
Besides guest rooms, there’s also a bar, a lounge area with booths and a fireplace, a common area that features an “Under the Sea” theme, a faux forest with snow trees, an indoor slide made of snow, and a stunning ice chapel that hosts dozens of weddings every year.
About half of the rooms feature intricate designs. Each of these rooms has a theme, such as “Wild West,” “Circus,” or “Underwater.”
Many of the rooms can sleep four.
My room was Suite 13, and its theme “L’Onirisme de Gaudí,” which roughly translates to “Gaudí’s Dream.”
It was modelled after the works of Antoni Gaudí, the Spanish architect best known for designing La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain.
The room featured lots of rounded shapes and curving forms in the modernist style.
Gaudí is known for using only shapes found in nature.
It featured a huge ice bench and a fireplace.
Unfortunately, the fireplace was purely decorative, meant to “warm your heart” rather than your toes.
To get to the room I had to navigate labyrinthine hallways.
I got lost a couple of times before getting a hang of the layout.
Luckily, signs and maps led the way.
Since the hotel covers 42,000 feet, the maps were necessary.
Red curtains signalled the entrance to a suite, which featured themes and elaborate designs, while blue curtains meant the rooms were simple and unadorned.
None of the rooms had doors.
Despite being made entirely of snow, the hotel featured electricity and the same safety features you’d expect at a regular hotel.
Hotel staff told me that candles were forbidden and that, a couple of years ago, a sleeping bag was set on fire by a candle. No one is said to have gotten hurt, but hotel staff said guests had to evacuate due to all the smoke.
The sleeping quarters are open to the public until 8 p.m.
Until 8 p.m., people can wander the halls and check out the different designs in hotel suites. Overnight guests can only take possession of their rooms after 9 p.m.
Beds are cordoned off during this time, though, and the rooms are freshly raked before overnight guests arrive to make them feel untouched.
Walking into my suite after the floors had been raked felt like making the first tracks on a snowy mountain.
Like all overnight guests, I couldn’t take ownership of my ice hotel room until 9 p.m.
There’s about an hour between the rooms closing to the public and overnight guests being allowed in. As well raking the floors, hotel staff make touch-ups to the room and lay out sleeping bags for guests.
Before I could relax in my room, I had to attend a briefing on sleeping bag and bathroom etiquette.
All overnight guests of the ice hotel are required to take a 20-minute briefing that goes over a few things, such as how to store your clothes overnight, how to adjust the sleeping bag, and what to do when you need to pee.
In their words: “If you need to go to the bathroom at night, you should zip up your sleeping bag […] and run!!!” (The three exclamation marks are theirs, not mine.)
The ice hotel only has two Porta-Potties, located outside.
They were clean and heated, and thus actually a great place to hang out, in my opinion.
After the briefing, I was encouraged to eat properly and to spend some time in the outdoor Jacuzzis and sauna before going to sleep, both meant to keep my body temperature up.
Taking all this very seriously, I ate a giant plate of seafood pasta before sitting in the Jacuzzi until I had sweat dripping down my face. Insider got to eat this food for free as part of this review.
After bathing in the Jacuzzi, I panicked because I had been told that sweat would be my worst enemy during this experience.
After eating and hot-tubbing I ran back to my regular room to dry off as any sort of humidity was strongly discouraged, as was wearing cotton, which apparently keeps humidity in.
Since sweating was bad, I really had to toe the line between wearing too many layers and not enough – something I grappled with during my stay.
I wore a wool hat, wool socks, thin cashmere gloves, merino wool leggings and a merino wool long-sleeved top (my skiing base layers), plus a fleece and thin down shell jacket to bed.
I added ski pants and a ski jacket just to make the walk between the regular hotel back to the ice hotel.
Back in my ice hotel room, a sleeping bag was rolled up on the bed waiting for me.
The bed frame was a giant block of ice, but it was covered by a thin slat of wood and a surprisingly comfy mattress.
I was pleased to find that the sleeping bag was designed for the North Pole, and said to work in minus 20-degree weather (the hotel has a pretty constant temperature of 23F).
Along with the sleeping bag I received a small pillow reminiscent of those you sometimes get on international flights, a sleeping bag liner to put on first, and a bag for the ski gear and other layers I was shedding.
We were told in advance to bring as little into the room as possible. There was a pocket for phones inside the sleeping bag, but that was about it.
There was no non-snow/ice furniture, and putting anything on a snowy or icy surface would have meant needing to get it welded free the next morning (this apparently happens quite a bit).
Ostensibly, anything we touch will have enough leftover body heat to melt into the ice a tiny bit: enough to freeze it to the spot.
I put the liner on first, knotting it around my shoulders as had been demonstrated.
They said that everything gets washed between guests, but having the fresh liner between me and the sleeping bag made me feel better about cleanliness.
Then, I “fluffed” the sleeping bag, shaking it out as instructed in order to get as much air between fibres as possible, which I was told would make it warmer.
I fluffed the bag violently for maximum warmth.
Then, it was finally time to turn off the light switch next to the bed and go to sleep.
The light switch was niftily built into the side of the bed for easy reach.
Unfortunately, the room was only separated from the outside world by a short curtain. The outside lights remained on all night, meaning that it was pretty bright in the room.
The light in the room didn’t change at all, so I lost all sense of time.
The first thing I noticed was how incredibly quiet it was.
Walls can be as thick as eight feet, making the suite feel a bit grave-like, despite its generous room.
While my husband was softly snoring minutes after turning off the light, I couldn’t sleep for a long time.
My thoughts were racing, and the silence was deafening. However, I was snug and warm in my sleeping bag. As literally everyone working at the hotel had told me, the cold truly wasn’t an issue (except for my nose, which I was worried might fall off).
Despite feeling like I was awake all night, I must have dozed off eventually, because I had some weird dreams.
Because of the light shining in from the hallway, I had no sense of time. At some point, after tossing and turning for what felt like an eternity, I finally managed to finagle my phone out of my sleeping bag to check the time, expecting it to be 3 a.m. or so.
It was 7.20 a.m.: I had made it.
When I first went to bed I grappled with some claustrophobia, as I wanted to zip the sleeping bag up as high as I could go and tighten it around me as much as possible, but this meant not really being able to move my arms.
However, as I said, the cold was truly, shockingly, not a huge concern.
While running back and forth between the regular room and ice room was a bit of a hassle, the experience was generally well-planned and executed.
The hotel itself floored me, exceeding my expectations with its incredible, elaborate details, and sheer size.
While I can definitely say that it was a magical, one-of-a-kind night, one night is enough for me.
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