“It’s not a lodging service, the ice hotel. It’s a once in a lifetime experience, like jumping a bungee or any other crazy thing you want to experience,” says Jacques Dubois, founder and CEO of Hôtel de Glace Québec-Canada inc.
Since starting the company in the mid-90’s, the igloo builder now supervises the creation of a renewed 30, 000 sq. ft. ice hotel every year. Whether you’re an overnight guest bundling up in winter camping gear for the night or a roaming day guest, there’s plenty to do from visiting an art gallery to drilling your own glass and having a nice drink on the rocks.
Where did you get the idea to start this company?
It started by my personal passion of winter and experience sleeping in any kind of snow shelter — igloos, quinzees, caves, any matter of winter camping. In the mid-90’s, I decided to start this small company, with the objective of building igloo villages on the countryside of Quebec and to accommodate clients and tourists eager to experience sleeping beneath snow. It was a four year journey between the idea and the achievement of our first ice hotel in 2001.
Do the designs and architects change every year?
As the hotel melts, we take advantage to renew the design and architecture every year. Some artists have been with our team for many years but we’re working to introduce new artists. This is to keep the freshness, good competition and spirit among the artists. My main involvement is the concept. I have to think, “What do we want to communicate to the people, to the guests we will have?”
Are there any special themes in mind for this year?
This year is our anniversary, and an anniversary is a kind of passage. So, we want to play with timeline. There’s a timeline in the life of the ice hotel, but we want to play wider. We want to play with the space of time. We want the 15th ice hotel this winter to be a big and huge travel through time – between the past, the present, and the future – meanwhile showing some souvenirs of the ice hotel.
What do you hope people take away from the experience?
We wish to overwhelm the expectations; that’s what we’re working for. The expectations are always high because they’ve heard about the ice hotels. They’ve seen photos and reports and they’re looking to be amazed. They’re expecting to see something nice and finely designed. But the way we want to surprise people over that is by making them learn something. In addition to its magnificence and crystalline design, we want in a gentle and amazing way, make people go, “Oh, I never thought I would have learned that by visiting and staying at the ice hotel. That’s what we’re looking to add to the experience.
In an ice hotel, how do guests stay warm?
The ice hotel itself is a kind of thermos. Even if it’s minus 45 outside, which is pretty cold, inside it’s about minus five. Even if it’s plus five outside, it remains minus five inside. It’s very special to realize, coming from minus 20 outside, you come inside at minus five and it’s still minus but you have a feeling of warmth because of the difference from the outside. Snow is a natural insulating material, and the idea of the ice hotel comes from the existence of these ancient snow shelters. Over the insulating character of the snow, we are building 15 to 20 feet arches, whose massive width and volume also contributes to insulate the inside from the outside. The snow insulating factor and body warmth is the way to get warm inside the ice hotel.
Do you have to take special precautions to keep the furniture and beds from melting?
It’s all about the knowledge and expertise to build the ice hotel, to know we are producing the accurate snow to be the most resistant for the duration of the operation. When we close the ice hotel every end-of-March, the building itself is structurally good for at least two more weeks. But the precaution is also to maintain that building. Once it’s built, we have to work on it all winter long. If we have a couple of warm days, we need to maintain the ice. We have to deal with a living building of solid water, which can be more cold, less cold, depending the temperature. It’s never fully built and ‘finished.’
What is your favourite thing about the ice hotel?
My favourite thing is to see this building, living and welcoming all the people from all around the world, listening to their comments, looking at their faces. The ice hotel is a marvel. It’s more of an attraction than just a hotel. It’s a northern event.