“Mom, just don’t die”.
My 9-year-old son’s words whirled through my head as I left our hotel room dressed in a robe monogrammed, Sparkling Hill.
Who dies at a spa?

Still, I had to admit, I was nervous. I was embarking on my first session of cryotherapy—an icy cold version of a sauna in which the temperature sits somewhere below a frigid -166 degrees Fahrenheit. Were my son’s concerns valid? Could my body handle it? Don’t people die when they fall through ice ponds due to rapid changes in body temperature? And is it a coincidence the word cry is in cryotherapy?

Sparkling Hill is a luxury spa resort in British Columbia’s Okanagan region. My son and I had been lured there with a promise of heli-skiing with Matt Devlin of Kingfisher Heli and a stay at Sparkling Hill, one of North America’s leading luxury lodges—this one owned by the Swarovski crystal family. Located on rolling, vineyard and snow-laden terrain of what’s known as Canada’s Napa Valley, Sparkling Hill was designed by architect Andreas Altmayer to incorporate 3.5 million Swarovski crystals into nearly every facet of the property.  s2

Our first day skiing the steep slopes of nearby Silver Star Mountain Resort—a warm up for some heli-skiing with Kingfisher—was followed by a restorative visit to Sparkling Hill’s KurSpa, a 40,000-square-foot sanctuary offering more than 100 transformative treatments, including its signature cryotherapy session. The term cryotherapy comes from the Greek word cryo meaning “cold”, and therapy meaning “cure”. The treatment has been used since the 17th century to decrease cell growth and reproduction, as well as to reduce joint inflammation and pain by constricting blood vessels (vasoconstriction). KurSpa is the only facility offering cryotherapy in North America, and the resort has a roster of repeat guests who return year after year to withstand this special treatment.

Sparkling Hill Resort Manager Hans-Peter Mayr met me inside KurSpa and did his best to put me at ease, prepping me for the ice and cold. He explained that there are two freezers in Kur’s cryotherapy chamber: the first is cold, the second even colder. The first chamber was to prepare my body for an even bigger drop in temperature that would come in the second chamber. We were to spend just three minutes in each chamber—just enough time to reap the benefits without destroying tissue. There is an Olympic rehabilitation center in Poland that uses this treatment to rehab athletes, and Manchester United uses this treatment pre- and post-game. (Perhaps thinking about David Beckham in his skivvies would help me pass the time.) All I was equipped with was a surgical face mask, gloves, and ear warmers—that was it besides my bikini.

It would be akin to stepping into a big meat locker, Mayr said. s3

Okay, I said. If Rocky Balboa could withs tand days of training inside a freezer,   I could withs tand three minutes of cryotherapy.

After a quick check of my blood pressure to make sure I was within required limits, we entered the first cold chamber at a balmy -61 degrees Fahrenheit. This first meat locker wasn’t too bad, but the moment of truth was fast approaching. We headed for the second freezer—embarking on Operation Deep Freeze.

The first few moments in chamber number two were doable. As it was a dry cold, it didn’t feel as painfully chilly as I recalled feeling during my Queenstown, New Zealand winters. But within seconds, I peeked desperately at Mayr’s watch, dismayed to see the secondhand moving in slow motion. I tried to carry on a conversation. I asked Mayr where
he came from in Austria, how long he’d been in Canada, and followed those up with other run-of-the-mill questions—anything to make my three minutes in this icy cold chamber pass faster. The benefits kick in between two and three minutes, Mayr said, so going the distance was important. Finally the clock flashed 2:59 and I made for the door.

I’d done it! I had lasted three minutes at a frosty -166 temperature. Better yet, I was feeling amazing already. The endorphins were rushing through my body and I felt like a superstar. I couldn’t wait to experience the positive effects this treatment would have on my aching, ski-worn joints.

I donned my robe and ventured back to our room. I knocked on the door and asked my son to let me in. “It’s me: Mom!” I shouted. “I survived the cold chambers!”

Less than a week later, back at home in Aspen, I felt an overwhelming difference in my knee joints. I’d started the season with many aches and pains, but after my encounter with cryotherapy, I felt like a teenager.