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Sparkling Hill Resort: Beat the Heat at North America's First Cold Sauna

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In February 2011, I spent several days at Sparkling Hill Resort. Located in Vernon, British Columbia in the Okanagan Valley, the resort is carved into granite on a ridge overlooking Lake Okanagan and the Monashee Mountains. Just 25 minutes north of Kelowna International Airport, the $122 million resort features 152 rooms and is the first in North America to incorporate Swarovski crystal elements into every aspect of its design. They're everywhere -- on chandeliers, in the guest rooms and for sale at the gift shop.

More impressive than the 3.5+ million crystals is the resort's KurSpa, celebrating whole body wellness, and featuring more than 100 treatments. In addition to massage, reflexology, aromatherapy, wraps and aesthetics, there's acupuncture and a naturopathic physician available.

Guests staying at the hotel have complimentary use of seven aromatherapy saunas and steam rooms (with varying temperatures, scents and stimulants); special "experience" showers; an indoor pool with underwater music and crystals embedded in the ceiling for a "starry sky" effect at night; outdoor infinity pool; hot tub; water therapy pool; fitness studio; tea and relaxation rooms.

But the most unusual feature of KurSpa is the cold sauna. As the first one in North America, it's the spa's signature health treatment. With temperatures of -110C (-166F), this "whole body cryotherapy" involves spending up to three minutes in the sauna. It's a dry cold (which supposedly makes it comfortable), and clients don light clothing and socks, along with protective headbands, face masks and gloves. Guests pass through two pre-chambers, which gradually introduces them to the cold experience and reduces the air exchange between the cold sauna and the other rooms. Chamber one is set at -15C, chamber two at -160C.

Guests may stay in the main chamber (-110C) for up to three minutes. While inside, an attendant talks to them, and the guests walk around in circles, moving their fingers and toes. There's piped-in music, and a second attendant is monitoring the guests from outside the sauna.

KurSpa touts that the effect of the cold sauna is systemic, giving the nervous and circulatory systems a boost. They list such benefits as alleviating pain and reducing inflammation; reducing hypertonicity of muscles; improving joint and muscle function; and reducing and relieving skin irritation, cutaneous lesions with neurodermatitis and psoriasis.

One of the guests during a morning session was on his ninth treatment for chronic headaches, while another was making her debut. Kelsey Mulyk of Vancouver, BC said she was a bit nervous about walking into -110C in her bathing suit. "It wasn't that bad," said Mulyk. "I just focused on the music -- nothing like a little Bob Marley when you're freezing!" But as a born and bred Calgarian, Mulyk admits she's used to a deep freeze.

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Sparkling Hill Resort | Vernon, British Columbia | Photos by Sue Frause
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