On The Rocks: A Night At The Ice Hotel

1 Jan

With wind blowing out of the northwest and the temperature at minus-19 degrees Celsius the Quebec forest feels like a setting for one of Jack London’s stories. However, once through the massive iron-strapped oak doors, the relative warmth of the interior, even with breath rising hard and white in the still air, is surprising.  Ahead stretches a reception hall of a style that can only be described as Tolkienesque: walls the color of the finest Carrara marble are carved in bas-relief beneath a Gothic arched ceiling supported by crystal-clear pillars of ice.  In the center of the hall a massive ice chandelier infused with ever-changing spectral hues glows in dim splendor. Boots leave a trail of waffled imprints across a floor raked with Zen precision and one expects to encounter an ice queen or perhaps the White Witch of Narnia at any moment.

This is the Waldorf-Astoria of igloos, the world-famous Hôtel de Glace (Ice Hotel) near Quebec City.  Detailed descriptions are useless: the hotel is built to a new design and the sculptural theme differs each year. Embedded LED lighting transforms 500 tons of carved ice and 15,000 tons of sculpted snow into surrealistic visions.  Animal skins cover chairs and benches carved from special ice that’s made in Montreal and trucked north. Foam mattresses grace crystalline beds.  One suite has a fireplace and a hot tub; one of the monastic rooms has a floor to ceiling pierced wall of ice as the footboard to the bed.  Other bedrooms feature elaborately carved walls with fantasy designs, dragons, hockey players, and artifacts or photographs embedded in blocks of ice.

In the evening the hotel is transformed from a Nordic ice palace into an ultra-chic nightclub.  Music pulses in the acoustically flawless Ice Bar while colors sluice through ice and soak in walls of snow a meter thick. In one corner, imprisoned on four sides by thermal glass, a fire burns in heatless, décor-designed splendor as guests frantically sculpt ice on workbenches supplied for this purpose.  The bartender pours concoctions into the rocks–the results looking like a cliché of a 1960s B-grade sci-fi movie–while a demonic face of chiseled ice looks over his shoulder.

Within the confines of the courtyard hot tubs gurgle beneath a night sky so crisp it doesn’t seem real.  One of the admonishments made in the orientation is not to go to bed until your hair is completely dry or risk becoming literally frozen to the bed.  Likewise, don’t put eyeglasses on the side table: they’ll freeze into the ice.  A sauna and the use of a hair dryer therefore become mandatory after a soak beneath the stars.  And to answer a question: no, there are no en-suite bathrooms, a small heated bathhouse is situated in the courtyard for this purpose.

Through doors of oak

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There’s only one ice hotel in North America and it’s located in Duchesnay, 30 minutes northwest of Quebec City.  Every December a new one is constructed and every April it melts away in a natural rhythm that has been inescapable since the last Ice Age.


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