Image source: Flickr - Clement Belleudy
The cold splintered through my body like a machine gun spewing high velocity rounds of pins and needles in my direction. I was both exhilarated and in agony, screaming madly as I ran across the snow-covered ground in below freezing temperatures wearing nothing but my swimsuit and bathrobe.
And the night ahead of me did not promise to be much more enjoyable. My plan was to attempt to sleep - naked no less - at the famous Ice Hotel in Quebec City, Canada. The Ice Hotel is exactly what the name implies - a hotel made of ice and snow. Technically, the hotel that I stayed in is called The Hotel de Glace.The original Ice Hotel is in Sweden and since Quebec is a French-speaking province and the hotel here is owned by a different company, we must call it The Hotel de Glace, which translates into the same name.
A visit to the Hotel de Glace is a must-see-and-do during Winter Carnival, but it is a separate entity. Starting about December 1, workers begin constructing forms for what will be four-feet thick walls of snow. Then up go the arched doorways and the roof, all guided by skilled architects and inspected by appropriate agencies. Construction continues 24 hours a day until opening about January 1. There are usually about 45 guest rooms, a bar, lounge and a play area that includes an ice slide for adults. The season ends with the spring thaw - obviously.
You know it's going to be an unusual night when you have to attend a mandatory training session before going to your room. That's where we learned about the mummy sack, the bathrooms and socks. Keeping a separate pair of socks available for sleeping in and another for walking around in is a big deal.
The instructor advised us to first spend a good 15-20 minutes in the outdoor hot tubs in order to get our body temperatures as bubbly as possible. I did, and it felt great, but then there was the mad dash across the courtyard back to the locker rooms that were certainly the most hysterical moments of my life.
Our host told us NOT to sleep in anything cotton, that our PJs should be of synthetic material because it holds less body heat that would transform into moisture and make us cold. In fact, she suggested that most people stay warm and toasty by sleeping nude.
As preposterous as that sounds, I gave it a try and wow, I was as snug as a bug. Of course, getting out of my sleeping bag in the morning was another ordeal. But, on the advice of our sleep instructor, I had put my clothes, boots, and glasses in the bottom of the sleeping bag, so they were fairly warm. You can't put glasses on the nightstand, which is simply a block of ice because, by morning, they'll be frozen in place. And you can't let your boots sit on the ice/snow covered floor because they will freeze in whatever position they drop.
After warming up over a hot breakfast of biscuits and gravy in the Pavilion, the only heated room at the Ice Hotel, my friends and I took off for the Winter Carnival. This is a part of the world where winter is long and the freeze is deep. You must embrace it and have some fun, otherwise you'll just go mad. Quebec City has been celebrating Winter Carnival each February for more than 60 years with ice carving and snow sculpting events, canoe races on the frozen St. Lawrence River, toboggan races, parades and concerts, all outdoors in the sub-zero temps.
If I thought I had been cold at the Ice Hotel, these nightly celebrations in downtown Quebec City brought a new meaning to the word. But I placed hand warmers in my boots, my pockets and my mittens, bought an extra wool hat and wrapped up in every piece of clothing I could find.
It was a blast, a great big check mark on my bucket list, and you know what, after a winter or two in the Caribbean, I just might return to Quebec City and the Ice Hotel.
Would you spend the night in a hotel made of ice?