Quebec’s Hotel de Glass dazzles with its fanciful frozen decor

The Hotel de Glace in Quebec features guestrooms with elaborate carved walls and a bed made of ice. Some, like this one, come with a fireplace, though it's only for looks - no heat enters the room. (Photo courtesy Hotel de Glace)

The Hotel de Glace in Quebec features guestrooms with elaborate carved walls and a bed made of ice. Some, like this one, come with a fireplace, though it’s only for looks – no heat enters the room. (Photo courtesy Hotel de Glace)

By Marlene Greer, Correspondent

The bed is made of ice, the walls and floor made of snow, and the ambient temperature is a brisk 24 degrees F. Sound like a place you’d like to spend the night? Surprisingly, many people do.

The Hotel de Glace (Ice Hotel), located a few miles from downtown Quebec, is an imaginative creation of snow and ice, reconstructed every winter in a matter of six or so weeks. From the grand entrance, complete with check-in counter, to the guestrooms, the walls of every room are intricately carved into masterpieces of art, and some of the beds feature massive ice canopies and elaborate headboards.

The hotel is open for overnight stays and to tourists from Jan. 5 to March 22. With 44 rooms, a vaulted hall with an amazing ice chandelier, chapel, bar, disco, and ice slide, there’s a lot to see. Visitors can walk around on their own or sign up for a tour.  We opted for the tour, which included a drink at the ice bar.

Like any hotel, the guestrooms range from the small and simple to elaborate suites with fireplaces, which are for ambience only as no heat enters the room. Most rooms come with an ice chair and ice table (can’t imagine spending much time there!) and have one to three beds. But all feature amazing sculpted decor, every one different from the last.

This year’s theme is “Space-Time,” and as visitors wander from room to room, they journey from ancient times into the future. On our tour, we saw one room depicting humankind’s space exploration with a relief of the Space Shuttle and a full-height sculpted astronaut, and another showcasing automobiles, complete with an ice car bed.

Our guide Sara explained that in the evening, the guestroom areas are closed to the public, cleaned and prepared for those staying overnight. A mattress and an isolating bed sheet are placed on the bed to keep the cold from seeping in, and each person is given an arctic sleeping bag. “We advise guests to take a warm shower before bed to increase the body temperature. This will help you stay warm throughout the night,” she said.

After visiting the entrance hall, several rooms, the chapel and disco, the tour ends at the ice bar – a popular stop apparently from the size of the crowd. Sara explained the beer, wine and alcohol are stored in refrigerators not to keep them cold but to keep them from freezing. Everything from the bar counter to the lounge chairs and tables are made of ice. Even the drinks are served in an ice glass, a bulky square block of ice with a hole in the center to hold the liquid.

The first ice hotel went up in 2001, and it’s been a popular winter attraction ever since. With the outside temperature only in the single digits, standing at a table in an ice bar enjoying a vodka and cranberry juice cocktail out of a frozen glass in an ice hotel at 24 degrees feels downright warm.

The ice bar at the Hotel de Glace. (Photo by Marlene Greer)

The ice bar at the Hotel de Glace. (Photo by Marlene Greer)

Racing canoes on ice-covered St. Lawrence River among events at Quebec’s Winter Carnival

Two crews in the elite male class compete in the ice canoe race on the St. Lawrence River during Quebec's Winter Carnival. (Photo by Marlene Greer)

Two crews in the elite male class compete in the ice canoe race on the St. Lawrence River during Quebec’s Winter Carnival. (Photo by Marlene Greer)

By Marlene Greer, Correspondent

Standing on the edge of the St. Lawrence River watching a group of five women power their canoe over the ice-crusted surface, all I could think of was, “You go, ladies!”

The women are among the 10 teams of elite female crews competing in the ice canoe race, one of many events and competitions at the Winter Carnival in Quebec City. In addition to the women, there are 10 teams in the elite male class, and a whole lot of brave souls in the amateur sport class. (I stopped counting at 25 boats.)

From where we stand near the starting line, we can hear the canoes coming before we see them. We hear the voices of the crew, but mostly we hear the scraping of boats over ice. The ice on the river is broken up in huge blocks, and navigating them takes great physical effort and group coordination.

Wearing spiked shoes, holding on to the gunwale, and kneeling on one knee in the boat with the other leg dangling over the edge, the crews propel their canoes up and over the chunks of ice. The crews do this for half a mile up river before reaching flowing water where they jump in and start paddling.

For today’s race, the temperature is in the single digits, sinking into sub-zero with the fierce wind blowing across the river. But the cold weather doesn’t keep bundled-up spectators from lining the riverbank, four and five deep. Nor, apparently, does it bother the racers.

When I marvel at the utter craziness of it all, a native Quebecer standing next to me counters, “I’ve done it once; it’s a lot of fun!”

The ice canoe race is a carnival staple. It’s been held every year since the carnival’s inception in 1955. The first women’s team participated in the race in 1966. The race begins in Quebec City, and teams navigate a course across the river to Levis and back. The elite male class must complete the circuit twice.

So why a canoe race on a frozen river? According to the Quebec City Tourism website, carnival competitions were created to represent Quebec winter traditions. The canoe, dogsled and sleigh are traditional modes of transportation and were important to the settlement and history of Quebec.

Quebec’s winter carnival ends today with the sleigh races and the closing ceremonies.

A crew in the elite female class work to get their canoe across the ice. (Photo by Marlene Greer)

A crew in the elite female class work to get their canoe across the ice. (Photo by Marlene Greer)

Everyone loves the parade at Quebec’s Winter Carnival

Spectators line the streets to watch the night parade in Quebec. Photos courtesy Quebec City Tourism

Spectators line the streets to watch the night parade in Quebec. (Photos courtesy Quebec City Tourism)

By Marlene Greer/Correspondent

Lights, camera (yours) and lots of action.

That’s the night parade at Quebec’s Winter Carnival, a 17-day long celebration of all things snow and ice. The parade is so popular it’s done twice – once in the suburb of Charlesbourg and a second time through the streets of Quebec. The Charlesbourg parade was held last weekend, and the parade in Quebec is set for Saturday.

“The parade in Charlesbourg is held earlier in the night at 6 and is better for children,” said Paule Bergeron of Quebec City Tourism.

Standing with the crowd in Charlesbourg, a look across the street at the row of children lining the parade route definitely gives the impression this is a family event. And the zero-degree temperature hasn’t spoiled the fun. But it does make for a lot of stamping of feet, clapping of hands and dancing around by spectators just to stay warm. Even the marching bands had to wrap their instruments to keep them from freezing.

The parade begins with groups of jesters and jokers who dance, mime and perform acrobatics. Spectators blow their long, red plastic horns, a carnival necessity, in approval. There are musicians, singers and marching bands, playing mostly Canadian tunes, but we did recognize the familiar “Eye of the Tiger.”

This wide-eyed creature is just one of many in the parade.

This wide-eyed creature is just one of many in the parade.

It’s the colorful lighted floats, however, which are the most interesting. A long procession of sea creatures, magical creatures, and what looked to me like dancing snow wolves entertained the crowd.

At the end of the parade came Bonhomme, the carnival’s mascot. Bonhomme is a snowman who wears a red cap, an arrowhead sash and a big smile. And just like with Mickey Mouse at Disneyland, the kids, parents and tourists all clamber for a photo with the famed character. Bonhomme’s been around since the first carnival in 1955, and kids seem to love him.

The carnival concludes this weekend with the snow bath (put on your swimsuit, some boots and roll in the snow), Quebec night parade and after-party on Saturday and the sleigh race and closing ceremonies on Sunday.

Bonhomme waves to the crowd.

Bonhomme waves to the crowd.

Enjoying the Carnaval de Quebec with an ice castle, rides and caribou

Ice castle at Carnival de Quebec (Photo by Marlene Greer)

Ice castle at Winter Carnival in Quebec. (Photo by Marlene Greer)

By Marlene Greer, Correspondent

Bundled up in several layers of clothing, we braved the single-digit temperatures for a sled ride down an ice track, a round of bumper rafts on ice, a drink of caribou at the ice bar, and a walk through an ice castle. We even made our own “maple-sicles” in the snow.

It’s all part of Carnaval de Quebec, a 17-day long celebration of all things snow and ice. Quebec City, like much of the northeast in early February, was in the grip of a deep freeze, but that didn’t keep families from bundling up in their snow gear for some winter fun.

Christian, a native Quebecer there with his two children, the youngest he was pulling around in a sled, joked, “We have to do something in winter.”

The carnival is spread across the Plaines D’Abraham just outside the old walled city. In addition to the rides, food, music, snow sculptures and events at the Plaines, parades, concerts and races take place throughout the city.

Making maple popsicles (Photo by Marlene Greer)

Making maple popsicles. (Photo by Marlene Greer)

The first thing you notice – and can’t miss – at the carnival is the large ice palace, a tradition going back to the first carnival in 1955. As you go from room to room, you can lounge in an ice chair, check out the ice bar, and explore ice tunnels (for kids, except for one parent we watched crawl in to retrieve her wayward toddler).

Then there are the beautiful to fantastical snow sculptures. The international snow sculpture competition has been part of the carnival since 1973. Sculptors from around the globe come to Quebec to create these intricate and realistic works of art. A trail winds among the sculptures so you can view them from all sides.

Being Canadians, of course there’s a small hockey rink, where kids can grab a stick and join in. There’s also ice fishing, dogsled rides, a tubing hill, and bumper rafts, where you just sit back and enjoy the spin as the boats (on wheels) are pushed around the ice. And what’s a carnival without food and drink? We tried the make-your-own maple pop and caribou. To make a traditional Canadian maple pop, a foot-long strip of warm maple syrup is poured on top of snow, and you take a popsicle stick and roll the slowly hardening syrup around the stick. As for caribou, with a name like that how could we resist? Caribou is made with Canadian port, vodka and brandy and is served warm – perfect on a frigid winter day.

The carnival concludes this weekend. Special events include the night parade and after-party, a sleigh race, and the crazy snow bath.

Snow sculpture at Carnival de Quebec (Photo by Marlene Greer)

Snow sculpture at Winter Carnival in Quebec. (Photo by Marlene Greer)


Park City Adventures: Main Street offers many interesting sights

By Correspondent Marlene Greer

Take a stroll down Park City’s historic Main Street and you can’t miss Loosey the Moose all dressed up in her finest, the intriguing wind sculptures, the wonderful Park City Museum, and the chairlift where you can take a ride up to Park City Mountain Resort.

The Park City Museum is housed in the former city hall and territorial jail built in 1885. It tells the story of the city’s silver mining heritage and its transition to a ski resort.

Visitors can climb into an old mining cage and feel what it was like to be transported miles underground and explore the life of a miner. The many exhibits, historical artifacts, interactive displays and running documentaries will keep you busy for a good hour or two.

One fascinating tidbit was how two miners started the area’s first ski resort. But to get to the hill, skiers had to ride a mining car three miles underground, then step into a mining cage to ascend 1,800 feet to the surface. The trip took an hour.

It was snowing the day we wandered around town, so we couldn’t take in more than a quick glimpse of the many sculptures and outdoor artworks along Main Street.

We spotted the well-dressed and primped Loosey, a bear on a bench in case a visitor wanted to snuggle for a photo and a very realistic looking Native-American ready to let fly with an arrow.

There were also many intricately patterned metal windmills, the work of world-renown artist Lyman Whitaker, who for 30 years has been “gracefully capturing the spirit of the wind through his kinetic art.”

There are a dozen or more art galleries along Main Street, showcasing a variety of work from local and nationally known artists. Several have an emphasis on Western art and feature painted and sculpted bison, horses and bears, and canvases of pastures, wranglers and beautiful alpine autumns.

But there are also the wild and wacky, the delicate glassworks and the Hollywood icons.

Disabled youth, adults learn to ski at Pico Mountain in Vermont

Vasu & MGreer at PicoBy Marlene Greer

Vasu Sojitra sped down the hill with abandon. He skied backward with ease. He maneuvered through the trees and even managed a helicopter turn or two.

The teenager, pictured above with the author, learned to ski on his one leg nine years ago through Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports. He skis on one fat ski using specialized poles with skids. And as happens with most people who learn to ski when they are young, Vasu seems fearless.

We took a day off from skiing Killington and headed over to nearby Pico Mountain, a 10-minute shuttle ride from the Killington Grand Hotel. There we met Vasu, an intern for Vermont Adaptive.

Vermont Adaptive has its headquarters in the newly completed Andrea Mead Lawrence Lodge at Pico. Its programs serve nearly 1,300 children, youth and adults with disabilities. Vasu is one of 400 interns and volunteers who assist in teaching those with disabilities how to ski using specialized equipment. He’s also one of the program’s many successes. Keeping up with him was a challenge.

Pico is a much smaller mountain than Killington – only 468 skiable acres with 57 trails and seven lifts. But its abundance of intermediate terrain, short gladed trails, and wide, green groomers make it a great place for a day of casual skiing and an ideal hill for Vermont Adaptive students to experience the thrills of skiing.

But there was nothing casual about skiing with Vasu. He joined us in an afternoon exploration of the mountain and tore down everything he encountered. A couple of times we took the easy route and met up with him at the bottom of the hill.

We asked the New England native what he loved most about the sport.

“Backcountry skiing,” he said without hesitation. “It’s the best.” This brought up another question of how he manages the uphill in the backcountry. He explained how he attaches small snowshoes to the feet of his poles, giving him the ability to walk in the snow.

It seems nothing will keep a skier from doing what he loves.

Canyons Resort is great for intermediate and advanced skiers in Park City, Utah

By Correspondent Marlene Greer

The Canyons is immense and glorious for intermediate and advanced skiers, with so much variety of terrain to choose from, it’s not to be done in one day. At least not for me and my group of nine.

But there’s not much at Canyons for beginners. Just 10 percent of the trails are marked green, and those trails cover little of the ski area’s vast territory.

The Canyons, one of the three major ski resorts in Park City, Utah, is four miles from downtown Park City and 32 miles from the Salt Lake City Airport. Several shuttle services offer transportation from the airport to the resort and to Park City for a reasonable price. Free public buses from Park City run all day between Park City and Canyons.

If you like to ski groomers and opt to try Canyons on your own without a guide, pick up the daily grooming report at the base lodge. It’s invaluable.

Great guide leads us to best spots in Canyons Resort in Park City, Utah

Our mountain guide gave us great tips to ski better. (Photo by Marlene Greer)

Our mountain guide gave us great tips to ski better. (Photo by Marlene Greer)

By Correspondent Marlene Greer

When I’m not familiar with a ski area and I’m by myself, I like to sign up for a guided mountain tour. Canyons offers one daily at 10:30 a.m.

For me, a guided tour is a good way to get around and get to know the mountain without landing on a mogul minefield or finding myself looking over an abyss, thinking, “What am I doing here?”

Mountain guides know which runs are groomed and which runs are suitable that particular day for their group. I find the tours enjoyable and informative. Plus, I get to meet people from all over the world.

Our group of nine was a joyful band of good skiers who wanted to take it easy. No big bowls, no trees and definitely no moguls. Just nice, easy cruisers with good pitch and maybe some powder on the side.

We were a group of West Coasters — California, Oregon and Washington. Seems we were all fleeing the dry conditions in the West for the more favorable Utah snow.

Fortunately, we were graced with a fresh dusting of it — 6 inches of snow fell the day and night before, leaving a blush of powder over hard-packed groomed.

We wanted to see as much of the area as possible — boundary to boundary, as one skier in our group put it. A hardy task given the ski resort covers nine peaks and five bowls with 4,000 skiable acres and counts itself among the largest ski areas in the nation.

Roger Seaborn, our affable Australian tour guide, however, was unflappable. He took our request seriously. This was no tour for slackers.

With 182 trails to choose from, we got busy. With Roger leading the way, we managed to find one or two of the best blues, groomed double blues, and a bit of powder off each lift, skiing nearly end to end and top to bottom throughout the resort.

For those in the group who wanted a challenge here and there, Roger would stop on a run and point out another way down and we would all meet up at the bottom.

One place we skipped was the double-black terrain off the resort’s notorious Ninety-Nine 90 Express (so called because it rises to the resort’s highest elevation at 9,990 feet). This is expert-only terrain. Roger told us a couple of out-of-bounds skiers had triggered an avalanche on a bowl just outside the resort’s boundary only two days before.

Roger is also a certified instructor. Though it wasn’t part of the program, he offered ski tips to anyone in the group open to suggestions and improvement, which was all of us.

“Marlene, it’s your turn. Get in behind me,” he called out just as we were making our way off the Orange Bubble Express and down yet another nice groomer. “I want you to follow my tracks.”

Easier requested then accomplished. Roger was trying to get me to work on more rounded — and more graceful — turns. Others in the group he instructed to bend more at the knees, roll the ankles and lean more forward. I think the instructor in him just couldn’t help himself.

If he saw one of us doing something, he first asked permission in a nice way if you minded a little instruction — then proceeded to offer his advice, which we greatly appreciated.

Skiing 18.5 miles at the Canyons Resort in Park City, Utah

Scenic view from top of the Canyons Resort in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Marlene Greer)

Scenic view from top of the Canyons Resort in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Marlene Greer)

By Correspondent Marlene Greer 

“You’ve done 16,100 vertical feet and 31.7 miles,” reported Ed Kane during a mountain tour of Canyons Resort in Park City, Utah.

He had one of those $400 fancy oversized wristwatch gizmos that tracked his every ski move and recorded it for posterity. Plus for backup, he had a $1.29 app on his phone that did the same thing.

I’m not sure which one worked better. And since he and I skied on the same tour with the same guide, his end-of-the-day vertical was my vertical and his miles were my miles.

“Wow, 31 miles! I can’t believe we did that much skiing,” I replied. “We’ve covered so much of the mountain and didn’t even see it all. Thirty-one miles, that’s a marathon! And I don’t feel tired at all!”

I was so excited, I couldn’t wait to tell everyone I skied 31 miles in a day, and how much I enjoyed my excellent Canyons experience. Ed found my excitement a bit humorous and smiled as I went on and on.

Then came the bubble-burster.

“Ah… half of that was on a lift, though,” Ed informed me.

“So you mean I only went 15 miles?” I asked, thinking it didn’t sound nearly as impressive as the 31 miles I was already planning to post on Facebook.

“No. You did 18.5 miles,” he said with what might have been a hint of laughter.

If I had known Ed for more than the six hours we spent traversing the Canyons’ numerous slopes, I would have given him The Look. You know the one — the “Don’t get technical with me” look we reserve for those we know intimately.

Still, 18.5 miles didn’t sound too shabby. I could go with that. It was my first time skiing at Canyons.

Killington Resort, VT: Tree skiing with extreme skier Dan Egan

By Marlene Greer

Premier extreme skier Dan Egan holds all-terrain ski camps at Killington Resort a couple times each season. Don’t know the name? He’s the star – along with his brother John – of a dozen Warren Miller films that turned extreme skiing into a lucrative industry.

He was just a boy then, ripping up everything he could find, Dan Eganwhen Miller discovered him. These days, Egan produces his own sports films, covers world-wide skiing events (including the Sochi Olympics), and teaches ski clinics all over the world.

Today he’s at Killington explaining his teaching techniques before taking a group of skiers and riders to discover the joys of tree skiing at the Vermont resort.

His camps, he said, are about “total body skiing.”

“I can get you skiing better fast,” he explained. “I look at the alignment of your body over your feet and give you a set of drills and skills, and the only difference between beginning and advanced is the pitch we do (the drills and skills) on.”

At Killington, he said, skiers and riders can go boundary to boundary in the woods. But you need to know where those woods come out before heading in, he cautions.

In his tree skiing camp, Egan aspires to change the way his students see the hill. One skier, after a day of following Egan through the woods, said of the experience: “I was definitely out of my comfort zone, which is a good thing.”

Egan’s best tree skiing tips: “Better to kick them then kiss them.” And, “keep your feet below your head.”

Sound advice.