Required: gloves, socks, shoes, face masks and a healthy blood-pressure reading. And swimsuits.
Sparkling Hill Resort, with its 152 rooms and fine cuisine, is very much a spa.
Why the outfit? We’re going to be very, very cold. But in the end — we hope — our efforts will leave us feeling younger, more vibrant, with fewer aches and pains.
We are a few steps from experiencing North America’s first cold spa. The trio of glacial cryo-chambers is the unadorned secret in the sleek crystal-filled hotel and spa in British Columbia’s Okanagan playground and wine country.
The cold spa was installed in the $122 million resort to relieve pain from arthritis and psoriasis. If you’ve overindulged, you might even get hangover relief.
The process works by rapidly cooling the surface capillaries, pushing more blood and oxygen into the system. When you step out of the spa into normal temperatures, blood vessels expand and healing begins.
Arthritis patients tend to see improvement after nine treatments, resort physiologist Paul Bradshaw said. If you’re a fairly healthy 50-year-old with aches here and there, you’ll feel better instantly because endorphins are released as your body returns to normal temperatures.
Cold, colder, coldest
We follow our host, Bradshaw, who looks uncommonly hale partly because he does this cold therapy several times a day. We’re in a room that’s 5 degrees Fahrenheit; it feels like Chicago in the dead of winter, minus the wind chill.
We marvel at how cold cold is. But this is the tropics of the cold spa. We’re in this “adjustment” room for only 10 seconds.
We move to another one-window chamber — yes, it sounds like torture — that is 5 degrees below zero. We shudder for 10 seconds, walking in circles to get our minds off the cold. No chilly wind or icy water besieges us. It’s just the freezing air — the kind of place where chicken legs stay stiff.
Funny, if we stepped out, we could sail Lake Okanagan or hike or bird-watch below the stunning Monashee Mountains — even swim in the resort’s infinity pool — instead of this.
“Keep moving,” Bradshaw says.
Two minutes, 20 seconds left.
“What if I have a heart murmur?” my spa partner says.
“Or migraines?” I ask, our eyelashes frosty.
“No worries,” says Bradshaw, who runs the hiking and fitness programs at the nearly 2-year-old resort.
Then we move into the third and final cryo-chamber. Temperature? A mere 166 below zero. We jump around like crazed monkeys in the wrong climate. Our exposed skin feels as if it will peel off in deathly pale sheets, though our cores remain surprisingly warm.
After the longest three minutes of my life, we emerge alive, well and exuberant, swearing we’d freeze all over again.
Healthy people do this? Yes, they do, as do injured and arthritic ones. Cryotherapy has been around for decades, with the Japanese claiming it as an anti-inflammation treatment in the late 1970s. The Olympic Health Centre in Spala, Poland, opened its cold spa in 2000 to rehabilitate athletes.
An adult getaway
The cryo-spa isn’t the only feel-good treatment you can indulge in at Sparkling Hill’s well–appointed KurSpa (translated Cure Spa). It’s among 40,000 square feet of steam rooms, saunas, aromatherapy halls, beauty and massage rooms, as well as an infinity pool, and Kneipp waterway (walking therapy).
The spa and hotel are designed as getaways for adults; there are no special kids’ services or activities, and the staff discourages families with children as guests.
The spa and hotel glitter with crystals thanks to the resort’s primary investor, Gernot Langes Swarovski of the famed Austrian crystal family. There are 3 million crystals throughout the hotel, where guests are encouraged to stay for a while in the tradition of European wellness. (Europeans prefer seven-day stays for health restoration, Austrian-born hotel manager Hans-Peter Mayr said.)
Whether guests choose a short or long stay, he says the resort’s interior gleaming splendor and more subdued outdoor beauty enhance the health and spa treatments. “We use the crystals like a beautiful woman does jewelry. Decorate with too many and you can’t see any of them.”