Feb 13, 2006

A NAKED APE IN THE NOT-SO-SILENT NIGHT
During my mountaineering days, I slept on glaciers a dozen times or so. I'd strip to one layer of thin thermals, snuggle into the mummy bag and snooze till reveille. No problem.

The accepted wisdom, however, is that being naked is even warmer.

"At negative 20 outside, it is negative 10-degrees in the hotel," announces our cold-weather orientier, Ambroise Savard. "The average fridge is negative 4 Celsius.

"Humidity is the enemy. Clothes trap moisture and they could make you sweat. And then you will freeze," he explains.

If there's ever a time to test the nude theory, it's now at the Ice Hotel – close to a sauna, hot tub and first-aid-trained staff. I just wish I weren't sharing a room with four colleagues: three female and one male.

***

They dance in the Ice Bar. I'm restless, not in the groove, so I walk alone under the stars. Hundreds of sled dogs howl into the moonlight. Quebec lacks mountains, but a wildness laces its forests still.

I return to suite 8 and slip into my trusty French-Canadian bikini, four days old and already so famous. Andrea's struggling with her sleeping bag – the neck must cinch tight to preserve heat – so I tuck her into bed. "You'd make a good mom," she says. "You take care of people."

"I used to be a wilderness guide; I've had practice," I reply. "Once I had to Scotchguard someone's armpit. Weird job. Almost as weird as this."

Barefoot, swaddled in a terry cloth robe, I pad the corridors to the courtyard. A few die-hards linger in the hot tubs at 2am. Soon I'm alone again, though. The steam clings to my twisted bun, then freezes into crunchy clumps. The experience, I decide, isn't all that wonderful. So I retreat into the sauna, basking in the cedar-scented heat.

***

Warmed, I race for the room. Andrea's already out, Stuart's staring at the candlelit ceiling, the others are gone: probably sleeping on the lodge couches, I figure.

I step into the liner, like a magician's disappearing sack, and bunny-hop into the mummy bag. I squirm out of the wet bikini – that modest shrug and shimmy of childhood, changing behind a towel at the beach. My dry clothes are packed around me; otherwise they would freeze by morning. I lie beside Andrea – trying to ignore the social awkwardness – on the double bed: a carved slab of ice, lit from within, and topped with a foam mattress.

I'm not cold, really. Just tepid. And tired of pushing my boundaries.

Sheila and Sharon enter whispering and laughing. Stuart decides to taxi back to the Quebec Hilton. Andrea shushes them. "You can not expect a gaggle of journalists to go to bed quietly," I murmur. Especially when we've all drunk vodka shots from carved ice-chunk cups.

Eventually we all simmmer down and sleep. Everyone snores, cloudy puffs in the frigid air.

***

I wake slowly, as usual. Tepid still. I worm into silk thermals and, ah, experience warmth. My nudity experiment flopped, but I'm glad I tried.

Andrea grins, still halo-ed by her mummy sack. "The others are already out of bed," she announces.

"That may be the strangest comment a colleague has ever made to me."

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