6 Frozen Getaways for Winter Travel Beyond the Ski Slopes
Beautiful, powerful, dangerous, and cold. Much of the year, we’re focused on beaches and rainforests and tropical getaways, but what about the stark beauty of a frozen landscape? There are large swaths of the world to experience while they’re under ice: The northern lights, Windex-blue behemoth glaciers, large bodies of frozen water. You can sleep in ice hotels — something that became much cooler to kids after Elsa built her first ice castle — and drink in ice bars. Nothing will make you appreciate a geothermal pool quite like piles of snow. Why seek out ice vacations when outside your front door, there’s plenty to be had? Because these destinations are unlike any other. Whether they’re around the corner or around the world, here are six ice-themed vacations for every type of traveler.
1. Hôtel de Glace
If you’re looking for an ice retreat close to a cosmopolitan center, this huge ice hotel is just 10 minutes from downtown Québec, Canada. Carved and built anew each year and open early January through late March, the hotel is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year and the theme is Space-Time. Each room in the hotel is carved differently, with some depicting the ancient past and some predicting a possible future. The temperature in the hotel is maintained at 23 degrees Fahrenheit and features two bars, a chapel, 36 rooms, and a large ice slide. There are hot tubs and a sauna under the stars, and upgraded rooms include a fireplace and a sauna.
A basic stay in the hotel starts at $269 Canadian Dollars (approx. $218) per person and includes a really warm sleeping bag, a welcome cocktail served in an ice glass, and breakfast in the ice cafe. The deluxe package, which includes an alternate room in the nearby Sheraton as well as your themed ice suite, sparkling ice cider cocktail in an ice flute, wonderful gourmet meals, and a personal valet, starts at $549.50 Canadian Dollars (approx. $445) per person. To ensure that your stay in the Ice Hotel is as comfortable as can be, they have a very specific guide to pack and prepare for your stay.
Nearby, there is cross-country skiing, dog sledding, a health center and spa, and, of course, Québec City. If you’re less adventurous but still want to experience the Ice Hotel, the Four Points Sheraton is five minutes away and has a package that includes a tour of the Ice Hotel and a stay in the much warmer Four Points, starting at $79.50 Canadian Dollars (approx. $65) per person based on double occupancy.
2. Patagonian glacier tours
Patagonia, a region spread between Argentina and Chile, is home to at least 247 glaciers such as the Upsala and Perito Moreno. For those who want to sail by the glaciers in a large ship, nestled in an armchair, protected from the wind by glass, Cruceros MarPatag offers cruises complete with gourmet lunches. Of their two cruises, one lasts a full day, while the other is an overnight experience. Both are small, intimate excursions, and range from $200 to $3,900. For more adventurous travelers, Hielo y Aventura offers a hike to the center of the glacier. Running from September to April and geared toward the more physically fit, you’ll spend 4 of the 7 hours hiking on the ice, exploring shafts, crevasses, and caves along the way. The trek costs $1500 Argentine Pesos (approx. $174). For those with a mere interest in passing through the national park while on, say, a wine tour, can stroll down the boardwalks, taking in the ice at a respectable distance.
3. The Glacier Express
If you’re a fan of trains, hop aboard the Glacier Express to get up close and personal with the snow-covered peaks and valleys of the Swiss Alps. The leisurely seven-hour journey takes you from St. Moritz to Zermatt (click here for a map of the route) in panoramic viewing cars. The train offers both first- and second-class seating for $262 Swiss Francs (approx. $300) and $149 Swiss Francs (approx. $170) respectively. As a comparison, the eight-hour Orient Express train from Paris to London costs $970 per person. The trip takes you across breathtaking winter scenery, through 91 tunnels and over 291 bridges.
4. Heli Ice Climb
An adventure-packed vacation for those in serious need of an adrenaline rush can be found in New Zealand with the Franz Joseph Glacier Guides. If it’s not enough to walk the glacial valley, you can take a scenic helicopter ride up to the ice and explore the glacier for $429 New Zealand Dollars (approx. $324). If you need even more of a thrill, novice and advanced climbers alike can opt for the Heli Ice Climb package, where you’ll be outfitted with high tech equipment and catch a helicopter ride up to some prime glacial ice climbing. This package, which requires no previous experience, starts at $499 New Zealand Dollars (approx. $376) for up to 5 hours of high-adrenaline fun.
5. Winter getaway at Chena Hot Springs
For a full winter experience, head up to Fairbanks, Alaska, to stay at the Chena Hot Springs Resort. While you’re there, take a swim in the outdoor rock lake or hot tub, take a free geothermal renewable energy tour, check out the world’s largest year-round ice museum, take an ice carving workshop, or take a tour in a small plane to see the Chena Hills, Mt. Deborah, or the Arctic Circle. For a snowy adventure, take a dog sled ride or learn to mush your own sled, take a snow coach tour, a snowmobile tour, or rent skis, snowshoes, and ice skates.
The best part about staying at Chena, though, has got to be the aurora borealis wake-up calls and their aurora-viewing snow coach tours, which run nightly. As long as there’s at least a foot of snow on the ground, each of their large track vehicles takes up to 13 passengers to the top of the nearby ridge for prime viewing of the northern lights. Once you’re there, warm up with a hot beverage in a heated yurt and watch the lights dance across the sky.
Rates at the Chena Hot Springs Resort range from $199.99 for a signature room to $299.99 for a family suite.
6. Northern lights Nordic tour package
If you looked at the Chena Hot Springs vacation and said, “that’s close, but I want just a little more,” hop on a plane to Norway and take the Ice Hotel, Northern Lights, and Tromso Tour. This 6-day tour includes overnights in Oslo on either end of the trip, a flight to the Arctic town Kirkenes, a dog sledding trip to hunt the northern lights, a stay at the ice hotel in the Reindeer Safari Park, a flight to Arctic city Tromso, a five-course gourmet dinner, and reindeer sledding. Reindeer sledding! Other optional excursions? King crab fishing or a snowmobile safari.
For double occupancy, this trip costs $15,495 Norwegian Krones (approx. $2,028). And you get to go both dog and reindeer sledding. Just like Kristoff and Sven.