Playing in Snow — Sleeping on Ice
Québec’s Ice Hotel
by Karin Leperi

Yves Tessier © Ice Hotel Québec-Canada


If winter activities are what you live for, then the Station Touristique Duchesnay in the Canadian Province of Québec, has it all.

Whether dog sledding, snow shoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, ice fishing, snowmobiling or sliding; all these are available for the traveler who has winter wanderlust.


From Dog Sledding to Snow Shoeing

For a truly unique northern adventure, nothing can quite equal the sheer thrill of “mushing” your own dog sled team. However, I pass on the driving, and instead, opt to ride on the sled, snuggled under a wool blanket — my camera and me — against the biting winds of the North. My dogs have names: Neige, Cassiopé, Napeu, Exel, Tzar, and Aqua; each with distinct personalities that emerge during my one-hour ride. I catch a backward glance from Exel, not at me, but at Jason, who is steering the sled. He tells me how he raised her from an orphaned pup, and though she is the alpha dog, Excel is still looking back at him for approval.

My next of personal “firsts” is snow shoeing, something I never had a chance to try while growing up in sunny California. Though I struggle with the mounts and laces, I quickly discover that I really enjoy trekking on the snow-packed trail. I make a vow to snow shoe again, the feeling of lightness and freedom of movement are contagious.

Sleeping on Ice

Though people from around the world come to Duchesnay to experience the thrill and beauty of winter the Québec winter chill, just as many come for the novelty of spending a northern night at one of only three Ice Hotels in the world. (The other two are in Sweden and Alaska). For those brave enough to endure, the rewards are exhilarating, if not to say, breath-taking.

I must confess I have slept on hardwood floors, concrete slabs, brittle beds of pine needles, and the baked surface of rocky desert terrain. I have slept on gelatinous water beds that ripple with my every move, much like expanding sound waves as they leave their source. I have also been cradled in the luxurious cellular support of trendy memory foam. However, never have I slept with the freeze of winter; never have I slept on snow and ice. That is, until my night at the Ice Hotel in Québec.

At first, thinking an “Ice Hotel” to be a joke, my wayward musings are soon squashed. A quick tour of the Ice Hotel reveals blocks of blue-tinged ice chiseled and formed into double beds, all in private rooms. This is not any hotel, but a surreal ice crystal palace, the stuff that dreams are made of. Inside this mystical, super-sized igloo are amenities that stretch the imagination — ice art, exhibition rooms, an “ice-cotèque,” wedding chapel, fireplaces, hot tubs and sauna, and heated and lighted washrooms. The architectural expansiveness is astonishing. I keep thinking, “How do they do it?”

Made of 15,000 tons of snow and 500 tons of ice and crafted in less than five weeks, the Ice Hotel features 21 rooms and 13 themed suites, and can accommodate more than 84 people a night. The four-foot thick walls maintain a constant inside temperature between 23-28 degrees Fahrenheit — or on the Celsius scale (as they do in Canada) -5 to -2 degrees. The insular effect is similar to that of a thermos, warm on the inside while cold on the outside.

Art on Ice

A tour of the Ice Hotel reveals a host of surprises, including an abundance of art on ice. From intricate carvings of ice and light, to art galleries with canvases of ice, each year showcases different artisans and themes. Exhibition rooms pay tribute to sponsors.

Marriage on Ice

Over the last six years, more than 75 couples have chosen the Ice Hotel as the destination of choice to declare their love and exchange wedding vows. Romance is in the air with a specially designed wedding chapel, reception room, and private suite that await the newlyweds.


Be prepared for an active night of music, dance, and fun at the ABSOLUT Ice Bar. Specialty vodka splashed with cranberry or orange juice is served in “throw away” ice glasses. Intimate alcoves carved right into the ice provide intimate seating for sipping. Then dance to trendy tunes at the N’Ice Club, the ultimate winter party — one that bestows bragging rights to any and all who dare brave frosty nights. A favorite with club goers is the strategically mounted web camera that snaps your photo, allowing party-goers to email faraway friends who may doubt how “cool” you really are.

Ice Queen Initiate

It’s now 2 a.m. and time to do the jiggle dance with my mummy bag. I have followed the three-layer technique of clothing as recommended by the Ice Hotel: (a) an inner layer of thermal underwear to wick humidity away from the body (avoid cotton); (b) a middle layer that regulates heat such as a fleece or thermal sweater, and finally, (c) an outer layer that protects against wind and moisture such as a ski jacket and pants. Additionally, I am hydrated and satiated, with warm hat, lined gloves, and dry socks. It is time for me to become an Ice Queen initiate by sleeping on packed snow and ice at Québec’s Ice Hotel. I quickly fade into a mystical dreamland of surreal ice castles in the snow.

Photojournalist Karin Leperi

As you can see, Karin is a very accomplished photographer as well as a writer. Below you will see a sample of her photographs. Talking Travel is grateful to Karin for allowing us to include her photographs in this article.

Yves Tessier © Ice Hotel Québec-Canada

Yves Tessier © Ice Hotel Québec-Canada © Ice Hotel Québec-Canada © Ice Hotel Québec-Canada © Ice Hotel Québec-Canada

If you go:

Going on six years old, the Ice Hotel opens its doors for business from the beginning of January to the beginning of April. Various packages are offered for the ultimate winter experience at the Ice Hotel, some including dog-sledding, snow shoeing, and meals. Check the website for the latest promotional offerings. And don’t forget, if you are spending US dollars, they go much further in Canada, making an Ice Hotel experience affordable for the entire family. Children are always welcome.

Canada Ice Hotel (Hôtel de Glace de Québec): Open from January 6, 2006 – April 2, 2006
Reservations: 1-877-505-0423

Aventure Inukshuk (Dogsledding)
Phone: 418-875-0770

Station Touristique Duchesnay
143, Route Duchesnay
Phone: 418-875-2122