Spending the night in an igloo in the Alps. Sounds great, but is it?


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(CNN) – Spending the night in an igloo sounds cool. Mostly literally, though.

In late December, my 10-year-old daughter concluded as my family sat in a restaurant-sized igloo beneath a ski resort in the Austrian Alps, eating a dinner of only bread and hot cheese (read: fondue). we had an adventure.

“It’s for some people,” he said, his breath visible inside the “restaurant.” The main question that remained at this point was: are we “some people?”

I was skeptical at first glance. The igloo village of mounds at the foot of the Kühtai ski resort in the stunning Tyrolean mountains near Innsbruck resembled the Star Wars architecture of Tatooine transplanted to the frozen planet Hoth. I don’t know why I expected anything different (maybe it was the fake smoke from the company’s cartoon igloo logo?), but it was very, very cold.

Standing in front of the restaurant’s ice bar and greeted with steaming glasses of glühwein, tea and hot chocolate, our toes started to go numb standing on the icy floor a few minutes into our stay.

After all the guests arrived, the host welcomed us and explained in German how the night would go. We were the only English speakers, and while it was unreasonable to expect everyone to speak our language, the translations we ended up with were abridged CliffsNotes of what had been delivered to the other guests.

“Put your clothes under your sleeping bag the next morning, okay?” the host translated for us. “And very important: don’t sleep on something wet.” We nodded. Good advice.

A snowshoe tour with a guide traversed a valley between cross-country ski runs.

David Allan/CNN

After registration, an outdoor activity took place. A sawdust-guided snowshoe track between two ski runs was below a high peak lit dramatically by the crescent moon. My older daughter was game, though my younger daughter took a walk after trying to tie the shoe to her boot and hurting her toes badly.

It was a nice and warm ride. Now I also have a knack for strapping on crampon snowshoes and dragging them uphill. But again, the tour was detailed in German and reduced to “Easy way, get there. Hard way, get there” in English.

We were never given a menu at dinner, so after our fondue (and penne pasta with red sauce, graciously prepared for my vegetarian older daughter and fondue-wary younger daughter), we noticed that dessert was available, but after it was too late to order.

Our igloo room wasn’t made of blocks (as in the company logo or any igloo image you can imagine), but three feet of condensed snow piled around a deflated balloon to reveal a hollow center. An impressive wall of ice was carved into our back wall, depicting what might have been a dragon (not a fire breather) illuminated by a single light.

The sleeping bags and animal skin rugs they provided us with were arranged on a single large mattress placed on top of a huge block of ice like four jumbo shrimp cocktails.

As I laid out all the clothes we would wear in the sleeping bag, including hats, gloves and ski pants, I predicted that our breath and body heat would keep us warm throughout the night. “We’ll sweat until morning,” I said, completely wrong.

“It’s like sleeping in a refrigerator,” said my youngest daughter. We should be very lucky. The US Food and Drug Administration states that the ideal temperature for refrigeration is 4.44 degrees Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit). But I learned from a happy Finnish guest that I spoke to in the sauna, and was later confirmed by the staff, that our igloo has a freezing point of zero Celsius (32 Fahrenheit) inside. It was minus 6 degrees Celsius (21 Fahrenheit) outside, which was necessary to go to the bathroom and portable sauna.

We all went to the sauna, a nice change of climate of course. Our plan before bed was to warm ourselves up there, run to the heated bathroom to put on all the layers, sprint to our igloo, quickly get into our sleeping bags to keep warm, and pray for a quick sleep.

By the time we actually got into our bags, the body heat had evaporated from the sauna room. I would give anything to have a nice, warm Tauntaun to sleep in.
The writer's family is longing for a long cold sleep.

The writer’s family is longing for a long cold sleep.

David Allan/CNN

To ward off anxiety until sleep was tenderly accepted, I read aloud to my wife and daughters by flashlight the biography of Maria von Trapp, whose abbey we had seen in Salzburg the day before. I drifted off to sleep dreaming of a cozy nun’s room and thinking there was no one else but these three people I’d rather be stuck in an ice cube.

It was a terrible night’s sleep for all of us. They didn’t give us pillows, so we made lumps out of our clothes. At one point I woke up from the cold, a blanket over my head to trap in the heat, a small tent of warmth that allowed me to fall back asleep.

At another point in the night, my little girl had to go to the bathroom. He and I put on our shoes in the dark and walked down the snowy path to the toilet. “Look!” I told him on the way back. “The stars are amazing!” and I pointed at Big Bear. He didn’t answer and didn’t stop, he wanted to get back into his sleeping bag.

As soon as I fell asleep again, I worried about my family. The experience felt more like endurance than enjoyment. At least this aspect of the stay was less cultural appropriation and more historical, since the Inuit people of the Arctic regions (once inaccurately called the potentially racist term Eskimo) never lived in igloos; they simply served as a temporary shelter to survive the sub-zero temperatures at night.

The next morning we were woken up in our igloo with a cup of hot, unsweetened tea. We survived the carbon freeze. As we gathered our things, the tea quickly became too cold to drink.

Outside, we looked like bigger versions of our tired, crampy self on the first day in Austria. This was after a sleepless night in the red to Munich – thanks to a single baby screaming all the way. At least we were warm on that plane, I thought.

The other igloo guests seemed kind of happy. Children sleeping in the ice box were playing on big snow stones. They couldn’t get enough. The Austrian guests wore better winter clothes than we did. These were the people for whom this icy stay was for. They were “some people”.

Igloo village by day.  Ski resort accommodations nearby.

Igloo village by day. Ski resort accommodations nearby.

David Allan/CNN

After we checked in, I was asked to place my drink badge. “Which badge?” I asked. It was our warm welcome drinks that we never wanted. “Lame,” said my wife.

All was forgiven at breakfast. This happened in one of the nearby pensions, where the skiers had a nice, warm sleep, with pillows, of course! Buffet and hot meals were served in the restaurant. Maybe it was because of the night we had, but we declared it was the best coffee and hot chocolate we had on our entire trip.

Over breakfast we talked about the adventure and agreed that the sauna and breakfast were the best parts. My older daughter added that now we have bragging rights. Like skydiving or skiing in the Alps (which we did the next day), you only have to do it once to remember it for the rest of your life.

The next night, under the covers in a hotel room in Innsbruck, I felt great gratitude that I had not fallen asleep that night, or probably ever again.

If you’re one of those “some people” for whom sleeping in an igloo still sounds like hearty, brag-worthy fun, Igloo-Dorf has five “snow hotels” (one in Austria, one in Germany, and three in Switzerland). December and early April. All locations except Kühtai also have hot tubs.

Bring extra warm socks, lots of comfortable layers, boots, a good hat to sleep in, a pillow and an adventurous and open-minded attitude. My People lacked some of these essential elements.

Top photo: Igloo-Dorf in Kühtai, Austria. (David Allan/CNN)



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