Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

ICE CASTLE

B.C. resort offers Canada's first CRYOTHERAPY SPA

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Overlooking Lake Okanagan, in Vernon, atop Mount Royce, I found nirvana. On its summit is the Rolls-Royce of spa hotels.

Coincidentally, the rapturous retreat is not far from the lakeside summer camp I went to as a kid. My memories of that place -- rugged in the extreme -- are also blissful.

The $122-million Sparkling Hill Resort derives its name from the fact its owner is a Swarovski -- Gernot Langes-Swarovski, the Austrian crystal baron at the helm of the world's leading producer of cut crystals for jewelry, décor and the ubiquitous crystal figurines.

The atmosphere within the 240,000-square-foot spa hotel is both serene and stimulating. It boasts pastoral views as far as the eye can see and in every direction. It sits above Predator Ridge Golf Course.

To the east are the Monashee Mountains, so popular with powder-skiing enthusiasts.

The hotel literally sparkles at all times of the day and night, since it's bedecked with 3.5 million gleaming crystals valued at $10 million. They're everywhere -- not just in predictable places like chandeliers and the obligatory Swarovski lobby retail shop, but in doors, windows, furniture, pools and steam baths. In the ceilings, they evoke twinkling stars.

The 152 spacious and beautifully appointed guest rooms feature crystal fireplaces that sparkle as they catch the sun and illuminate with iridescent colour at night. I stayed four nights but I wished my sojourn had been longer.

I first read about Sparkling Hill, opened just over a year ago, in a fashion magazine. What caught my attention was the description of a -110 C (yes, you read that right) cold sauna, intended for those with chronic pain or inflammatory health conditions. Going back to the 1980s, the Japanese introduced cryotherapy chambers. But a German rheumatologist commissioned the first such sauna outside of Japan in 1984, expressly for patients with arthritis. The technical descriptions, history, indications and therapeutic benefits for cold-sauna treatment is fully addressed in a book authored by retired occupational health physician Dr. Winfried Papenfuss (Power From The Cold, published in 2005). He lists about 20 conditions, besides arthritis, which may be eased.

The cold sauna at Sparkling Hill is the first in North America. While I was there, many guests expressed incredulity at the mere sight of brave souls entering the cold-sauna system. At the time, I was recovering from recent shoulder and elbow surgery and I had become a convert to the benefits of ice. Since I was off work while recuperating, it was a perfect time to get myself to a spa that billed itself as Canada's first European-inspired wellness resort. Although pampering would also be on my agenda, it was the cold sauna I was seeking.

I flew by WestJet from Vancouver to Kelowna and, after landing at the airport, it took just 20 minutes by shuttle to arrive at the striking oasis of shimmering serenity. The entrance atrium, with its spectacular glass front, is meant to evoke a multi-faceted non-symmetrical crystal. It's made of dozens of sloping glass triangles that rise to four storeys. David Wilkinson, the Victoria architect who worked with the Cannon Design team, told me the architecture was meant to honour the surrounding environment of "majestic mountains, refreshing waters and lush vineyards."

"Chiselled from granite bedrock, the architecture has a fluid style that respects and infuses the natural landscape. Guest rooms challenge conventional expectations, with floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing panoramic mountaintop views and unique bathing fixtures that extend the spa experience," said Wilkinson, whose impressive portfolio includes the Richmond speed-skating oval used during the 2010 Olympic Games.

During my four-day stay, I swam in both the indoor and outdoor pool, the latter an infinity pool that blends into the horizon of the lake, even though it is far below. I had daily physiotherapy sessions and went on a scenic, bird-watching hike with a kinesiologist on staff who also introduced me to a new piece of equipment in the workout gym, a Power Plate whole body vibration machine.

I had a massage with a therapist who divides her time between Sparkling Hill's KurSpa and Rogers Arena where she worked (during hockey season) with Vancouver Canucks hockey players. I was perfectly satisfied with my mud-wrap treatment, manicure, pedicure and hairstyling services. But it was the whole body cryotherapy in the cold sauna that really defined my visit.

And make no mistake, it takes guts to go into such a glacial place.

Attendants take your blood pressure before you enter, turning away anyone with a whiff of poor cardiovascular health. I was advised to wear a bathing suit to expose as much skin as possible. They supply fleece ear warmers, thermal mitts, booties and a mask to cover your mouth and nose to prevent frostbite. But the duration of treatment is just three minutes and the saunas are engineered to extract all humidity so frostbite is an extremely rare occurrence. Eyelashes gather frost almost instantly.

The temperature of exposed skin drops to five degrees. Even in such a dry atmosphere, -110 C is brutally cold and three minutes feels like it can't pass soon enough! I was proud of myself for withstanding two sessions each day in the cold sauna. Hans-Peter Mayr, the oh-sogenteel CEO of Sparkling Hill, advised me that when the cold sauna is being used for therapeutic purposes, two sessions a day for a week provide the greatest potential for pain and inflammation reduction.

Regrettably, I didn't have a week to spend there but I did perceive certain benefits. My knees, which are a little arthritic, felt better. My elbow, from which I had had bone spurs removed just one month prior, also felt better. I didn't detect a noticeable difference in my shoulder pain and mobility but recovery from rotator cuff surgery is typically a long process.

Most obvious was a change in my energy level. I hadn't the slightest inclination to exercise for weeks after my operation but the cold sauna instantly invigorated me, so I wasted no time getting myself to the gym for some cardio activity on the treadmill and the elliptical machines.

-- Postmedia News

For more information, go to www.sparklinghill.com

For reservations, call 1-877-275-1556.

Various packages are always on offer. Until the middle of October, a golf and spa package is being offered at $345 a day. The deal includes room rental, full breakfast, a round of golf, access to the steam and sauna rooms, one cold sauna visit and a massage.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 10, 2011 D5

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