Five Perfectly Pleasurable Places for Après-ski Pampering
A massage maven's picks for your post-piste tuneup, from Tremblant and Quebec City to Vermont, Thunder Bay and, uh … Toronto
Ski holidays always start perfectly for me, just according to script. I take the lift to the top of the hill for the first run of the day, excited and exhilarated. I schuss my way through deep powder. Feeling fine. Wonderful.
Fast forward to the afternoon. My quads are screaming at me, and now all I dream about is getting those deathly tight boots off my feet. I have learned (the hard way) to opt for the inarguable benefits of a post-piste spa treatment rather than the temporary soothing effects of a glass of mulled wine (I save that for later). A soothing massage or other body treatment is a pre-emptive strike against next-day stiffness and makes a ski trip just plain better overall. It’s worth it to press the reset button on that overworked muscle tissue.
Based on my extensive – and frankly enviable – research, here are five great après-ski treatments to get you rebooted after unbuckling the ski boots.
Stowe, Vermont: The Spa at Stowe Mountain Lodge
There's nothing like skiing to the door of a spa after you're done on the slopes. Slip off your boots at the entrance to this 21,000-foot spa at the base of Stowe Mountain in the picturesque Vermont ski town, and get set for a “Stowe cider uber scrub,” a 110-minute body treatment and massage.
The prelude to this nice, long treatment is a skin exfoliation using apple dregs (literally, the bottom of the barrel) from local manufacturer Stowe Cider, added to Himalayan salt to make the fragrant and invigorating skin rub.
Why? The benefits of apple cider vinegar have been anecdotally touted as a cure for complaints ranging from halitosis to cancer, and the juice of the apple is said to have inflammation lowering properties and be good for itchy and cracked skin. So there's something to be said for that apple a day thing even in a body treatment. And boy do the snake-like dead layers of skin peel off, uncovering baby softness underneath.
After the exfoliation comes phase two. The spa team will help you identify your pain points — those sore hands, that throbbing boot ache, those thankless quads – and treat it with a customized shea butter and aloe vera massage. (Or you can choose the more hardcore manoeuvres of a deep tissue massage.)
When it’s over, pull yourself off the spa bed while the technician waits patiently outside, and she'll escort you to the “sanctuary.” the post-treatment relaxation space. You’ll be offered a frosty pint glass of Vermont cider. While you sip it behold the Green Mountain State’s scenery. See if you can make out the “face” on Mount Mansfield’s summit ridge. You're also invited to make use of the other amenities, which include hot tubs, steam room and cold rain showers.
User Kkemerait / Wikipedia. Image in public domain
Quebec City: Le Monastère des Augustines
There are some for whom après-ski partying holds no appeal. When the day on the slopes is done, there are people who would prefer quiet and peace over, say, Austrian tea dancing in ski boots while getting soused on glühwein. To each his own.
For those seekers of a calm – or dare we say monastic – experience, pray you’ll get chance to make a pilgrimage to the Monastère des Augustines, a still-functioning 18th-century nunnery in in the heart of Quebec City.
Also formerly the first hospital in what is now Canada, the Monastère has given over part of its historic structure to a unique boutique wellness retreat. It was the Augustinian nuns’ own initiative to convert part of the monastery into the wellness centre. The order has long been known for its focus on providing for the well-being and rest of those who need it.
Courtesy Le Monastère des Augustines
Guests can sleep in the original monastic cells. As staff may try to warn you, these have only single beds (and shared bathrooms) but they’re not as spartan as you might imagine. Feathery duvets, patchwork quilts and antique furniture make them look like a charming room in a bed and breakfast.
If that’s still not cushy enough for you, opt for more spacious and luxurious accommodations in the new wing, where the rooms are made for two and all have private bathrooms.
Now, how to spend the day? Perhaps start with a yoga or meditation class before breakfast and heading off to the slopes (the city offers shuttle buses to the nearby Monte-Ste-Anne ski station). Culinary deprivation isn’t part of the régime here: Breakfast is a copious and delicious medley of fruit, eggs (they do a great frittata) and nuts. The meal is however, eaten in complete silence, a nod both to the traditional vows of silence, and, we suppose, to digital detoxing.
At last, the spa treatments, a mix of the traditional and the cutting edge. Among the offerings is a massage especially for sports enthusiasts, and it really hits those spots after a day on the slopes, with the technician alternating between firm and light pressure, and between slow and fast movements to help recovery and boost performance. That’s all very welcome, and a fine way to complement the equally important mental reboot you’ll find here.
Mont Tremblant, Quebec: Le Scandinave
One of the first full circuit Nordic style spas in Canada when it opened in 1999, Le Scandinave still sets the standard. The 18,000-square-foot multi-level spa is located a five minute drive from the mountain, nestled deep in snowy woods and on the banks of Mont Tremblant’s Diable River in which you’ll be expected to take an icy dip as part of your induction into traditional Scandinavian hydrotherapy. Don’t mind the chunks of ice floating in it.
The idea is to shock and awe the body by cycling through different temperature environments. You get yourself hot. Then cold. Then you relax. In that order.
For the hot portion you can try a Finnish dry sauna (the hottest of the hot), or take a eucalyptus steam bath, (which will also help with skier's runny nose), or simmer in one of the outdoor hot pools glistening turquoise against the surrounding snow banks, or stand under a hot waterfall to pummel your shoulders and back of your neck. It doesn't matter which one as long as you’re hot for 10 minutes. The thinking goes that the heat dilates blood vessels on surface of skin and increases blood flow to skin and muscles.
Next, a jolt of cold to get those white blood cells singing. Just a few seconds will do, and if a polar bear plunge in the river is really too much, there’s a waterfall, or showers spouting cold river water.
Finally, you’re going to need to calm your cardiovascular system down. So here comes the relaxation part: Find a chillout spot around one of the outdoor fire pits, sofas or indoor solariums. My favourite was the room full of zero gravity chairs that elevate feet above your head. I felt my mood go from exhilaration to extreme relaxation. We even spotted some deer poking their faces up at the window on that late afternoon visit.
Iron man (self-styled or real) skiers can add on a deep tissue massage. Le Scandinave doesn’t use massage oil for this one, so hands don't slip while technicians knead your muscles.Apparently it hurts, but in a good way – even the staff admit it’s “intense.”
Courtesy Scandinave Spa Mont-Tremblant
Thunder Bay: Kangas Sauna
Not all spas have to be fancy – all fluffy robes and pricey skin care treatments. A more humble example is Kangas, a Finnish-style sauna in downtown Thunder Bay, a city that knows about all things Finnish. About 10% of the population has roots from that Nordic country, and Kangas is just one of several beloved local businesses that keep the cultural link alive. Locals will tell you Kangas is “so Thunder Bay.”
And how not-fancy is Kangas? When Lyyli Kangas opened her eponymous spa in 1967, it was part of a corner grocery store. (For those times when you need to run out for a quart of milk and a good sweat.)
And it’s a sauna in the city, so there’s probably not too much rolling in the snow in between heat sessions (although current owner Calley Onchulenko admits that some guests do steal branches from the cedar tree outside the sauna to beat themselves à la the sauna circulation tradition). But a downtown sauna comes in handy in a city that has hundreds of wooded and groomed cross-country ski trails. Many participants of the famous annual Thunder Bay Sleeping Giant Loppet ski tour, which takes place in March sauna religiously, as do those who glide on the trails of the city's Centennial Park.
Courtesy Kangas Sauna
In its current incarnation Kangas boasts 18 private sauna rooms. About half are made for individuals or couples, five are medium-sized, and four are large enough for a good sauna party. One is even designed for conferences. (If that sounds odd, note that the government of Finland holds weekly meetings in its sauna.)
For its adherents, the ritual promises a one-two wellness punch of stimulating the immune system and injury recovery. "It's really good for a skier to stretch before and wind down with a hot sauna after," one habitué told me. A Finnish study suggested that regular sauna use helps longevity.
After you’re finished your sweat, treat yourself to some Finnish pancakes, homemade soup or homestyle walleye in Kangas' adjacent 50-seat restaurant.
Toronto: The Spa MyBlends by Clarins at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel
Toronto isn’t exactly a major ski destination. However, if you're looking for that after-ski glow but are staying in the city, check into the Ritz-Carlton’s Spa for a MyBlend By Clarin's Facial. This is the only MyBlend by Clarins spa in North America (the other is in Paris), and it was recently named the number one spa in the world by Travel + Leisure magazine.
My experience started with the most thorough facial I've ever had. The technician sized up my epidermis 20-minute “interview” of my skin (!). She sussed out its issues with climate, pigmentation and dehydration. She got a handle on my lifestyle, and evaluated the activity level, size, and state of my pores.
Once the detailed probe and analysis was complete, the technician wrapped me in a heated blanket and left me on the treatment table as she went out to whip up my personalized concoctions, formulas and boosters made from concentrations of peptides, vitamins and plant extracts.
Courtesy Spa MyBlends by Clarins at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel
Then began a seemingly unending series of peels, masques, detoxifying gels, steams, scrubs, cleansers and eye treatments, and intense moisturizing involving a myriad of unctions and milks. At one point she used a jade roller to improve circulation. It felt so cool on my face while the rest of me was toasty warm under the blanket. Even spa skeptics will agree that their skin is glowing afterwards, and the immediately apparent results include reduced wrinkles and lines.
If, on the other hand, you're are feeling kinks in your muscles a day after you've returned from the slopes – isn’t second-day soreness the worst? – sign up for the spa's 90-minute “floating on a cloud” treatment: The kicker is that one-third of it is dedicated to treating feet, with rich butters and serious rubs and scrubs. This is followed by a full body massage.
Then you move along to a relaxation room piled with treats, or you're welcome to use the green tea-infused pool, or an aromatherapy steam room or sauna. Or you can take a dip in the indoor saltwater pool and hot tub.
I chose the treats.