Spas go to great lengths to offer male-friendly treatments, but these usually just come down to rebranded massage techniques titled with those terribly creative phrases like "The Hunter's Bounty." Not so "cryotherapy." Appropriate for anyone, male or female, who suffers from sports injuries, inflammation, or just a little soreness after a hike, golf swing, or kayak paddle, cryotherapy involves stepping into a cold, instead of a hot, sauna. It's a technique that was perfected by the Germans and is now used by players from the Dallas Mavericks, Olympic athletes, and, for the last couple of years, the lucky guests at Sparkling Hill resort in British Columbia's stunning Lake Okanagan region, overlooking the Monashee Mountains.
Sparkling Hill, a sleek joint filled with millions of crystals as the brainchild of Gernot Langes Swarovski, the patriarch of the Austrian crystal family, offers among many of its steams and spa pools, including a gorgeous hot pool overlooking the lake, North America's first trio of full-body glacial cryo-chambers. "Your body goes through a lot of big reactions, but the most noticeable is energy," says Paul Bradshaw, the resort's kinesiologist. "You almost get an adrenaline rush. You feel rejuvenated and awake."
Well, you should. To start, you dress down to a bathing suit with perhaps some light protection over your ears, hands, and face, to protect your nose and lips. Think surgical mask. You are then taken through two pre-chambers – one at 5 degrees (Fahrenheit), another at minus 5 degrees – that introduce your body to colder climes. After a few minutes, you are led into the main chamber, set at minus 166 degrees, where you stay for no more than three minutes and are encouraged to move around. You're in the room with an attendant, and calming spa music plays, but you eventually forget all of this due to the endorphins your body releases, bringing you lightning-fast pain relief in the mode of an analgesic.
Experts like Bradshaw say that you have to do this sort of thing regularly, usually 20 times, twice a day, for lasting health benefits. It can help stress, joint and muscle pain, the effects of chronic disease, even insomnia and psoriasis. It can also just feel fantastic. "It can really help anyone – especially an athlete who has just finished a workout – feel better in the short term," says Bradshaw. "Plus, it's much safer than an ice bath or cold water 'polar bear' swims."
According to Bradshaw, cold water strips away our body heat. When you place your body in a room filled with cold air only, your body tries to bring all of its warm blood from its extremities back to its core. In short, your core temperature doesn't drop, and you don't have to contend with the moisture, humidity, and wind that you experience during cold-water swims. That sort of thing makes you feel colder, as your core does in fact freeze.
Of course, there are other reasons to check out Sparkling Hill's spa and lakeside location. You can ski in the winter and enjoy the clear lake beaches in the summer. But for the only available full-body cold sauna on our continent, we'd easily fly to B.C. for a weekend. If you get squeamish about possibly freezing your brain, just recall your first memory of the intense heat you forced yourself to endure in hot saunas or steams, of which the hotel also has its share. Sometimes, it's legitimately smart to give your body a jolt.
More information: Introductory Cryotherapy experience, $40. 10 treatments, $300. Rooms start at $210, Canadian. sparklinghill.com.