Entrance to the Ice Hotel in Quebec, constructed totally of ice.

Simply Chillin'

In Quebec City

Special to the Journal

I don't do cold. When the temperature dips below 70F, I grab a sweater‹sometimes a coat. But I kept hearing so many great things about the Winter Carnival and the Ice Hotel. I decided to be brave it and see what February in Quebec City is like.

The Arctic Canadian air is what gave the Quebec City Ice Carnival its birth. In 1954, the winter was so bitter, locals decided to liven things up with a festival. Every year, for three weekends in February, folks come to enjoy 300 different activities, contests and sleigh rides. Parents haul bundled-up toddlers around on sleds to marvel at ice sculptures like Moby Dick, the ice castle and Bonhomme, the festival's snowman mascot. The wind stings your face when ice rafting down a snow hill or zipping on a cable line but hard-core Quebecians still do it en masse. Even climbing the slippery slope to the cable zip can take some effort. What are these Canadians thinking?

This carnival transforms the sane into insane. The "Snow Bath" is a good example. It is 5F in the carnival grounds and scads of people, clad only in hats, tennis shoes and bathing suits, dance and romp in the snow. Between the winter wackiness and all the events, I chill out about the weather.

Funny thing, the paraders at Quebec City's Winter Carnival feel the same way. Bonhomme, noisy bands and scantily clad twirlers and dancers do their stuff.

It can't be more than 10 degrees F. My friend's camera lens freezes. Clad in a down coat, hood, high-tech hat‹which makes my head look like a bowling ball‹shirt, heavy wool sweater, plastic bags wrapped around my legs, snow pants, cotton socks, then plastic bags under wool socks, heavy boots, and two scarves doesn't keep me from feeling like an icicle.

Locals will tell you that no matter what the temperature, a good pair of shoes or boots and lots of stamina is the only requirement to walk around Quebec City. All winter long, Lower Town‹the old port which now contains small boutiques and hotels‹and Upper Town‹the more upscale part of town‹are rarely empty.

Surrounding the city is a 2.8 mile-long, 20-foot thick and 40-foot high wall. Construction was started by the French, but when the Brits took control, they finished the job to keep the French out. Climb to the wall's top and walk the walk. It is an open air museum of British and French architecture, battlegrounds and the city icon, Chateau Frontenac. Of course, walking at ground level isn't too shabby, either. Take a stroll on Grand Allee Street, the "in" place for beautiful people, restaurants and discos. Local, bars, restaurants and, the oldest grocery in North America, J A. Moison are on Cartier Street. Ice sculptures adorn many store fronts. Nearby Duchesnay offers dog sledding. Boots, pants, gloves and a pre-sledding orientation are supplied. Barking sounds fill the air. Translation: "I want to go sledding. Take me!" Those dogs that get left behind cry.

The sledding experience will be forever etched in my mind. After sliding under the sled blanket, the guide takes his place behind the reins. Off we go, the freezing air nipping at my face. (Why am I here? I think to myself.) At the first turn our sled gets stuck in a snow bank.

I jokingly ask our driver, Jerome, "is this your first time doing this?"

"No, it is my third", he replies.

I think he is teasing until we veer off the trail a couple of times. He says that this is his internship and is dead serious. He can't get the dogs to move. The dogs behind us are impatient and want to pass. Maybe ours is the senior citizen dog team. If only he was a veteran driver. We survive and make it to the warming hut for some hot chocolate.

I think of my next adventure, a night in the Ice Hotel, as the precursor of the Ted Williams treatment. (Remember the Boston Red Sox icon whose family froze him when he died?) Constructed totally of 500 tons of ice and 15,000 tons snow with walls four feet thick, the Ice Hotel is a phenomenon. Its 36 rooms and suites can accommodate 88 people. Every year it is rebuilt because the sleeping rooms, chapel, ice bar, disco and art gallery are mush by April. At night, colored lights illuminate a huge ice chandelier and rooms. It looks surreal. The ice fireplace wouldn't last long with a crackling fire, so forget that. Chairs are covered with animal skins, so you won't freeze your butt off. Drinks at the bar are served in cubed-shaped ice glasses. They chill vodka just perfectly.

Sleeping in the Ice Hotel is a singular experience. You can't just check in and curl up with a good book. There are procedures to follow. For example, before you hit the sack‹um, ice‹it is recommended that you jump into an outdoor hot tub. That is supposed to elevate your body temperature. No thanks. Someone I know did it and her hair turned to icicles.

You must stay dry. Even a drop of sweat, says our instructor, can cause the shivers. I think to myself, what if I drool? Will I get hypothermia?

Each of the suites has a theme ‹ an igloo, a chessboard, a medieval castle and a cave. My friend Lorry and I share the Concerto, which is sculptured with musical notes and clefs. At bedtime, one just doesn't climb into bed. No, first separate mummy bag from its covering. Clothes and shoes are removed. Clothes sans shoes are put in the bottom of the bag. Slide out the silk liner and pillow, shimmying into the bag and pulling the strings shut.

As I lay on my slab, the silence is deafening. I look over at Lorry. Steam comes out her mummy back every time she takes a breath. Unable to sleep, I wonder how long a human can survive single digit temperatures.

Suddenly, I feel the call of nature. As cold as I am, I almost work up a sweat getting out of the bag. I forgot where the toilet is, but my thrashing has aroused Lorry. She joins me on a search through the snowy walls.

Because it is not made of ice and warm, the bathroom is a happening place at 3 a.m. Blow dryers are popular - forget about hair, they are body warmers. Guests sprint out on the way back to their rooms. One lady dressed in boots, a fur hat and pajamas with sheep on them runs right past. She makes a quick U-turn to the warm potties.

Some cannot tough it out. They escape to the lodge to try, the key word is try, to warm up at the fireplace. I make it through the night on my freezing slab but am totally done with winter. My preference is palm trees and warm sea breezes but my fun memories of Quebec City are chiseled in my memory like an ice sculpture.

IF YOU GO: Hotel reservations for both the Hotel and Quebec City's Winter Carnival should be made well in advance. For information contact: Tourisme Quebec: Quebec City Tourism: or Carnaval de Quebec,

Back to top