Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 10, 2017
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You're going to sleep where?

What is a night inside Canada's Ice Hotel like?

On January 1, the day North America's first Ice Hotel opened near Montmorency Falls, Quebec, more than 1000 tourists had already signed up to spend a night in the chilly building made of ice and snow. The idea was imported from Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, where the original Ice Hotel, now 13 years old, has become so popular that it offers 100 rooms -- all of them booked three years in advance.

The website for the Canadian version -- like last year's Volvo television ad filmed outside the Swedish mother hotel -- makes it seem almost magical: a huge luminous castle of snow-packed suites and corridors rebuilt from scratch every year, where everything from the lamp fixtures to the drinking glasses is carved from sheer ice. There's a reception area that leads to an igloo-like main hall with a 16-foot-high ceiling, a cinema, art gallery, bar with 14-foot-high frosted windows and six multi-occupancy rooms that cover an area of 1000 square metres.

It certainly sounds intriguing, but would a perfectly sane Canadian spend luxury hotel prices for the privilege of sleeping in sub-zero temperatures? We decided to found out. Armed with thermal long-johns, we travelled to the Montmorency Falls, about a 15-minute drive from Quebec City, to spend the night icebound. Here is what we learned.

What if it doesn't snow?
Who said anything about snow? The entrepreneurs behind the hotel purchased exclusive rights to Swedish iron molds -- basically igloo shapes on skis -- then fired up a snow-making machine and before they knew it had rooms to let. Two hundred and fifty tons of ice and a few chain saws took care of the rest.

Is it even safe?
Building inspectors think so. As the Swedish military discovered while testing the soundness of the structure, the igloo-style construction is stronger than a traditional building: when they fired rocket-propelled grenades at the hotel's walls, it resulted in just a few dents. And thanks to its semi-circular geometry, an igloo melts from exterior to interior and from the top down, so guests won't be woken by falling icebergs.

How cold is it?
The hotel's one-metre-thick walls make excellent windbreakers and maintain a constant temperature between -2oC and -6oC. If it's -35oC outside, it will be a comparatively balmy -4oC in the hotel.

Is there cable TV?
No. But there's a tiny cinema which shows films that focus on winter and Inuit-related themes. As you can imagine, the novelty of sitting on snow benches and enduring a beaver retrospective wears off fast. Ice sculptured TVs you can pretend to watch may prove more popular.

What's the Absolut bar like?
It looks like a long white cavernous jazz bar. Unlike the Swedish version, which doesn't serve beer because its low levels of alcohol makes it freeze, the Canadians have found ways to ensure that our national beverage of choice is fully stocked. All drinks -- vodka, beer, whiskey, soft drinks and water -- are served in glasses sculpted from bricks of ice, although for the latter one may be required to poke a finger through a cellophane-thin layer of ice every so often in order to take a sip.

How do they wash the ice glasses?
They don't. Once used, the glasses are recycled -- in other words, melted down.

Is there a restaurant or snack bar?
Not at the icicle inn. All eating is done at the Manoir Montmorency where you first sign in. Here you'll also be given access to a small conference room where you can store your bags (so they don't freeze) and change into the parka, snow pants and boots provided by the hotel.

What are the rooms like?
The candle-lit rooms range from small and spartan to large and spartan. Beautifully sculptured ice settees, chests, night tables and lamps reflect a certain Arctic charm.

What are the beds like?
Basically a mattress and a wooden base on top of four pillars of ice. Deer pelts are then laid on top. You're also provided with a mummy-style sleeping bag and a synthetic insert, which keeps you from over-sweating during the night.

What about the facilities?
Heated Port-O-Lets are just out outside the hotel. You may consider booking the room closest to the exit for those unbearable middle-of-the-night dashes. Though not confirmed, plans are being discussed to install a hot tub and sauna for the 2001-2002 season.

Will I sleep?
We were told that an igloo's extreme quiet induces deep sleep. We now suspect that depends on how much time you've spent at the Absolut bar. Truth be told, sleeping at the Ice Hotel is a lot like winter camping. While your sleeping bag is insulating and toasty, it's the margin of a few centimetres at the top of the zipper that can be your undoing -- in other words your nose freezes and if you breathe into your bag, you too risk turning into an ice sculpture. After a night of fitfully twisting and turning, we were woken up by someone in a snowsuit bearing Styrofoam cups of coffee and hot chocolate. We were informed that there's a mandatory 7am wake-up call to prepare the hotel for the day tours. All of sudden, we felt like we were back at camp.

So I should send the kids instead?
A night at the Ice Hotel can be an excellent family outing, particularly next year when the hotel will be built at Quebec's Duchesnay Ecotourism Station, which offers winter activities such as dog sledding, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. The hotel will also feature an ice chapel for baptisms and marriages which, along with a hot tub, could make the experience mildly romantic. Ideally, this is the place to send family and friends visiting from parts of the world like the Caribbean, Africa or the Middle East, where the idea of sleeping on a block of ice sounds like true adventure.

Overnight stays at the Ice Hotel start at $150 per person and include an American breakfast. The hotel is scheduled to melt at the end of March. For reservations, call (877) 505-0423 or click onto www.icehotel-canada.com.

 

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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