You wouldn't book a room at Quebec City's Ice Hotel for its amenities. There are no minibars, no televisions, no phones--not even indoor bathrooms for that matter. Warmth? The temperature in each of the hotel's six guest rooms is about 25[degrees]F. In fact, the beds are made of ice. Jacques Desbois, founder and operator of the Ice Hotel, makes no bones about just what the place offers: "We're a thrill service," he says, "not a lodging service."
Yet when the Ice Hotel opened last month, the rooms were booked for weeks. Before the hotel closes at the end of March (what with the spring thaw and all), Desbois and his partners expect to more than meet their operating budget of some $530,000, thanks to overnight guests' paying $100 for bed and breakfast, about 40,000 day visitors who pay $8 for a tour, as well as income from numerous corporate events and sponsors.
Clues to the success of this frostbitten abode become evident as soon as you enter its lobby, where the elegant furniture never needs dusting because it's all made of ice, and the floors never need polishing since they're carpeted with snow. In the adjoining bar, the guests, all bundled up in their winter coats and hats, are quite happy to tell you that they have traveled from as far as Australia--for the adventure and to celebrate life and its major events, including weddings, reunions and birthdays. Whether they describe their adventure as soft or hard and consider snow exotic or familiar, they are ebullient.
Desbois, a Quebec businessman, got the idea in 1996 from an article about the first, and at that time only, ice hotel, in Sweden. "Why not build an ice hotel here in Quebec?" he asked himself. If some 40,000 visitors a year were willing to travel to a tiny village 125 miles above the Arctic Circle to visit the Swedish ice hotel, Desbois reasoned, how many more would come to one in a place as accessible as the city of Quebec, which already attracts more than 6 million visitors each year? Once armed with partners, funding and a feasibility plan, he entered into an agreement with the owners of the Swedish hotel, now in its 10th year, so that he could benefit from their expertise in building a solid, safe structure. Desbois was also confident that he could handle the ephemeral building material, as he had experience building igloo villages for festivals and eco-events.
A series of connected igloos covering 10,000 sq. ft., the hotel is but a few minutes' walk from the Manoir Montmorency, once home of Queen Victoria's father, and the mighty waterfalls that have drawn visitors for hundreds of years. There is nothing flimsy about the building, as it's composed of 4,750 tons of compressed snow and ice. Its domed ceilings are 16 ft. at their peak; its walls are 7-ft. thick. In the hotel, an ice chandelier shimmers over world-class ice sculptures of various subjects, including animals, an igloo and Inuit as they go about their life. Paintings of wintry Quebec scenes are encased in ice in one of two separate art galleries. There's even a little movie theater, where pelts cover the stadium-style seats and I catch a short film about the North.