While I could tell you all the details about Quebec City's Winter Carnival (known as Carnaval in French) and all the extensive events and activities that are available, I'll instead let my video do most of the talking. Instead, why don't I tell about how I ended up stripping down to my swimsuit and danced around hysterically with my fellow Canadian Anne-Marie, Carnaval's mascot Bonhomme, and 58 other equally crazy Quebecois.
You did what?
Yes you heard me, I went topless and busted out my best dance moves on the snow in front of a crowd of hundreds. No I wasn't drugged or blackmailed into do it. Honestly it wasn't until days before the Quebec trip that I decided that I'd be doing the Carnaval Snow Bath.
I've been known to do wild things like the 8-story drop in Orlando and snorkelling with whale sharks but rolling around in snow definitely wasn't tops on my bucket list. So how did I get suckered into this you ask? Well I got an email from Suzanne of Quebec Tourism doing a call out for participants. Without reading too much into it, I accepted it because it sounded something down my alley. Ultimately two of us brave (or rather crazy) ones signed up.
What did I get myself into?
It wasn't until the day prior to Carnaval that it dawned on me that I had no idea what I signed up for. I saw a few photos of Bonhomme and people in swimsuits throwing some snow around but that was it. At dinner the night before, our Quebec City guide, Michel finally gave the two us a mini package containing instructions on what to bring and what to wear.
I didn't even know what to think when I read tips like “Bring one or several towels” and “Bring one or several pairs of sneakers”. Why would I need several towels and several sneakers??
With hours remaining, I kept thinking, “It's SO COLD outside. I'm shivering in my down-filled jacket. How the heck am I going to roll around in snow for 5 minutes a time?”. None of it mattered though because when it came time for show time, I treated this like everything else in travel – head on and with no regrets.
What's the science behind the Snow Bath you ask? Well let me tell you. It involves sweating like you've never sweat before.
After we changed into our swimwear and putting on our funny looking toque, all 60 of us moved into an enclosed trailer. That's when the music started thumping and an enthusiastic trainer up at front started busting out her Zumba moves.
We danced to the beat and tried our best to keep up with the choreographed chaos of moves involving fist pumping, hop steps, side-to-side turns, and swivels. So imagine doing that non-stop for 40 minutes with 60 others in a small closed room with no escaping of air.
I was drenched in sweat at this point.
All out delirium in the snow
The clock struck 2PM and with the trailer door swinging open, a massive cloud of steam rushed straight in. Like huskies rearing to bolt, the only thing I wanted to do was get out of that sauna.
As the first group out, we were greeted by a massive crowd in front of the snow-filled mound. The music was blaring, Bonhomme giving us high fives, and the MC shouting who knows what. As if by some sort of primal instinct (or perhaps just me following what everyone else was doing), we started jumping hysterically and dancing.
You know the funny thing is that at that point, because of the massive amounts of sweating, the delight of finally cooling off, and the crowds cheering us on, it really didn't feel all that cold.
That first round lasted about 4 minutes. Once our turn was over, we high-fived the second group coming out as we rushed back into the trailer to warm up. I was all smiles at this point.
Second and third rounds were 6 minutes and 10 minutes respectively but were more or less the same. Sure we were out there longer but all the same we were all jumping, dancing, and making beautiful snow angels.
What impressed me the most about it all was just how many veterans there were of the event. Everyone had big numbers marked on their arm representing how many years they had done the Snow Bath. I saw numbers as big as 23. Amazing.
By the end of it all, I still couldn't believe I did the Snow Bath. Would I do it again? Probably not. But hey now I can say I've been crazy enough to be in my swim trunks in the deep of winter.
Planning a trip to Quebec City for Carnaval
Set in North America's only fully fortified city, Carnaval is a 61 year old tradition in Quebec City that brings the city to life during some of the coldest weeks of winter. Spanning 3 weeks, The Plains of Abraham are transformed into a giant carnival filled with activities, shows, games, and food. It's fun for the whole family.
Quebec Winter Carnival
- For detailed information, check out their website.
- Most of the big events happen on the weekend including the parades and big competitions like the ice canoeing race (CMQ Canoe Race Final).
- Your ticket to entry is what's called an “effigy”, a badge that typically ties to your jacket and can light up at night.
- The effigy will grant you access to all events for the entire 3 weeks.
- Cost is $15 CAD.
- There's no point in sugarcoating it. Quebec City gets damn cold during Carnaval. Factoring in wind chill you're talking about -30C/-22F so dress appropriately.
- The key is in layering. You're going to want at least a minimum of 3 layers on top and bottom.
- The most overlooked pieces of clothing are your socks. Moisture wicking socks are a must as I learned that it's the sweat inside the socks that cause your feet to be cold, not the thickness of your socks themselves. Wool is a great moisture wicking material to look for such as these Darn Tough Marino Wool Socks.
- Buy hand and toe warmers to bring added warmth.
Where to stay
- I stayed at the Hilton Quebec City and was impressed with the property. Perfectly situated, fantastic views facing Old Quebec City, welcome chocolates, and of course HHonors points made for a great stay.
Where to eat
- If you love pastries, you have to check out Paillard in the old city.
- Le Lapin Sauté is a great restaurant on Le Petit Champlain in the lower city if you want to try a bit of rabbit cuisine.
- Chez Boulay is one of the top 5 restaurants in Quebec so don't miss out on a great evening there.
- If you're in the quest for poutine, I highly recommend the fast food joint Chez AshTon. They can be found all over the city and deliver the classic
- Lastly, a trip to Carnaval isn't complete without trying Beaver Tails. No it's not a real beaver tail. It's in fact an pastry in the shape of a beaver tail that's topped with all sorts of delightful sweets. In Quebec, the store is called Queues De Castor.