A Luxury Arctic Survival Experience

There is an icy oasis at the edge of Parc Jean-Drapeau.

Getting out at its eponymous metro stop brings up memories of sweltering heat during the Osheaga Festival in August. But for the next two months, there will be no water hose to sustain sweaty crowds. Instead, there’ll be warm liquor—served at an ice bar.

Inside the igloo, there’s an ice-carved deer head and cross—Jägermeister logo—above the bar. The place is a shrine to the German liquor. You imbibe with matching ice shot glasses, which, after a while, slide easily across the slick surface of the bar.

The bar is part of a site that boasts half a dozen giant igloos. There’s also an ice restaurant and ice hotel. At the opening party, fellow Fringe Arts Editor Katie McGroarty and I stick close to the servers and ask about igloo construction, while giving ourselves a great excuse to be closer to the thimble-sized hors d’oeuvres.

“I don’t like it when too many flavours are together,” Katie says, snubbing the creations of a chef flown in from New York.

The server tells us they made the giant, perfectly round igloos by filling huge balloons and covering them with high-humidity, man-made snow. They cover the balloons, leave them for 16 hours, then pop them. Voila! Perfectly round igloo. Like papier-maché.

It’s the first day of a mid-January cold snap that freezes exposed skin in seconds. And there is obviously no such thing as a heated igloo. One of them has red light on; for some reason, we take that to symbolize heat, and head towards it. We are wrong. Even the fires that are flickering around the site to create an interesting visual contrast are not real fires. They are cold.

Katie takes out her camera to capture the ice booths in the restaurant, the beautiful ice bar and the ice sculpture being made outside by an artist with a chainsaw—but her camera is frozen and won’t take a single picture.

She thinks giving the battery special treatment will save the day and puts it somewhere under her shirt. Twenty minutes later, she’s mumbling about “cleavage frostbite” and the battery reappears. Maybe it’s ready to go.

I hold up some of our drinks and smile. The camera makes noise but still won’t work.

Running through a list of potential solutions in my head, I realize all the Jäger has done nothing to me. This has happened before; copious amounts of booze are no match for an instinctive understanding that there is a death risk. If I pass out, I will freeze and die. So I am stuck, stone sober.

Katie has her own problems.

“I am very aware that this could collapse on us and kill us,” she says, looking up at the icy dome above.

While she struggles to put the camera into her wool jacket—hoping to warm up the whole mechanism—the snow village mascot bounces over and gives her a long hug. She nods a bit and breaks away without looking back, like it’s some sort of dodgy, Pee-wee’s Playhouse-inspired nightclub grope.

Later, fireworks go off and the little igloo village looks beautiful. On milder days, our bodies’ natural response to what seems like impending death might have bowed out, to allow for a more enjoyable experience.

The visit was novel and memorable. But there was a moment while walking back to the metro where, every extremity frozen and numb, I thought I couldn’t go on. It’s not a feeling I generally agree to pay for.

Hopefully, with the cold snap over, others won’t be envisioning ambulances coming to save them on the ice when they should just be having a good time. And when I finally thawed, in the metro, the booze did kick in.

Parc Jean-Drapeau Snow Village (130 Tour-de-l’Isle Rd.) / Until to March 24 / $12.00 to $18.50

More info on the website

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