Ice Cold Design at Hôtel de Glace
Last week, we looked at the ongoing construction of the world’s largest ice bridge. This week, we are looking at one of the architectural icons of Canadian winter: Québec’s Hôtel de Glace.
This hotel is the only ice hotel in North America made entirely of ice and snow, including 500 tons of ice and 30 000 tons of snow. With a surface area of 3000 square meters and ceilings up to 7 meters, it incorporates 44 rooms and theme suites and includes a Nordic area with hot tubs, a sauna under the stars, an ice bar for 300 people, an ice chapel and a grand ice slide for peope of all ages. Since 2001, more than 1,000,000 people have visited, including 55, 000 overnight guests.
Early December, when the temperatures are below zero for a week period, the construction of the Hôtel de Glace begins. During 6 weeks, approximately 50 people will work on the realization of the Hôtel de Glace. Thirty workers are on the production (or the Expertise team) and fifteen sculptors decorate this masterful creation. Employees in all the team of snow, ice, machinery or artists, everybody works intensely, day and night, on the site until late January. To celebrate the last construction phase, a Grand Opening Night is organized each year.
The raw material of the Hôtel de Glace is, of course, the snow. This snow is made on-site with snow blowers when the temperature is under – 5 °C. More than 30 000 tons of snow is needed to build the Hôtel de Glace. Churned several times, this snow particularly humid and dense will become hard as ice after a short period. Thus, snow coming from the sky cannot be utilized because this snow is too dry and airy to be used.
The first step in the construction of the Hôtel de Glace is the foundation of the “deck”, in other words the floor of the hotel. This deck of 5 feet thick must be very hard and very strong to support the heavy weight of the Hôtel de Glace (3000 m2). The next step is to blow the snow on the molds made of metal. These molds of various sizes are shaped in arch or in dome. Once blown, the snow is retained by a wooden wall to strengthen the structure. Depending on the temperature, a waiting period of about three days helps to solidify the structure. After that waiting period, the molds are removed and then moved elsewhere according to the architectural plan. Once a section is completed, they move on to another and so on. Removing the molds is quite easy because each of them is mounted on jacks that can go down 30 cm. In addition, the molds have a ski base that allows the tractor to remove them by dragging them on the snow. Once completed, the walls have a base of 1.2 to 2.4 m thick and the top of the arch is 75 cm. The largest vaults of the Hôtel de Glace are over 7 m in height.
When a section is sufficiently achieved and that the molds have been removed, the team bring in the ice blocks produced by Glace Frontenac. These ice blocks weigh 500 tons are mainly used to create the furniture (bar, night tables, chairs, etc.), columns, sculptures and ice glasses. Huge ice walls at the ends of some corridors are also made to let the light enter and to create magical effects.
For as long as he can remember, Jacques Desbois, now CEO of the Hôtel de Glace, has been passionate about winter and the snow. In 1996, he established La Piste Desbois, an ecotourism company operating in the design of interactive igloo villages. Nicknamed Mr. Igloo, Mr. Desbois has worked hard to ensure the reputation of his company. Unique in Canada, La Piste Desbois was involved in numerous festivals, cities and organisms over the years. For example, Québec Winter Carnival, the Fête des Neiges de Montréal and the Musée de la civilisation of Québec took advantage of the expertise of La Piste Desbois.
In 1996, Jacques Desbois read an article on the Ice Hotel of Sweden. Immediately, an idea came to his mind: “If they can do it in Sweden, we can do it here in Québec, the snow capital of the world.” he exclaimed. He decided to pack his bags and fly to Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, to meet the creators of this magical structure with it’s touristic potential. After his trip and feasibility studies, Jacques Desbois looked for good partners that would help him reach his goal. Yvon Guérard and Michel Mordret were immediately fascinated by the idea and possibilities of the Hôtel de Glace and decided to join the team.
Since the beginning of their association, it was obvious that the imagination and devotion were essentials to complete this project. During the four years that were needed to start this unusual project, many obstacles occurred. The promoters had tenacity to demonstrate the technical and financial feasibility of the project.
In 2001, Canada and America discovered this incredible attraction recognized around the world. Erected for the first time at the Montmorency Falls, the Hôtel de Glace was then built at the Station Touristique Duchesnay for 9 years and moved again in 2011 on the old site of the Québec Zoo.
Over the years, the unique Hôtel de
Glace has become one of the most famous images of the Canadian winter. As a leader in the tourism industry for the region, the province and the entire country, the Hôtel De Glace now welcomes thousands of visitors from around the world every year.