Snow hotel with cool comforts

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 By their very nature, snow hotels are ephemeral.

Given the logistics in building, furnishing and operating a hotel made of snow, staying at one can be expensive.

This winter, the Four Seasons Resort and Residences Whistler in British Columbia will offer "winter glamping", a night in a custom-made snow hotel near the Pemberton Ice Cap in the Coast Mountains.

The fee, US$79,000 (S$105,370) for up to four people, includes activities, meals and round-trip helicopter transportation. Most guests stay for one night, but longer stays are an option.

Mr Doug Washer, president and chief executive of Head-Line Mountain Holidays, and his colleagues will create the hotel, drawing on 15 years' experience building snow structures in the backcountry near Whistler. It is scheduled to open this month.

Private clients have included musician Seal, for whom Mr Washer built a snow villa in which the singer proposed to model Heidi Klum in 2004. The following are edited excerpts from a conversation with Mr Washer.

How do you build a hotel from snow and make it comfortable?

The structures are very small and intimate. Small from a hotel resident's perspective, not from a backcountry perspective. There are igloos, which everyone is familiar with. There are quinzees (made from hollowed-out snow piles), which no one is familiar with, then there are ice hotels.

We fall into the middle category.

We call it a snow hotel. It is the most comfortable, warm and elaborate snow structure you can spend an evening in.

You cannot engineer snow, but we play with it and process it until we get it at a consistency we like and can build with. The buildings have enormous structural integrity, plus insulation by trapping air.

Ice has no insulation value, but snow has a great deal of insulation quality. We get snow to the point where we can build and shape it and yet design it in such a way that the chambers are comfortable.

It is a full dome and looks a little like an igloo, but it is much larger and designed in such a way that the top of the door is always lower than the bed inside. That creates a cold sink so that the cold air gets trapped in the doorway, and warm air gets trapped inside where people sleep.

So that means we are not putting people in minus 30 to 40 deg C mummy bags where you sleep alone. That is not the point of the romantic snow hotel. We pre-warm the bed with down duvets and flannel sheets.

What about basic needs? Do you build bathrooms?

We always get a giggle from people when it is time to go to the washroom because they are always surprised that the quality of the facilities in the backcountry is as good as it is.

Sometimes, we fly in facilities with flush toilets and running water on request. On a general basis, they are portables and have to be lightweight enough to fly.

Where do you build your snow structures?

We typically like to pick a spot higher in the mountains that has an overview of the entire ice cap, so you have this ice field with mountains jutting out of it.

We like to be not so much on the ice cap, but overviewing it.

What happens when the season is over? Do the rooms just melt away?

We have to cut them down or they would stay standing a long, long time. We use chainsaws to cut the roofs, which cave in.

It is a little sad, given the work and artistry we have put into them, but the fun part is you get to redesign it every year with new ideas and people have suggestions, which makes it fun for us.

 
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