Chillin’ at the Ice Hotel: Quebec

Quebec Ice Hotel

It’s probably one of the few hotels in the world where guests are given tips on how to prepare for a good night’s sleep.

But this isn’t your typical hostelry — this is the Ice Hotel Quebec-Canada. Now in its seventh season, it’s North America’s first ice hotel, made entirely of ice and snow.

I first visited the Ice Hotel, located 30 minutes west of Quebec City, during Carnaval de Quebec. (Next year, it will be held from January 26 to February 11.) Wandering around the icy inn was fascinating to say the least, but I knew I had to share this cool experience with my husband.

In February 2004 we flew off to Quebec for a week of winter fun, including our Extreme Sleepover at the Ice Hotel.

The Ice Hotel is located in the village of Sainte-Catherine-de-la-Jacques-Cartier at Station Touristique Duchesnay, a former forestry center that is now a recreational resort on Lake Saint-Joseph. There are plenty of outdoor activities at the station, including snowmobiling, dogsledding, ice fishing, snowshoeing and a 78-mile network of cross-country trails. There’s also a “regular�? hotel and a restaurant/bar. For the first time, helicopter tours of Quebec City and the region are also being offered by the Ice Hotel.

Construction of the hotel takes about a month and begins in mid-December (this year’s edition makes its debut on January 5 and will remain open through April 1, 2007). Three dozen or so artists and craftspeople perform their magic, putting stainless steel moulds and wooden walls into place. Snow is then blown between the moulds and walls, completely covering the moulds. The metal frames are removed once the snow has frozen into place (which takes between ten hours and three days).

Ice blocks are used for interior structures such as columns, the bar counter, furniture and sculptures. Ice blocks are also placed at the extremities of the hallways in a brick like fashion. The walls are approximately four feet thick at the base and two feet thick at ceiling level. Ceilings in some areas reach a height of 18 feet.

All in all, the Ice Hotel uses 15,000 tons of snow and 500 tons of ice. The end result is a 30,000 sq. ft. hotel featuring 32 rooms and suites. There’s also the Grand Hall, N’Ice Club (with disco ball/music), ABSOLUT Ice Bar, fireplaces, cinema, chapel, two outdoor hot tubs and a sauna. Oh, and the all-important washrooms (heated and lighted in an adjoining modular building).

Each edition of the Ice Hotel, designed by artistic director Serge Peloquin since 2001, features an ornate ice chandelier in the Grand Hall. Unique addition are added every year. In addition to this year’s N’Ice Club, which has been recreated into the mythical city of Atlantis, there is a newe suite with a private spa and a children’s playground.

My favorite spot in the hotel is the Absolut Bar, with its private alcoves where you can sip Absolut Vodka out of square glasses made of ice. Deer pelts are draped over the benches and candles give off an icy glow. That’s my husband Bob and I pictured in the bar and which we used for our Christmas card that year!

Bartender Simon Tremblay of Quebec City was in his third year behind the bar during our stay. Bundled up in a silver down vest and black polar fleece, his unusually cold working environment doesn’t bother him.

“It doesn’t matter, I have good boots…I guess I’m cold blooded!�? he laughs as he pours another shot of Absolut. Tremblay also helped on the construction of last year’s hotel, assisting on the chandelier and alcoves.

With the thousands of tourists who come through his bar every season, what’s the stupidest question they ask? “They want to know if we use a dishwasher for the vodka glasses that are made of ice!�? He rolls his eyes and pours another shot for a guest.

But no matter how cold it gets outside (the night we were there it got down to –13 degrees Fahrenheit), inside the hotel it’s between 22-28 degrees Fahrenheit. The thick walls protect the interior spaces from the wind and keep the temperature constant.

Our orientation for the sleepover began in the late afternoon in the main reception area of the hotel; a separate heated building that also includes showers and a locked area for luggage (you just take a small bag into your hotel room). Mary Yves was our “night guide,�? and as she gathered the guests around the fireplace, lively laughter and conversations in French and English filled the room.

In addition to her “sleep well�? tips (“don’t overdress, no cotton, wear a toque�?), she had a guest demonstrate how to get in and out of the down-filled mummy bag (liners are provided). “What’s a toque?�? asked an American, who quickly found out toque (pronounced “tooque�?) is Canadian for hat. When a couple mentioned sleeping in one bag, Yves said the bags do zip together, but going solo is the best way to retain body warmth. She also suggested putting clothes in the bottom of the sleeping bag to keep them warm during the night.

Since the hotel is open for tours during the day, you won’t be able to “check in�? to your room until after dinner. Following an afternoon of dog sledding at nearby Aventure Inukshuk, we intentionally had a late dinner at the Bistro-Bar Le Quatre–Temps. Located in the new Auberge Duchesnay, a sophisticated yet cozy country-style hotel just a quick hike up the hill from the Ice Hotel, it was hard to leave the warmth and ambience for the cool night ahead.

Around 10 p.m. we hit the Absolut Bar for a final nightcap, watching young kids and their parents groove to the music in the N’Ice Club. Huddled up next to a fireplace, I talked with a couple from Quebec who were staying at the Auberge Duchesnay. “You are so lucky to be staying here!�? the husband said. I smiled and hoped he was right.

Although our bartender suggested spending time in the hot tub before retiring for the night, I couldn’t imagine going from cold to hot and back to cold again. We both bagged his advice, had only one Absolut before bed (too much alcohol is not a good idea) and headed for Room #14. Located midway down a long, white corridor of ice, only a curtain separated it from the rest of thehotel. Inside the room was ice…lots of ice. Plus a bed…made of more ice.

“Oh no!�? I said to my husband as reality set in. He gleefully began to set up camp, and I wondered what side of the bed would be most comfortable. Although the bed itself is a big block of ice, it has a solid wood box-frame placed over it plus a thick foam mattress covered with fleece. And topping it off, deer pelts. I’d never slept on dead deer before.

My husband rolled out our two mummy bags and I looked at my Timex Indiglo. It was 10:30 p.m. This was going to be a long night. Minutes later, the Ice Hotel photographer poked his head in the room, asking if we’d like to have our picture taken (we had been warned about this at the orientation).

“Sure, come on in!�? I said. He snapped a couple photos of us in our ice bed, toques on our heads. “The Big Chill!�? I said to the French-speaking photographer. He understood. Once snuggled into our mummy bags, more reality hit. It was cold, real cold…not in the bag, but on my face. Maybe I should have bought a toque with an optional ski mask.

I slept off and on until nature called at 2:30 a.m. Normally, that’s not a tough task, but in the Ice Hotel it meant hauling all my clothes out of the bottom of the mummy bag, pulling them on while chattering like a magpie, zipping into my ski jacket with shaking hands and jamming my feet into cold Sorrel’s. No wonder people used chamber pots in days gone by.

Without the aid of my contact lenses plus my foggy state of mind, I couldn’t find the exit for the washrooms. Everything looked white, everything looked alike. I crunch crunch crunched through the eerily quiet house of ice, and twice ended up in the deserted Absolut Bar. I eventually landed back at our room.

“Honey, where’s the bathroom?�? I silently screamed. “You go down the hall, take a left and then take another left,�? he groggily replied. “It’s right there.�? Yep, it was right there, all the time.

When I awoke the next morning, my face felt semi-frozen and my bedside bottle of water had turned to ice. But I was intact, and warm with pride. OK, it wasn’t like I had scaled Annapurna. Climbed K-2. Or reached the summit of Mount Everest. But spending the night at the Ice Hotel was a small victory, nonetheless.

My Extreme Sleepover made me feel alive.

Two unique hotels have partnered to provide a memorable winter experience in Quebec City. Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac and the Ice Hotel Quebec are offering a two-night ParadICE package, which includes one night’s accommodation at each property, daily breakfast, welcome amenities, a carriage ride through the streets of Old Quebec, transfers by private car between the two hotels, access to the Ice Hotel’s hot tubs and sauna and discounts at the Ice Hotel boutique. Packages from $1,599 CAD (approximately $1,400 USD) based on double occupancy; available Jan. 6-April 1, 2007. Book by calling Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac directly at 418.692.3861.

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  1. You are a braver soul than I. It’s got to be at least 65 degress wherever I’ll sleep.

  2. I must say I wouldn’t have slept there on my own. Having my husband there for both moral support and as a heat source truly made it possible! Plus, it was my birthday weekend…what was I thinking? But we did stay in the Hotel Dominion 1912 in Quebec City’s Lower Town … it was wonderful. The Quebec Winter Carnival was going on and for my actual birthday we dined at Initiale … c’est bon! And there was at least a foot of snow, it was magical.

  3. Sue:
    My home’s furnace broke Tuesday night but we didn’t notice it until Wed am. It was 60 in the house yesterday but 55 overnight — with frost on the roof. Good thing we have great insulation. Though we loaded up our beds with down comforters, it felt like our version of the Ice Hotel. It was warm under the covers, but when we got up in the am, it was downright chilly! Great story.

  4. I have always wanted to go a ice hotel.But i can not stand cold weather, not even 70 degrees.-lol- u r brave

  5. Hi Sue,
    I loved reading you story about your stay at the Ice Hotel. I am taking my 12 year old son for the same experience this January (2010) Imagine we live in very sunny Queensland, Australia so we are totally unfamiliar with this type of cold. But what an experience it should be.Thanks for the tip about maybe getting something to cover part of our face.
    Lisa and Alexander

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