Industry Insiders: Yanick Tremblay, Snow Hotel Honcho

What most makes Montreal charming? Is it the beautiful French language? Is it Old Montreal with its lovely Auberge du Vieux-Port hotel. the rave Igloo Fest, and historic Notre-Dame Basilica where Celine Dion got married? Or the Westmount area with its magnificent mansions and the more than 280 steps of St. Joseph’s Oratory? How about smoked meats at Schwartz’s deli in Mile End? Or Moshe Safdie’s cubed housing complex Habitat 67 on the way to the Montreal Casino?

All of these captivated us, but the most unusual of all is Snow Village (Village des Neiges), which opened January 18 in Parc Jean-Drapeau. It has 15 standard rooms, 10 prestigious suites, five igloos, and one glass, heated igloo. Other places in the Snow Village chain are Finland and Norway.
We caught up with co-founder, Yanick Tremblay, at Snow Village in Montreal.
How did you get together with your partners?
Carl Fugere, Guy Belanger, and I are friends from school, and we wanted to do a project together. We each had our own businesses: Carl’s in technology, Guy’s in robotic distribution, and I own a purchasing agency for hotels, including the Ritz-Carlton, Hilton, and Marriott.
We did some research and met with two brothers, Rami and Tomi Kurtakko, a marketer and mechanical engineer, who have owned a snow village in Finland for 11 years. Let me introduce you to them now.
What do the terms "snow hotel" and "ice hotel" mean? Is the snow artificial?
Nothing is artificial. Yes, the snow is made artificially, but it’s real snow.  And if you would have a hotel entirely made of ice, it would not last.
None of the hotels in the world are made out of ice; they’re all made out of snow, but because the snow is so dense and it’s artificial snow, then it’s like ice blocks. The walls are 10 feet deep, so that’s why we sometimes call it an ice hotel. I would say that it’s a snow hotel, instead of ice hotel, since ice hotel is a registered trademark. All the structures are made from snow, but the decoration inside is made from ice.
What was your vision for Snow Village?
Montreal is a Nordic city. In the summer, we have all kinds of festivals, but there’s not that much to do in the winter besides skiing. Montrealers deserve a project that they can be proud of that also attracts tourists because everyone who visits the province of Quebec travels through Montreal. There’s been an ice hotel in Quebec City for the last 10 years, but not a lot of Montrealers have had a chance to visit it. Our snow village is accessible by Metro. There are 4.2 million people living in the Montreal metropolitan area.
How else is this one different from the one in Quebec City?
The one in Quebec City has wood and steel inside the snow to support the structure. Ours is only snow. There are only straight corridors in Quebec, but in ours you can also experience round igloos, as you can in Finland. We have domes created over round balloons.  We also have an ice restaurant and a bar.
Tell us about the restaurant.
We brought Eric Gonzalez on board, who’s one of the five best chefs in Montreal. And he prepared a menu, especially for us based on the Finnish, Nordic side of our project. The idea was to keep people warm before they spend the night here in the hotel.
We had tasty, warm venison on the bone in the ice-cold restaurant! What else takes place here?
We have an ice chapel for weddings. And, we have a indoor ballroom in the aquatic center that’s 2,200-square-feet for receptions.  
How do the sleepovers work?
All of my guests arrive in the evening. They have a meet-and-greet with the guides. They are given overnight instructions, including how to use the warm, arctic sleeping bags, which we provide with fleece, cotton-lined bags, for hygienic reasons. And when the average temperature inside the snow hotel stays between -2 and -5 degrees, we can guarantee that the overnight stay is warm and pleasant. You can go to the jacuzzi and enjoy a nice view of Montreal. And then you go to the restaurant. You go to bed not before 9:30 or 10:00, and we wake you up at 7:30 a.m. with hot chocolate and music. We then invite you for breakfast.
How much money did the project cost?
$ 2.2 million.

Our favorite room has the Montreal Canadien motif with a lifesize ice carving of a hockey player with a wooden stick. What’s your favorite?
The gastronomic room, which has a dining-room table with four chairs and a nice, ice chandelier. And since I have two kids, there are two beds in the room, so the four of us can sleep in the room.

Where are some of your go-to places in Montreal?
Europea is my favorite restaurant. For going out in the summer, there’s a nice place in Old Montreal called Cafè des Eclusiers. And in the winter, there’s a a little club-restaurant called Grange vin+bouffe.
Photo Courtesy of Richard C. Murray/RCM IMAGES, INC
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