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Québec City's Ice Hotel: The Ultimate Winter Experience
by Habeeb Salloum

I had vaguely heard of an ice hotel in Québec City, but I had not given it much thought until on a cold February day I found myself in that once capital of French North America. Now I was serious, I wanted to find out more about that igloo in the south.

I was sitting near a dejected-looking colleague who had travelled with me to attend a conference in that city. “What is the matter? You look sad!” I asked. The morning before, she looked happy and content. “I didn’t sleep. Last night I rented a room in the Ice Hotel and I froze to death.” She looked angry as she continued, “I was so cold that I spent most of the night in the outside heated washrooms, sitting on a toilet seat. I will never stay again in that hotel.”

A few minutes later, I was speaking to a couple who had overnighted in the same hotel. When I told them what the young lady had said, they looked shocked, “She’s crazy! We loved it. We were very comfortable.” I looked at them amazed. Walking away, I resolved to find out for myself the attributes of that inn of snow and ice.

The next day as our bus doors opened, I saw before me an igloo-like structure. Pushing aside the curtain which served as a door, we walked through its front entrance. Looking around, I was mesmerized and amazed. Its lobby and hallways were adorned with beautiful ice sculptures. All the exquisite furniture was created from sheer ice and a large unique ice candelabra, hanging from its 5.4 m (18 ft) ceiling, completed the aura of strangeness. “Am I in a fairytale wonderland?” I turned to my colleague. He smiled, “No! You’ve just entered into an icy dream.”

The inspiration for this unusual ice abode comes from the small Swedish village of Jukkasjärvi, where an Ice Hotel has been built every winter for the past ten years. Annually, winter lovers came from all over the world to Sweden to admire this first ice hotel in history

Jacques Desbois or ‘Mr. lgloo’, as he came to be known to some people, read a story about the Swedish Ice Hotel and he is reported to have said: “If they can do it in Sweden, we can do it here in Québec”. Enthused about beginning a similar project in Canada he travelled to Jukkasjärvi to meet with the creators of this magical structure. The visit convinced him that it was feasible to build an ice hotel in Canada.

He looked around for dedicated partners and soon found them in Francis Léonard and Yvon Guérard. They were instantly fascinated with the idea and the possibilities of an ice hotel. With enthusiasm, dynamism and determination, and their appetite for a good challenge, they went about their task and launched the second ice hotel in the world in Québec City - the snow capital of Canada.

Ice Hotel Québec-Canada opened its curtains (for doors) during the winter in 2001, but as happened in the previous year, the ice hotel is fated for an annual rebirth - to disappear at the beginning of April as it slowly melts away under the warm spring sun. In 2005, it will be moving into its fifth year of operation.

The construction of the Ice Hotel, one of the most uncommon and complicated construction projects, takes approximately five weeks. Usually, 12,000 tons of snow and 400 tons of ice were used in the creation of this amazing ice and snow crystal cathedral. It’s total surface of 3,000 sq m (30,000 sq ft), is more than enough space to accommodate, besides the guests, a large number of visitors - more than 400 guests for any type of activity.

Dressed in Arctic-like clothing I looked around me as I surveyed the lobby of this commercial igloo. All around was a world of sparkling ice with walls covered with original artwork and furniture carved out of ice blocks. “What am I doing here?” I thought to myself. I was not noted for being a great lover of the cold.

Observing that I was just looking around, one of the hotel employees, dressed in a fur parka, warm looking boots and thick mitts, asked: “Can I take you for a tour of the hotel?” I nodded my head, “Sure! I want to make sense out of this giant igloo.”

Our first stop was at an ice bar. I could not believe my eyes, as I watched the drinks being served in ice utensils and appetizers on ice plates. As we walked along, I sipped my drink, thanking God that my gloves were warm.

We moved through hallways edged by pillars of glimmering ice, then walked into an icy courtyard. Seeing steam rising from a corner, I asked: “What’s this? Steam coming out of the ice!” My tour guide smiled, “It’s our hot water tub in the ice. You want to try it?” I was astounded. It was February and the temperature was below zero. “How do your guests undress then make it to the tub”, I looked on my guide with disbelief. “They run like race horses,” he grinned.

“Don’t worry about the hot bath. Let’s see the rooms”, the employee had a smile on his face as he steered me toward one of the rooms. “We always have a full house. All of our guests spend the night in one of our 32 cosy rooms and theme suites, which can accommodate some 80 persons.” Looking around, I thought of my colleague who had spent the night in the washrooms. Did she have a point?

Apparently, during the day, guests bide their time in warm places. All the rooms that we saw were empty with only an ice slab for a bed and a bedside table sculptured from ice. The guests sleep, tucked in a warm sleeping bag on the ice bed, which is covered with deer pelts over which are placed thick foam-rubber slabs.

After exploring the rooms, we toured the remaining parts of the hotel which included theme suites, two exhibition rooms, a movie theatre, a magnificent chapel, a large ballroom. functional fireplaces and hot tubs and a much talked-about Ice Bar.

Lastly we stopped in the chapel with its stools of ice. “Do people really get married here?” I asked in disbelief. “Of course, we are fully booked and we cannot accommodate anymore.” The guide seemed perplexed that I was surprised that couples would come here to tie the knot. As I shook his hand and left, I mumbled to myself, “I guess this chapel will cool the couple’s passionate ardor.”

Later as I reflected, I became convinced that for those seeking a distinctive and unique experience, staying in an abode, destined to disappear every spring, would truly be Canada’s peak winter experience. Already its unique success story has captured the attention of the media from around the world and it is well on its way to becoming one of Québec and Canada’s most outstanding winter postcards. As for myself, travelling every winter to the south to enjoy the rays of the sun. I’ll leave the Ice Hotel for others to experience.


Facts About the Ice Hotel

1) The Ice Hotel will be open for its 5th season January 7 to April 3, 2005

2) The location of the ice hotel can change fom year to year. For location for this season - see its website

3) The price for an overnight stay at the Ice Hotel is quite expensive - starting at $229. Per night, but included are an American breakfast, a cocktail, and all the bedding you need to keep you warm and cozy. The Hotel offers 1 to 3 nights packages with many extras included. A visit by an adult to the hotel costs $14.

4) The 2005 decor of Ice Hotel will be the cornerstone of this fifth season - visitors will not believe their eyes!

5) Public visits are welcomed, but there is a small entrance fee. On February 15, 2004, there were 3,300 visitors at the Ice Hotel - the highest single day total in four years of operation. Since its opening the hotel has welcomed to the hotel 220,000 persons - 10,500 of them overnight guests.

6) Ice Hotel Québec-Canada, can also be an outstanding venue for any type of event such as private receptions, press conferences, weddings, etc.

7) The Ice Hotel Québec-Canada is equipped with the latest technical facilities in order to cater to the needs of all types of events such as product launches, corporate presentations, press conferences, private parties.

8) Ice Hotel Québec-Canada Inc., in partnership with Icehotel, Sweden, has great plans for the future with projects for a second Ice Hotel in Western North America within the next three years.

Contact Information:

Ice Hotel Quebec-Canada Inc., 143, route Duchesnay, Sainte-Catherine-de-la-Jacques-Cartier, QC G0A 3M0 Canada.
Telephone : (418) 875-4522 or toll-free CAN/USA 1-877-505-0423. Fax: (418) 875-2833.).


General information:information@hoteldeglace-canada.com
Reservations and special events: reservations@hoteldeglace-canada.com
Marketing, promotions and special projects: marketing@hoteldeglace-canada.com

Related Pages: Sweden's Ice Hotel

Photo 1-3 courtesy Habeeb Salloum; Photo 4 courtesy Ice Hotel