Earning a Gold Medal in Extreme Shivering and Haughty Derision
The cold splintered through my body like a machine gun spewing high velocity rounds of pins and needles in my direction. I was both in pain and exhilarated, 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 Hôtel 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 Hôtel de Glace.
A visit to the Hôtel de Glace is a must-see-and-do during Winter Carnaval, a 60-plus year tradition in this Canadian province, 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 goes the arched doorways and the roof, all guided by skilled architects and inspected by appropriate agencies. Each season, the design varies, but usually, there are 40-plus guest rooms, a bar, lounge and a play area that includes such silliness an ice slide for adults. Everything is made of packed snow and ice, including the beds.
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/sleeping bag, the bathrooms, and other necessities.
I wear glasses and was warned specifically not to take them off and place them on the night stand made of ice. The warmth of the glasses having been on my face would cause just enough melt for them to later freeze to the surface. I placed my glasses in my boots.
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. Then there was the mad dash across the courtyard back to the locker room. Did I mention it was 24-degrees below zero that night?
Instructions we received before traveling to Quebec City recommended we NOT sleep in anything cotton, that we should bring synthetic sleepwear because such fabric traps less body heat that will transform into moisture and make us cold. The instructions said that most people stay warm and toasty by simply sleeping nude.
Now my momma didn’t raise a complete turnip. Common sense says that on a 24-degree below zero night you layer up in as many clothes and blankets as you can find.
But after a few very well proportioned hot toddies at the ice bar and discussing it with my friends during our bubbly hot tub time, we decided to embrace the whole “when in Rome” philosophy of travel.
There are no doors on the ice hotel because of the potential for them to freeze shut. So once I pulled the heavy curtain across my breezy doorway, I quickly shucked my clothes into a neat pile in the bottom of my sleeping bag and dove in behind them. After just a minute or two of what could only be called ‘extreme shivering,’ I was amazed to realize that I was indeed becoming warm and toasty. Within another few minutes, I was sound asleep.
Now the problem with a hotel made of frozen materials is the lack of indoor plumbing. A 3 a.m. nature call requires leaving the warmth of sleeping bag and darting back across a courtyard. Did I mention that it was 24-degrees below zero?
The next morning as I returned to the heated common area where a hearty biscuit and gravy breakfast awaited, I was surprised to see a dozen or more people who didn’t make it through the night, who had abandoned the comfort of their block-of-ice bed to curl up on the floor of the one heated room in the compound.
Ah, if the Olympics awarded gold medals for looks of Haughty Derision, I would be the Usain Bolt and Simone Biles of spending a night at the ice hotel.
But let me tell you this – once is most definitely enough for this adventure.