Cold Comfort

Pampering is out. Cold plunges, mood-boosting mushrooms and social networking are in. Here, four new wellness experiences to try this winter

Photography by Zach Ramelan

Cold Camp

For Wim Hoff Wannabes

What: Cold therapy in a resort-like setting
Where: The Kawarthas
Price: Starting at $1,098 for a weekend

Nick McNaught, the co-founder of experiential lifestyle brand Unbounded, used to hate the cold. Now, he can’t wait for winter. Three years ago, when he first plunged into the icy lake at his family’s cottage in the Thousand Islands, McNaught had no idea that ice baths could boost norepinephrine (a neuro transmitter that affects mood, attention and alertness). What he did know was that cold plunging helped him feel better. It was the fall of 2020—peak pandemic—and the only thing that brought McNaught any comfort was pushing himself into discomfort.

Launching Cold Camp the next year allowed McNaught and Lisa Kricfalusi, his partner in business and life, to share the experience with anyone willing to make the drive out to Havelock. Their winter retreat is for both cold-curious newbies and veteran polar enthusiasts, offering guided primal therapy sessions, which bring attendees from a bone-chilling two- to four-minute lake plunge to a fire-heated barrel sauna.

There’s also yoga, red-light therapy, massages and bonfire dance parties. Like a sleepaway camp for stressed-out cosmopolites, Cold Camp offers a chance to unplug from city life (guests are encouraged to put their devices on airplane mode), reconnect with nature and form deep bonds with other humans—whether it’s the people you came with or those you meet there.

Cold Camp yoga classes

The scenic Kawartha campus—previously a family resort—is dotted with conifers and birches and has a rocky shoreline that drops into spring-fed Oak Lake. The landscape may be rugged, but the ’60s-era guest cottages are all winterized and newly renovated, offering a comfy reprieve from the extreme temperatures.

Related: Eight perfectly hedonistic self-care services for winter-weary minds and bodies

Photograpby by Brilynn Ferguson

Dimensions Algonquin Highlands

For always-on urbanites

What: Psychedelic retreats with luxe digs
Where: Haliburton
Price: From $500 a night

On the shores of Maple Lake, Dimensions Algonquin Highlands is a 40-acre refuge that offers programs catering to both high-stress performers (elite athletes, hedge fund managers) and regular folks looking for a reset. The two most popular packages are Ascend, a four-night psychedelic-assisted therapy retreat that involves psychotherapy, body work and a plant-medicine ceremony, and the more conventional Winter Wellness, which comprises cold plunging, sensory deprivation therapy, forest bathing, and ample outdoor activities like hiking and snowshoeing.

Dimensions Algonquin Highlands retreat

Both programs are designed to help overstimulated urbanites unplug and recharge. The luxe amenities, serene activities (breathwork, ecstatic dance, qigong) and surrounding pristine wilderness don’t hurt, either. Toronto’s DesignAgency built 17 sleek new guest cabins on the former resort grounds with expansive picture windows and private decks.

Dimensions Algonquin Highlands retreat on the shores of Maple Lake

This isn’t your typical spa experience. Every treatment—calming sound baths, invigorating cold plunges, reiki massages—is chosen for its mental and physical benefits. And there’s an emphasis on social connection, with communal dinners unfolding nightly around a 16-person harvest table. Hosted by wellness experts and visiting artists, these gatherings are intended to foster conversation and kinship over virtuous, all-organic meals. The menu was crafted by executive chef Miriam Echeverria (formerly of Toronto’s Greta Solomon) and makes prolific use of house-fermented ingredients, always mindful of the intricate mind-gut connection.

Photography by Graydon Herriott


For Bay Street burnouts

What: Guided sauna and ice bath sessions
Where: Yorkville
Price: $55 for a drop-in session

When Othership opened its Adelaide Street location in 2022, the average downtowner might have thought of cold plunging as something reserved for athletes and Polar Bear Club members. Fast forward one year, and snagging a spot in Othership’s sauna and ice bath sessions—which take bathers from near-boiling to near-freezing temperatures in the span of 75 minutes—can feel nearly impossible (at peak times, there’s often a wait list).

Late last year, Othership unveiled a second, much larger outpost in Yorkville. Futurestudio’s Ali McQuaid Mitchell transformed what was a sprawling 5,000-square-foot subterranean expanse into an intimate, luxurious sanctuary, with nooks delineated by breeze-block walls and patchwork drapery. Organic materials—pebble flooring, raw wood, cotton and leather—add warmth.

The interior of the Othership Yorkville location

The guided sessions were developed in part by two of Othership’s co-founders, Harrison Taylor and Amanda Laine, both Aufguss-trained sauna masters. They typically kick off in a 300-square-foot sauna, with four tiers of stadium seating and a larvikite-topped stove. Inside, an energizing pulse develops as the group breathes in unison, meditates, screams out frustrations and occasionally grooves to a killer soundtrack under club-like lighting.

Othership breathwork session

Then, in the ice bath area, plungers bid adieu to comfort zones and slide into tubs filled with zero-degree water. Sessions conclude back in the sauna, where the class reunites for a group share. “After the hot and cold, people shed their inhibitions and are more open to connecting with others,” says Taylor. For those in need of a mental reboot, he suggests the Reset class.

An Othership sauna session

Kiko Pace, owner of sound bath studio Kiko Sounds in Roncesvalles
Courtesy of Kiko Sounds

Kiko Sounds

For sensory seekers

What: Sound baths in a zenned-out space
Where: Roncesvalles
Price: $59 per session

Banish any preconceptions of Enya-like soundscapes: a sound bath isn’t just a horizontal concert. It’s a guided meditation that helps listeners chill out as a symphony of eclectic sounds—crystal singing bowls, rattles, rainsticks, tuning forks and chimes—washes over them. While some practitioners make claims about the powers of sound bathing to cure illness, Kiko Pace focuses on its ability to promote deep rest. “I’m all for believing in magic, but sound is already so magical,” says Pace, whose sonic journey started in 2016, when she attended an immersive program at Svaram, a sound-healing centre in the experimental township of Auroville, India.

The studio at Kiko Sounds, where owner Kiko Pace guides sound bathers to a state of rest and relaxation

Pace’s cozy studio in Roncesvalles does feel magical. Previously, she was a gallery owner and curator, and her artistic prowess is on full display here. “It’s important to have sensory delight before you close your eyes,” she says. The space welcomes guests with a waft of essential oils, whimsical swinging chimes and coconut shell mobiles, plush organic cotton mats, and thick linen blankets.

A sound bath session at Kiko Sounds in Roncesvalles

Here, no two sound baths are the same—even the instruments change regularly. Some sessions are energizing and intense, punctuated by drums, gongs and singing. Others are soporific, with gentle shruti-box droning overlaid with tickled chimes. A 60-minute sound bath can feature up to eight different instruments, but there’s one constant at the end of session: Pace’s invitation to contribute to the soundscape with your voice. “By the end, people typically feel freer, more comfortable and empathetic,” she says. But there’s no pressure to join in. Sound bathers can just lie back, relax and get swept up in the collective harmony unfolding around them.