The biggest winter carnival in the world is the annual Quebec Winter Carnival, in the heart of Old Quebec. This year’s three weeks of fun in the snow is from January 29 to February 14, 2010.
Three weeks of festivities at the Quebec Winter Carnival include parades, fireworks, slide runs, a giant foot ball game, concerts, snow sculptures, horse-drawn sleigh rides, dogsled rides, an Ice Tower, ice skating and ice fishing.
All of it is watched over the carnival mascot, a large white friendly snowman who seems to appear everywhere at once, named Bonhomme. He is always smiling, dressed in a red stocking cap and a colorful sash around his waist, his chest decorated with round black buttons. Of course there’s a person inside the costume, welcoming you both in French and in English, the dual languages of Quebec.
One of the most popular carnival events is a canoe race on the St. Lawrence River. Some years the river is frozen solid, and teams pull their wooden canoes over the ice instead of paddling them through the water. Another is the snow bath, in which a 100 or so hardy partyers strip to their bathing suits and roll around in the snow. Of course, snowball fights have been known to erupt.
The snow baths are one of several events and activities at the Plaines d’Abraham, a park-like area at the edge of the Old City. This is where the Children’s Village is, with obstacle courses, snow tunnels, an adventure trail and ice slides. And, there’s always an intricate and memorable Ice Tower, a building constructed completely of ice, with exhibits inside.
The Quebec Winter Carnival — Carnaval du Quebec in French — attracts about one million people to the only fortified city in North America. It’s modern history dates to a 1535 settlement founded by Jacques Cartier.
It’s not part of the winter carnival, but the Ice Hotel Glace, just out of town, is an important annual winter in Quebec. The ice hotel constructed of more 15,000 tons of snow and ice. It contains several dozen rooms and suites for overnight stays, plus a night club and a lounge, where drinks are served in glasses carved out of blocks of ice. Ice walls are decorated with ice sculptures.
I slept over a couple of years back. Yes, it was a very cool experience, and yes, that pun was intended. But I was warm and cozy in my fleece jammies, tucked inside a down sleeping bag on top of a bearskin that was on top of a bed-sized slab of ice, and the wall of my bedroom was decorated with an ice sculpture of deer and trees. Of course, a new one is constructed each winter – since it melts each spring.
Here’s a video of the Ice Hotel that shows almost everything, although not my sleeping bag: