“YOU are going to sleep in a hotel made of ice,” questioned my friend Colleen? “But, you’re always cold, even here in Florida.”
“True,” I said. I never wear shorts to the movies and always carry a sweater into the grocery store so I don’t shiver in the frozen food aisle. But, I’ve become quite an adventurer and staying in Quebec’s Ice Hotel sounded like a challenge.
I arrived at the Hotel de Glace (as say the French speaking Canadians), a 44-room “icetablishment”, along with three others at 8:45 p.m. Not a time I would ordinarily check-in at a hotel, but rooms don’t open for overnight guests until 9 pm. In retrospect, why sit around a frosty 10-15 degree Fahrenheit bedroom?
My group decided to explore the annually constructed attraction on the grounds of Quebec City’s former zoo. Construction takes a team of 50 people working day and night for six weeks. They start by making 15,000 tons of snow and laying the foundation. Then, snow is blown around arched or dome shaped metal molds. After three days the molds are removed. Finally, 500 tons of crystalline ice blocks arrive to be carved into furniture, columns and sculptures.
We meandered around and soon discovered a vaulted chapel with a stained ice-glass window and etched ice altar. Apparently some die-hard brides get married inside the frozen sanctuary, arriving like the Snow Queen on a sleigh pulled by white horses. Might be picturesque, but shivering through vows doesn’t sound like a good start.
Next, we hit the disco and bar where pulsating music and neon lights bounced around the snow encrusted walls. A glass enclosed fireplace flickered near the corner drawing me to the flames like a true thin-blooded Floridian. But, I realized it didn’t emit any heat. Of course not, the bar would melt if wood burning embers produced warming rays.
Bartenders in fur hats served drinks in oversized ice cube glasses with holes drilled three-quarters through the center. I ordered a Nordique – a combination of vodka, blue Curacao and lime juice. The glass chilled my already numbed and gloved fingers and proved awkward to sip, but the libation slid a welcoming blaze down my throat. I could have sipped another, but I was going to sleep in a room more comfortable to a polar bear than human. I didn’t want to leave my sleeping bag for a bathroom call.
Around 11 pm, we attended a training class, a requirement for all overnight guests held in Celsius, the hotel’s heated lobby, locker room and dining facilities. The instructor explained the secret to staying warm was to start warm. I was told to take a 15-20 minute hot tub (in an outdoor spa, no less) and then dash into a dry sauna. This two-step process would warm my body before donning sleepwear and hopping into a specialized sleeping bag as quick as possible.
Easier said that done. “Make sure you are very dry before putting on your PJ’s,” she coached. I used the locker room blow dryer to thoroughly dry my piggys before putting on high-tech fiber socks. The hotel sends notice to bring breathable synthetic fabric clothing and emphasized a no cotton rule because damp cotton would freeze.
Once clad in my outfit, I threw on my jacket and boots and raced down the snow carpeted pathway to my room- at the opposite end of the complex. I entered an alabaster world; a white arched ceiling and open space dominated by a bed of ice. The bed was topped with a thin piece of plywood, a small mattress and brown fuzzy bedspread. The mattress added some softness but felt stiff from the below freezing temperatures. So, how did I survive?
Guests receive sleeping bags which contain a liner made from material resembling eyeglass cleaning cloths. You finagle your way into this thin shroud before getting into the mummy shaped outer bag. The process is tricky because you must stand on the bed or your stocking feet will get wet from the floor. Once in, you pull the liner up and tighten the sleeping bag’s face straps to completely encase your body.
I tugged and twisted but couldn’t get the straps snug against my head, so I put on my spare ski hat with ear flaps and tied it under my chin. The only thing exposed to the arctic air was my face.
And, baby it was cold. I’m sure my schnoze looked like Rudolph’s with frostbite. I tried to add a scarf around my eyes and upper nose for warmth, but it kept falling off. The North Pole like air chapped my skin and I fought with myself to relax and go to sleep.
So, I lay still and tried slow meditative breathing. However, lying in this inhospitable dark environment made me feel very alone, an emotion magnified by my recent divorce. “Debi,” I thought to myself, “you must be strong and tenacious.” Eventually I ignored the discomfort, managed to let go and nodded off.
Who knows what time it was when I awoke in total darkness. I could see nothing. Had I freed my cocooned arm, I could have turned on the one light bulb in the room. But, I knew I was in snow cave. I had no need to see. Instead, I hummed a song that came into my head, that rather annoying tune from The Poseidon Adventure: ” There’s Got to be a Morning After.”
The next time I awoke I questioned hallucinations. I swear sunlight was creeping into my room. How could that be? My room had no windows. I rolled from a side lying fetal position onto my back and looked up. There, off to the right side of the bed, gapped a hole in the roof. Snow was gently falling as if Tinkerbelle was shaking fairy dust down the opening. The sight was mesmerizingly beautiful, but only for a minute. I was chilled and my bladder was full.
Alas, a thought occurred to me as I scampered back to warmth; I’d slept the night in the Ice Hotel. I survived persistent cold and raw aloneness and if I could withstand that, I must be resilient. What next?