"In 10 minutes you're going to feel really good, like a drug-free high," assures my spa practitioner, Loraine Worsnop. But it's hard to believe her when you're about to step into the coldest place on earth. Even though we Canadians frequently moan about enduring some of the most frigid temperatures on the planet, the cryotherapy lab at Sparkling Hill Resort, just outside of Vernon in the Okanagan Valley, takes the concept of being cool to another new level.
Set at minus-110 Celsius degrees (-166 Fahrenheit), North America's only Ice lab offers sought-after treatment for those suffering from arthritis, depression, or muscle and joint pain. The cold reduces inflammation that causes those conditions. During the three-minute procedure, blood moves to the core of the body to protect vital organs, and brings other fluids like waste products' lactic acid with it.
"When we move blood and lymph to core of body, it's dealt with to be eliminated and cleansed through body," explains Worsnop.
But when I popped into Canada's largest spa, freezing my ass(ets) off wasn't what I had in mind. Taking an entire wing of the resort, the 40,000-square-foot KurSpa is a European-concept spa dedicated to whole body wellness. Just how European is it? In addition to sporting seven different themed sauna and steam rooms, the KurSpa also offers a European hour in the sauna area each night from 9-10 p.m., meaning: clothing optional.
I, however, was more into visiting the on-site naturopath physician for an IV vitamin infusion (there had been a tad bit of Okanagan wine consumed the previous night), and getting slathered with Fango -- Italian volcanic ash that's mixed with water and whipped to a hot butter composition before it's applied to the body to soothe aches and pains.
Vacay.ca Gives You More Spa Vacations and Spa Deals in Canada
But there's more to Sparkling Hill than cool spa treatments. Owned by Gernot Langes Swarovski, patriarch of the famed Austrian crystal family, the only Swarovski hotel in the world is decked out with 3.5-million Austrian crystals worth $10 million.
From chandeliers fashioned to represent the surrounding lakes to crystal-infused in-room features like a starry star glittering over the bathtub, the sparkling elements provide an atmosphere of calm and serenity, not to mention a touch of glamour. And with United Airlines' new direct service to Kelowna from Los Angeles, you may just run into a few movie stars, as packages are being gifted to celebrities at film festivals around the world.
Besides a mutual love of bling, it's easy to see how A-listers would be dazzled by the property. Carved into the side of a granite cliff, the lavish resort is set on 187 acres of rugged forestland overlooking both Lake Okanagan and the Monashee Mountain range.
With more than 40 kilometres of wilderness trails to explore, nearby vineyards to tour and the 36-hole Predator Ridge golf course located beside the resort, there's no shortage of activities to keep guests amused.
You know what else makes this place great? It's super quiet. Though children are welcome at the hotel, they're not at the spa (where the pool is located), which makes for a truly relaxing stay.
But plunging into a cryotherapy sauna could never be described as relaxing. Rejuvenating, perhaps, but it's definitely not a pampering experience. Still, I felt surprisingly energetic after my three minutes of frozen hell was up. So much so that I wouldn't give this treatment the cold shoulder again. Emerging out of the frozen chamber into the modern glinting spa made everything seem crystal clear, which is what a stay at this salubrious spot is all about.
What does it cost for a spa treatment at Sparkling Hill? Not as much as you think. Read the rest of the article on Vacay.ca to learn about prices and reservations.
More Unique Luxury Spas in Western Canada
Mountain Trek, Ainsworth Spring, B.C. -- The motto of this spa in the Selkirk Mountains is "Hike Your But Off." A play on words, of course; the word "but" suggests resistance to a suggested course of action. In the present context, an example of such usage may sound something like: "I would love to exercise more, BUT I just don't have the time." Read Vacay.ca for more about one of the best hiking and spa experiences in Canada.
Harrison Hot Springs, Harrison, B.C. -- This historic spa is also close to the rumoured home of Sasquatch. Romantics love Harrison Hot Springs, and although the resort is a lot of fun for families, there's a pool reserved for adults as well, so you can enjoy some quiet time. The resort's spa also offers couples' packages that include time in a private pool followed by a menu of massages, facials, and other body treatments. Read Vacay.ca for more about this spa in B.C.'s Lower Mainland.
Willow Stream Spa, Banff, AB -- Part of the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel, this luxurious facility is modelled after the grand spas of Europe. Light cascades through the glass-domed ceiling, high above the majestic Kur mineral bath. Guests take to the waters in a centuries-old practice for 15 minutes, before dipping into three plunge pools of varying temperatures. Just don't start off with Bow Falls, unless you enjoy shocking your system (it's seemingly as chilling as those winter rapids). Read more about Willow Stream's spa experience on Vacay.ca.
Story by Jody Robbins Vacay.ca writer
Full disclosure: These aren't my first bangs. Those I got four years ago, and I loved the instant edge they gave my look. But every morning was a surprise. Sometimes all the bangs needed was a light serum to keep them in place. Most days, though, they required globs of hair gel and intense flatironing. Before long, they were thinning and breaking off. When they finally grew out, I abandoned the style forever...or so I thought, until the beauty department sent me to Butterfly Studio Salon's Bang Bar, a smorgasbord of commitment-free fringe. Their stylist sorted through 11 shades of Hairdo by HairUWear synthetic clip-in bangs to find my match. Three sturdy clips--one at the crown, two on opposite sides of the hairline--secured the hairpiece; with a quick trim, it framed my face perfectly. I was shocked at how seamlessly the faux bangs blended with my real hair. And they have a major advantage over my originals: I slipped them off before bed, and in the morning--no surprises. I'll definitely try them again for a special occasion (like one of the trillion weddings I have to attend this year...). ($30 for fringe, $20 for trim, $68 for additional blow-out; ) Verdict: Do it! —Jihan Thompson, health editor
My bathroom looks like a high-tech control station (mission: silky, glowing skin). Next to my Clarisonic skin-cleansing brush, which stands next to my Tria hair removal laser, now stand a trio of microdermabrasion devices. They mimic the action of the popular spa treatment: loosening complexion-dulling dead skin cells with a crystal-encrusted disc, then vacuuming them away. Each has several levels of suction that let you customize the intensity of your exfoliation. (Trust me: Start slow.) The ( above ) is the most elaborate, with an LCD screen that indicates where to glide the tool and a timer that beeps when I need to move on to a new area of my face. It also has the most intense suction--after my five-minute treatment, I'm beet red. The next morning, though, makeup glides over my incredibly soft, clear skin. The and have similarly silkening effects. All three are meant to be used no more than once a week, and all three do the job. But because it's light, cordless and left my skin only slightly pink, the Riiviva is the one that's going to score a permanent home at my personal skincare operations center. Verdict: Do it if you don't have sensitive skin or rosacea. —Jenny Bailly, executive beauty editor
I remember being 16, standing in my bathroom in the ovenlike heat of August, aiming a blow-dryer at my head until sweat dripped down my face. My hair--the one thing about me that resembled Heather Locklear--was worth it. After an hour with my Conair Turbo, I felt as if something amazing could happen. Maybe that's why my first visit to Drybar (the rapidly multiplying salon chain with the tagline "No cuts. No color. Just blow-outs") makes me feel nostalgic. My hair has lately been relegated to a wiry braid that I wash only when the buildup of oil and dry shampoo makes it itch. Deep down, I know this has to do with age-related defensiveness. (I'm getting older, but as you can see, I don't care.) If I preemptively bow out of the game, I can't lose, right?After 45 minutes of my stylist's deft round-brush maneuvers, I've sunk into a meditative state. And my hair! It's dancing on my shoulders, a soft cascade of movie-star curls. I don't look like the 16-year-old I once was, with boundless hope (and more collagen), but as I walk out onto the street, I realize there's no one I need to impress. It's just me and my hair, greeting the day with all we've got. ($40; ) Verdict: Do it! —Meredith Bryan, articles editor
Tired of hiding my upper arms under cardigans every summer, this year I marched into my dermatologist's office at the first sign of spring. "Scrubs and lotions aren't cutting it," I said, lifting my sleeve to show Meghan O'Brien, MD, of Tribeca Park Dermatology, the pimple-like bumps along my triceps. "I need the big guns." My problem: keratosis pilaris. In addition to the annoying bumps--caused when skin cells called keratinocytes accumulate and plug hair follicles--I had developed noticeable dark patches. O'Brien suggested a chemical peel to lift away the upper layers of skin, clearing out the hair follicles and removing excess pigment. She used a mix of trichloroacetic, retinoic and salicylic acids called VI Peel (a good choice for darker skin tones like mine). After she wiped on the mildly tingly acid solution, she waited two minutes before neutralizing it with a towelette soaked in retinoic acid and vitamin C. Within hours, the skin turned alarmingly dark and started flaking. By day four, it was coming off in sheets. But finally, after ten days of intense peeling, my arms were smooth, even-toned, and tank-top-ready. The doctor says I may be bump-free for months--possibly longer if I use a prescription 40 percent urea foam lotion daily and a retinoid cream twice a week. ($300 to $500 per treatment; for physicians) Verdict: Do it if you have tried at-home exfoliation to no avail (and are prepared for serious molting). —Alessandra Foresto, associate beauty editor
When I was asked to take part in this beauty adventure story, I thought, Jackpot! What would they ask me to try? Botox? A fancy spa treatment? Then came the official beauty department e-mail: "How about face-smoothing patches you apply at home?" Er, okay. According to the package, the BioBliss Anti-Wrinkle Patch System contains micro-current technology that infuses the skin with hyaluronic acid, peptides and other plumping ingredients to reduce the appearance of fine lines. I used both the forehead and eye-area patches. When I peeled off the thick, rubbery pads after 30 minutes, my pesky frown lines did appear less deep. By the end of the day, though, I looked as fine-lined and unplumped as ever. The directions suggest using the system weekly for more lasting results; I think I'll just cross my fingers and wait for next year's beauty adventures. ($25 each; ) Verdict: Skip it! —Naomi Barr, research chief
The villains of this story are a broken arm, an itchy plastic brace and a prolific stack of medical bills. The setting is an orthopedics practice where, after six months, a surgeon proclaims that the arm just won't heal. The plot involves an operation, nine titanium screws, a six-inch rust-colored scar--and me, one epically exhausted protagonist. So when the beauty department arranges for Cheryl Karcher, MD, of Sadick Dermatology, to take a pair of high-powered, skin-smoothing, redness-reducing lasers to my scar, I enthusiastically agree: Losing that red menace gets me closer to forgetting the whole awful experience ever happened. First, Karcher treats me with the Cutera LimeLight, an IPL (intense pulsed light) machine that reduces pigmentation. Since I've applied a numbing cream 30 minutes prior to the treatment, it feels like she's flicking me with a rubber band. After a week of healing, the scar pales dramatically. (I cry with joy.) Next comes the more intense Fraxel Dual laser, which stimulates collagen beneath the skin's surface--I won't lie, that one hurts--and which utterly obliterates the puckering. (I cry again.) Then another week, another IPL, and another shade lighter (and more tears) brings Karcher's assurance that one or two more sessions will render the scar nearly imperceptible. I'm looking forward to my happy ending. ($400 to $800 per IPL session, $750 to $1,500 per Fraxel session; physicians' offices) Verdict: Do it! —Katie Arnold-Ratliff, senior editor
There was a time, I kid you not, when I refused to leave the house without heels, big hair and a full face of makeup--my quiet homage to the women of Knots Landing. But that was 30 years and a thousand somebody elses ago. Today I've got one daughter, two jobs, a special-needs rat terrier, very little energy and even less time. Still, tired of always looking tired--and pressured by the beauty department--I reserved a recent afternoon to slip my exhausted self onto a stool at the makeup counter of a Manhattan department store. "I need a little oomph," I tell the makeup artist-salesperson. She springs into action, uttering just two words: "smoky eyes." So authoritative is her conviction that I find myself nodding in complete agreement. Over the next half hour, a grand total of 21 products are smudged, smeared and dabbed from my throat to my hairline--apparently I require smokiness from the neck up. For reasons I will never comprehend, she lines the inside rims of my upper eyelids, commanding me to breathe as she scratches away. "Breathing keeps you from tearing uncontrollably," she assures me as I tear uncontrollably. After five minutes, she pronounces me fabulous and hands me a mirror. "I hope you're going somewhere very special tonight," she says. I don't have the heart to tell her I have a date with a fourth grader whose math homework neither of us understands. Or that the face she's created for me does not go with the life I've created for myself. Instead, I buy tinted moisturizer and lipstick and brace for a very special night of long division. The next day, after two hot showers and 11,000 baby wipes, the black liner that refuses to budge from my eyes has actually left them subtly defined. It's a morning-after makeup miracle! I use the tinted moisturizer to even out my skin tone and apply the soft, pinky beige lipstick. I may not feel well-rested, but I look it--and that's a pretty nice start. Verdict: Do it! —Lisa Kogan, writer at large
"Don't open your eyes!" commanded eyebrow expert Eliza Petrescu as she gently pushed a cotton-tipped applicator dipped in blue-black vegetable dye down to the roots of my eyelashes. (I know: Yikes!) With some anxiety, I wondered whether my closed lids were completely sealed. Eliza had placed adhesive patches under my eyes to protect my skin, but preserving my sight was evidently up to me. "Keep not opening them," said Eliza, now brushing the dye through my lashes with a bare mascara wand. She waited about five (long) minutes before she swiped a cotton pad soaked in water over each eye to remove the excess dye. "Okay, open up," she said, and the moment I did, she popped one drop of Visine into each eye. I looked at Eliza, so glad to see her. "Now close your eyes!" she said, before using another applicator to cover my brows with an auburn-brown vegetable dye, followed by a bare mascara wand to brush the dye through. This color she left on for only about two minutes because she wanted to keep my brows a natural shade and because they were flecked with just a few gray hairs. (If I'd had more of those, she would have left the dye on a minute or two longer.) To be sure she wouldn't stain the skin around my brows, she wiped the area with a mixture of toner and almond oil. Then she passed me a mirror so I could evaluate her handiwork. Blue-black lashes! Distinctive brows! And a greatly increased appreciation of a skilled aesthetician. ($65 for lash tint, $45 for brow tint; ) Verdict: Do it if you have some gray in your brows or pale lashes. —Valerie Monroe, beauty director
I'm not a DIY beauty girl. The closest I get to doing my own pedicure is slathering my feet in lotion and pulling on a pair of socks. I'm always up for an adventure, though, so I was game to try the Sally Hansen Salon GelPolish system on my toes. Here's how it works: 1. Apply base coat. 2. Put your foot (or hand) inside the LED light box for 30 seconds (it automatically turns off when time is up). This sets (or "cures") the polish. 3. Apply two coats of color. The key to success: very thin coats. My first time around, I painted the polish on too thick and it peeled right off. 4. Cure color with the light for 30 seconds after each coat. 5. Apply top coat; cure for 30 seconds. Use an alcohol-soaked pad (included in the kit) to wipe away the sticky residue on the surface of your nails. They're instantly dry! 6. A perfect (DIY) ten. ($70 for starter kit, $20 for refill kit of base and top coats and cleanser pads; drugstores) —Gayle King, editor-at-large
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