Building Bridges

Lessons from a Cozy Igloo

Now that we are deep in the midst of a sweltering summer, it may be the perfect time to reminisce about my vacation last March to chilly Quebec, and more specifically, to a night spent in its world-famous Hôtel de Glace, or Ice Hotel. This was a unique experience, and I appreciated both the hotel’s beauty as well as the care the hotel staff showed to the tourists during my stay.

Built of ice imported from Montreal, the Hôtel de Glace accepts visitors each winter from early January until late March. Adorned with beautiful carvings of flowers and animals, the 42 frigid rooms are kept at a constant 27 degrees Fahrenheit and are lit by LED lights. In addition, the hotel boasts an outdoor spa and sauna, as well as a bar that accommodates 300 people. According to the travel website, Jacques Desbois founded Hôtel de Glace when he started building igloo-like structures in 2001, and the project expanded from there. The hotel continues to add rooms each year.

Though the hotel is beautiful and unique, staying there was not without its challenges. Your choice of clothing can contribute to shivering; any garment that retains humidity, like cotton, brings on the chills. There is no bathroom within the Hôtel de Glace, so when nature calls, a walk to a nearby heated building is in order. And forget about “sleeping in” and lounging about your room with a cup of coffee….the staff awakens the guests early each morning to prepare for check-out.

Despite these mini-obstacles, I was thoroughly impressed with how well the hotel’s staff made the guests feel welcome, comfortable, and appreciated. Animal skins draped over each frozen ice bench provide the rooms with a cozy look and feel. The staff rakes the snow-covered floors every morning and evening. A well-insulated fireplace in our room emitted a soft glow. While enjoying drinks at the bar, all patrons were given tools to create an original ice carving.

Most important, the staff shared essential information about staying in the ice hotel and provided crucial support. They conducted a 45-minute training session and showed us how to use a special arctic sleeping bag during the night. In addition, the Hôtel de Glace offers a tour package with the Sheraton Four Points in Quebec, and many patrons elect to book rooms in each for the same evening. That way, the staff can drive you back to the Sheraton in the middle of the night, if you’ve had your fill of ice. Although we didn’t take advantage of this, just knowing the option was available reduced a lot of the anxiety we may have otherwise felt spending an evening in such a foreign environment.

The experience showed me what a difference the staff’s care made during a challenging stay. It reminded me of the need for us, as learning professionals, to extend the same welcome and comfort to our learners when they are being stimulated and “stretched” during a training session. We need to make sure our training room can accommodate our group and that the room temperature is comfortable for people (though keeping participants comfortable should be easier in a training venue than in an ice hotel!).

In addition, I find it helpful to start a training session with an activity where the attendees can interact and get to know each other – an “ice breaker,” similar to the ice carving we did in the bar. With this addition, the attendees will feel more comfortable, which in turn makes it easier for them to both participate and learn.

Honestly, I don’t know if I will ever return to the Hôtel de Glace. I do know that the first-rate staff made an impression on me, and that we all can look to their example of excellence as a model for ourselves.