Luxury on Ice
Posted On Aug 25, 2016
The freezing of one’s assets, once the exclusive domain of bankruptcy courts and cads on the run, has taken on a whole new meaning thanks to the technological developments in the spa and beauty business. Now you can freeze a frown-line with cryoneuromodulation (“frotox”); blitz fat cells sans suction hose, needle, or laser with cryolipolysis; or blast your ass with nitrogen gas in a cryosauna. And if all that fails, you can take the lead from our Scandi cousins and go for an old-fashioned ice plunge to improve your circulation and rid you of cellulite—as well as any feelings in your extremities.
But hey, what’s a spot of frostbite in the pursuit of exquisite, eternal youth?
Beauty treatments aside, the holistic act of exposing ourselves to sub-zero temperatures in the search for better health has been around for centuries. The Romans would reward themselves after an eight-hour shift at the Colosseum by working their way through the caladium via the tepidarium and all the way to the, yep, you guessed it, the frigidarium. The tougher-than-tough Spartans believed that warm water weakened the warrior and would only bathe in the iciest rivers, and the Japanese have for centuries practiced a ritual called Shinto, which involves standing under an icy waterfall. The Siberians, not to be outdone, take it to a whole new level and enthusiastically pour a bucket of cold water over children aged between two to six in a ritual called Rodnichok. According to research, 95 percent of those children subjected to it remain unscathed during flu season versus 75 percent of those who did not participate in the study.
While I don’t doubt that Siberian children are tougher than their American counterparts I’m still personally not a fan of the gothic blue lip-look, and I would sooner spend a vacation on a tropical island than on an icy slope. But given the heat these cold treatments are getting, why not just go whole hog and check out the ice capital of the world, Sweden? It’s home to some of the world’s most beautiful women, ABBA, the hardiest children, and the largest hotel built entirely of ice.
The ICEHOTEL is located in Jukkasjärvi, which means “meeting place by the lake.” It is situated 200 kilometers north of the Artic Circle and is made out of 1,000 tons of ice and 30,000 tons of smice (snow and ice) from the Torne River. The area that surrounds it is known as Europe’s last wilderness, thanks to its vast expanses of untouched land and an unobstructed view of nature’s light show, the Aurora Borealis.
With thermals packed and expectations high, I hop on a flight to spend a weekend ensconced in ice. Let’s hope they have kept a block aside for an obligatory double-shot of Absolut Vodka…
After landing in Stockholm, I catch an internal transfer with Scandinavian Airlines to Kiruna, the northernmost city in Sweden. I discover upon arrival that there is no shiny black Benz to transport me to my destination, but 12 howling Alaskan canines instead. (In Jukkasjärvi, there are more dogs than people.) I am met at the airport by my guide and handed another warm outer layer of clothing so that I swell to the size of the Michelin man.
As we make our way across the white expanse, the cold air acts like eucalyptus, de-clogging my nasal passages and whipping my cheeks into a rosy glow. I ponder some of Scandinavia’s hottest exports—from Anita Ekberg (the unattainable dream woman in La Dolce Vita) to Bond Girl Britt Ekland—and how much growing up in this climate contributed to their glowing complexions.
Unlike these porcelain-skinned beauties, many of us have to face environmental pollutants (smog, smoke, vehicle emissions, for starters) daily. I can only imagine how much damage these city-specific pollutants have done, not just to my delicate dermis but to my lungs and general health.
Poor air quality is now considered to be one of the world’s biggest health issues, with CNN stating that this manmade phenomena claims more than 2 million lives annually. If you don’t live in India or China, the likelihood of you keeling over is much less. But it may drastically increase premature aging—a fate worse than death?
“Air and water pollution play an important role in the aging process,” says leading New York dermatologist David Colbert, MD, founder of the New York Dermatology Group. “It does so by causing cellular and DNA damage on many levels. Exposure to pollution-related free radicals can lead to the weakening of the skin’s immune system, which can result in thinning skin, loss of elasticity, and premature aging in the form of wrinkles.”
To safeguard his list of celebrity clients against this, he has created an antioxidant-rich product range that incorporates powerful protectants such as goji-berry extract and Coffee seed extract, delivered via Colbert’s proprietary QuSome technology, to help ward off these free radicals.
But you don’t need to read scientific research to understand the harmful effects pollution and smog life in our modern cities can bring. Gone are the days when one cleanse will do. In fact, some facialists and estheticians will tell you that it takes two deep cleanses to rid our pores of the buildup. And at the rate in which pollution levels are rising in most capital cities, one can only imagine the nightly beauty routine our grandchildren will be subjected to.
A FROZEN WONDER
As we approach our destination, it’s hard to imagine that this same frigid river water serves as a backdrop to a host of summer wellness activities—from white water rafting in the intrepid rapids of Pauranki to stand-up paddle boarding. In mid-August, one can experience healthy meal programs, outdoor workouts, and yoga with Swedish fitness institution Friskis & Svettis Kiruna, including guest lectures and workshops from the likes of dietary expert Monique Forslund and Swedish powerlifting champion Angelica Brage.
I arrive four weeks into the creation of the hotel, marveling at the extraordinary precision and craftsmanship that, as Arne Bergh, the hotel’s creative director, explains, called on the talents of artists from all over the world: “About 100 people—artists, builders, and light engineers are currently beavering, and with only three weeks until the ICEHOTEL stands ready to open the doors to its first of 60,000 guests.”
Once complete, the structure will boast 65 rooms, with scenes from the London Underground created by Marcus Dilistone, a Frankenstein science lab, and a Paris rooftop view in ice and snow. The guest suites and special art suites will be created by designers that range from film directors and architects to product designers and visual anthropologists.
Committed to the environment, the ICEHOTEL is truly green and eco-friendly. On arrival, guests staying the night are checked in at a desk in an adjacent building which functions as a convenience hub—as there is no plumbing inside the ICEHOTEL save for the deluxe suites. But under the careful stewardship of founder Yngve Bergqvist, the hotel has continued to innovate over the past 25 years and is now CO2 negative, using solar panels, LED lights, and highly effective ground source heating.
And when the sun starts to heat the land come mid-April, it all melts back to the river. As Bergh explains, “We return what we’ve borrowed to Torne.”
With ablution confusion all around, one must also consider that bedding down in minus-five degrees takes some careful planning. The Haglöfs sleep suits are not exactly what one would call bringing sexy back (think the opposite of luxury lingerie), and the hotel recommends not drinking too much prior to bed as it’s somewhat of a schlep to find a loo, and then Houdini movements are required to get out of the suit. But on the positive, the sleeping bags are warmed by your own body heat, which means you burn extra calories while you sleep.
Despite any possible slimming affects (and the sheer novelty factor) there may also be a few health benefits to sleeping on ice. In a study presented at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine’s SLEEP conference, researchers fitted 12 insomniacs with caps that used circulating water to cool the prefrontal cortex. According to Eric A. Nofzinger, a psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine who worked on the study, in adults with normal sleeping patterns, the metabolism of the prefrontal cortex decreases as they fall asleep. In insomniacs, however, it increases, corresponding with the incessant worrying or brain chatter that many of the sleep-deprived report experiencing. Using the cap to perform a cooling process on the brain, called cerebral hypothermia, the researchers were able to reduce the brain’s activities and lull 75 percent of the subjects to sleep.
Each ice suite has an oversized bed of ice, surreal as it sounds, with a soft foam mattress covered in layers of reindeer skins. Once snuggled in thermals and aided by an Absolut Vodka or two from the ice bar, and a charcuterie board made up of moose sausage and—yikes—reindeer jerky (Rudolph lovers look away now), you will soon be snoring like a Viking.
In the mornings, which are spectacular, friendly staff draws the reindeer-skin curtains and present guests with steaming cups of lingonberry juice, the Swedes’ version of açai. Grown in the forests of Sweden, and found in the “gourmet” food department of Ikea in the form of jam, lingonberries, like cranberries, are rich in short-chained proanthocyanidins and are a good source of vitamins A, C, and B, as well as calcium and magnesium. These aid in maintaining a healthy blood pressure and are a good source of essential fatty acids, which is important in these cold temperatures. Rich in flavonoids—most notably quercetin—the berries are also a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant with antihistamine properties. That’s a lot more wellness than my usual morning mug—half-almond, half-rice, extra-hot, extra-shot cappo-to-go.
The juice is followed by an obligatory stint in the Scandinavian sauna—a staple of many a spa ritual with holistic benefits that have been heralded for centuries. The plusses of this “poor man’s chemist,” as it’s known in Nordic folklore, are derived mostly from sweating—an important bodily function for warding off disease and driving away evil spirits that are deeply rooted in Scandinavian culture. (In Norse legend, the first giants were created from sweat of the frost giant Ymir’s armpit.) We don’t do enough sweating in modern times. Our pores become clogged by clothing, antiperspirants, skin creams, and pollution. If the body cannot purge, then it protects us the best way it can, by trapping toxins in fat cells where they stay until the body can find a way to detox. During a typical Scandinavian sauna, one loses roughly a liter of sweat—mostly water (and a few shots of vodka), excess salt, and metals. It’s an effective way of ridding the body of the copper, lead, zinc, and mercury absorbed in our polluted environment. The skin, after all, is our largest elimination organ, sometimes referred to as “the third kidney.”
If all of this sounds a little like hard work, and you prefer the type of spa-aing that involves lying down on a warm and cozy bed, you may want to combine a visit to the ICEHOTEL with a 2-hour trip to Sweden’s northernmost ski resort, Riksgränsen. There you’ll find a Relaxen Spa and Sauna, where you can indulge in a sauna ritual with Kerstin Florian products famed for their natural formulas, which are rich in algae, thermal mineral water, mud, herbal extracts, essential oils, antioxidants, essential minerals, and vitamins.
In the meantime we can only hope the ICEHOTEL takes to heart the trend of smice in beauty and gets us to create the world’s first advanced medical ice spa. Imagine: rooms dedicated to whole-body cryotherapy in partnership with Dr. Jonas Kuehne; myoscience; iovera next-generation Botox injections with Dr. Yannis Alexandrides; CoolSculpting treatments; a Kniepp hydrotherapy circuit; and a Lingonberry IV drip for good measure. Hey, if they can send guests up to space in Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceship, surely this isn’t much to ask? But until the owners heed our pleas for a fully-fledged technologically advanced medical spa, don’t wait to book your place at the ICEHOTEL
Experience Summer at the ICE HOTEL
Want to enjoy summer at the ICEHOTEL? As a result of an increased interest in health and wellness from guests, ICEHOTEL has teamed up with the Torne River Association Centre to host a week of summer wellness activities.
Fitness with Friskis and Svettis, whose motto “sweat and smile, Swedish-style,” denotes a workout with the aim of bringing the knowledge and benefits of health care and sports together. Roughly translated to “healthy and sweaty” to appeal to those in rehabilitation with limited movement, and those looking for a work out, Friskis and Svettis has grown to include 500,000 members across Europe. Expect to burn 500 calories per 60-minute class. (friskissvettis.co.uk)
Yoga with Lise Benberg, former Swedish elite downhill skier and founder of Yoga Studion Lappland—one of the most established yoga clubs in Kiruna. Or Ulla Lind, a certified health care specialist, massage and spa therapist, Qi Gong-instructor, and internationally certified yoga-instructor with a background in psychological training. (yogastudionlappland.se)
Inspiring talks hosted by experts in the fields of healthy eating, training motivation, mindfulness, and more: from Monique Forslund, a diet specialist and advisor, fitness instructor, and writer to Swedish powerlifting champion, Angelica Brage (lifezone.se, angelicabrage.se).
Combine the above list of activities with a chilled drink whilst marveling at the majesty of the Torne and a riverside barbecue, hosted in authentic tipis. Or if you’re feeling a little more adventurous, battle the intrepid rapids of Pauranki, try XC cycling through the Taiga, or go for stand-up paddle boarding, Hawaiian-style. Email [email protected] for a full list of fun summer activites information.