In March, there will be a brand-new way for Canadians to freeze their butts off. When Sparkling Hill Resort opens on a ridgetop in Vernon, B.C., in the new year, the high-end wellness spa’s biggest draw among the 100 treatments on offer may just be its cryotherapy cold sauna—a first in North America. We’re talking –110° C, total-body cold therapy. That temperature is no typo, but not to worry, says Hans-Peter Mayr, CEO of the property. “It’s a dry cold.”
Recent medical studies have shown that applying cold temperatures to the body can improve mobility and reduce pain associated with diseases such as osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis, the idea being that lowering the temperature reduces swelling and helps muscles relax. But even for the spa-goer with no real medical complaints, cryotherapy is said to have an overall rejuvenating effect. “When you walk out after three minutes you feel so good,” explains Mayr, who regularly experienced the cold sauna while living in Austria, where he worked before launching Sparkling Hill. “Your adrenalin and endocrines, they get crazy during this cold temperature. You will not believe me, but when everyone walks out they are all smiling.”
Professor Winfried Papenfuss, a German scientist who advised Mayr about bringing cryotherapy to Canada, explains via email that cryotherapy is based on the same principles that suggest ice is good for injuries. “It’s used more for chronic diseases in Germany and Austria,” says Papenfuss, who adds that, generally speaking, heat reduces activity in the central nervous system while cold increases it. Using cryotherapy, “blood circulation in the skin is improved, there is regulation of the central activity level, improvement in cardiovascular performance, an increase in physical and psychical performance, regulation of sleep behaviour and mood, and it supports relaxation and stress management.”
Sport coaches in Eastern Europe have been using cryochambers for several years to help athletes with recovery and overall fitness. In the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics, scientists from Dortmund and Münster Universities in Germany studied how severe chilling could help performance. Fifty athletes spent 2 inutes a day for six months in a cryochamber cranked down to –120° C. Afterwards, the scientists reported that the athletes showed significant improvements in performance.
So how does it work? You step into the cold sauna or cryochamber wearing swim shorts or a bathing suit, a toque, gloves, and socks and shoes (these areas get colder faster). You also wear a surgical face mask. Once inside the inner sanctum, you go through two pre-rooms, one set at –15° C and the other at –60° C. (These rooms are designed to ensure that the cold air doesn’t escape from the main room.) After 30 seconds of experiencing what amounts to a draft in relation to what’s to come, you move into the main chamber for the big chill, for a maximum of three minutes. Clients are encouraged to keep moving while soothing music plays. There is usually more than one person in the chamber at a time, and a spa technician is in attendance to monitor heart rates. It takes only two or three minutes for the body’s surface temperature to drop below –2° C, just long enough, Mayr explains, to bring on lasting results after consecutive treatments. “People will love it,” he says, though he does admit that it “will be a real challenge to teach the North Americans what we are doing here.”
Kailee Kline, owner of Toronto’s HealthWinds, a plush health and wellness day spa that offers everything from European-style thalassotherapy water treatments to organic facials, says of Sparkling Hill’s cryochamber, “It would be important for the treatment to be medically supervised [which it is] because while it can be highly effective in the treatment of pain conditions it can also be quite dangerous if not applied appropriately.”
Kline says that European and North American spa owners have been learning from each other for many years now: European clients have been demanding more of the luxury and pampering of North American spas, and, conversely, spa-goers in North America have begun demanding treatments that yield results. Which brings us back to Sparkling Hill.
“You cannot find this temperature anywhere worldwide,” says Mayr of his resort’s new cold sauna. “Not in Alaska, not in Russia. This temperature exists only in the universe.
“And of course, starting next March,” he adds, “in Vernon.” M