These days, there are ice hotels being constructed all over the world. Alaska, Germany, Romania, Finland are just a few of the location about which I've read. There was some chatter during our stay at Hotel de Glace about Montreal opening its first ice hotel. They too were affected by the mild winter weather and were running behind schedule. Even though Montreal is only 3 hours away from Quebec City, it has an extra challenge because its climate tends to be warmer than that of Quebec City.
Regardless of whether or not you decide to stay overnight at an ice hotel, I highly recommend having a look at one if you are ever in the vicinity. I am sure you will be amazed by the creations.
A dog sledding excursion was included in the Adventure Package we booked. It occurred on the afternoon we were due to check into the Ice Hotel. On the day of our dog sledding excursion we checked out of the Courtyard Marriott in downtown Quebec City and took a $30 taxi ride to the Four Points by Sheraton (back-up hotel included in our package). The Sheraton was supposed to shuttle us to the dog sledding site (Aventures Nord-Bec Stoneham) about 20 minutes away but their shuttle driver called in sick that day. The hotel owner, Josť de Freitas, happened to be at the hotel that day so he drove Traci and me in his personal vehicle out to the dog sledding site. Josť is a really personable and interesting guy. This avid outdoorsman speaks five languages. He had recently returned from Tanzania where he succeeded in climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. (UPDATE: Little did I know at the time but Traci and I would also climb Mt. Kilimanjaro three years later even though we are far from outdoorsy. You can read about our crazy 6-day adventure on the world's 4th tallest mountain here.) The Sheraton and the Ice Hotel are partners. Josť wanted to make sure everything was going smoothly with our package. He even stopped by to visit us while Traci and I were dining at the Sheraton's Le Dijon restaurant later that evening. We appreciated the way he and his staff treated us during our stay.
But back to the dog sledding. Our appointment was for 1 PM. It seemed Traci and I were the only clients during our time at Aventures Nord-Bec Stoneham resort. After signing a release form, we were taken outside the lodge to a demonstration sled. A nice gentleman showed me how to stop and turn. To stop, you step on the brake - a metal blade that digs into the snow. To turn, you stand on one of the runners and lean. I wasn't totally sure why he was giving us this lesson. After all, as far as I knew, I was not driving the sled. After this quick lesson, he led us down a path and over a bouncy suspension bridge to the real dogsleds. We could hear the dogs barking and howling long before we saw them.
"Hey, wake up! Let's do some dog sledding."
"Hitch'em dawgs up and let's go!"
I originally thought Traci and I would be sitting on a sled while the guide did the mushing. To my surprise, the guide showed me to my team of dogs. He had Traci sit on the sled and me stand behind the sled holding the brake until he finished giving me some final instructions. Since we were in the French-speaking region of Canada, the dogs respond to French commands. He told me to yell "En avant" (forward) to get the dogs to go and "Whoa!" when I want them to stop. Okay, I believe "Whoa!" is understood in most languages. I asked if I needed to use my French to tell the dogs to go left or right but he told me I didn't because the dogs know the trails.
Our guide had his own team of dogs. He told me to keep my team a good distance behind him to avoid our dogs getting tangled. With that, he and his team took off. My dogs leapt into the air and ran barking after him. I couldn't believe it. I was actually dog sledding!
We followed a network of trails in the woods. I occasionally had to duck or lean to avoid branches. All was going great until we got to our first downhill. Our guide stopped his team and I used the brake to stop mine since my dogs never obeyed my "Whoa!" command. To prepare me for this small hill, he told me not to overuse the brake because it tires the dogs. He told me to use my foot Flintstone-style to slow the sled if necessary. He took off and I yelled "En avant!" to get my team going. The dogs took off like lightning. As we picked up speed, I tried to use my foot to slow down as instructed but this just seemed to make the dogs pull harder. The trail started to curve but the momentum of the sled had Traci and me on a collision course with a tree. I tried to gain control but the next thing I knew, I was laying face down in the snow. I was horrified when I wiped the snow from my face and saw the sled on its side a few yards away and Traci lying motionless in the snow next to a tree. Our guide and I ran over to her. It turns out, the reason she wasn't moving was because she was stuck in a deep snow bank - not because of a serious injury. We helped her out. Fortunately, she was okay physically - just a slightly bruised shoulder. Mentally, Traci and I were both shaken. She decided to ride with our guide after the wipeout and I did not blame her.
Now this presented a problem for me. My team was hitched for pulling two people. Now they only had to pull me. I found out how strong these dogs are. I had to apply a lot of pressure on the brake to keep them from running too close to our guide. It was also a challenge to keep the empty sled upright when coming around the bends. All the braking I was doing was causing the dogs to tire and me to sweat. Every time we stopped, my panting dogs would start gulping down snow. Our guide eventually had to unhook one of the dogs from the main pull line to reduce some of the force.
"Here we come!"
trying to slow down Flintstone-style
Traci rode with the guide after our wipeout.
on my own
We spent about an hour on the beautiful trails without too much drama other than some of my dogs letting out some smelly farts. During one, stop two of my dogs briefly began fighting but it ended as soon as I yelled "En avant!".
I was happy to see Traci had regained enough confidence to try driving the dogs. Our guide relaxed in the sled while Traci did the mushing
After the dog sledding, we were shown some of the other dogs such as the powerful Malamutes and told about the work it takes to care for the 170+ dogs the resort owns. By the time Traci and I walked back to the main lodge, the staff had hot chocolate and homemade cookies waiting for us. We were invited to take a look at the pictures the staff took of our dog sledding adventure. We were not allowed to use our own cameras while on the course; therefore, we had to rely on the pictures taken by the staff. There were several photo packages available for purchase. We ended up paying $55 to have all 36 pictures burned to a CD. By the time we finished our refreshments and made our purchase, Josť had arrived to drive us back to the Sheraton.
Our dog sledding turned out to be much more than I had originally anticipating. I never thought I would be driving my own team of dogs. It was exciting, scary, and beautiful. Quebec City...
Magnet Purchased on this Trip: (click to enlarge)Entire fridge magnet collection...