Metro explores the latest trends emerging on the West Coast of Canada.
Steam works: Those saunas are so hot right now
Vancouver trending: From budget steam rooms to high-end spas, sauna culture has never been hotter in Vancouver.
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A clutch of East Van hipsters lounges in a private steam room, soaking up the retro aesthetic. An immaculately groomed woman relaxes on velvet cushions in a traditional Hammam. A cluster of friends jump into the frigid waters off Spanish Banks, then duck into a mobile sauna parked ocean's edge to warm up.
From budget steam rooms to high-end spas, sauna culture has never been hotter in Vancouver.
Hastings Steam and Sauna is a somewhat minimalist version of a sauna but also one of the richest in terms of history. Established in 1926 by J.P. Wepsela, a Finnish immigrant, the East Van location has witnessed an ever-changing demographic. The sauna retains a traditional feel, popular with all walks of life.
Local spa aficionado Jo Day, whose Finnish-Canadian grandmother was actually born in a sauna outside of Lappe, Ontario, noted that the Hastings sauna is "cool to go to with a group of friends." Day has sampled saunas throughout the world, including a traditional jimjilbang in Korea that was so hot, she only lasted 2 minutes. Luckily, it also boasted "a room made completely of ice to cool down in."
Day's favourite sauna experience near Vancouver is Scandinave, a 25,000-square foot outdoor spa, just outside Whistler, surrounded by forests where she once "spent eight hours." For Day, saunas impart a sense of "relaxation and rejuvenation."
Other luxurious local saunas include Miraj Hammam Spa which offers traditional Middle Eastern steam and exfoliation treatments in an opulent setting, and Art of Sauna, with nine different thermal spa rooms, from an Egyptian Rasul to a Russian Banya.
Perhaps the most fascinating West Coast sauna trend is the mobile sauna, a van, truck or bus with a fully functioning sauna tucked inside. Adrian Sinclair, who co-founded the special events production company Transformation Projects with Andrea Curtis, rents out various mobile saunas, curating nomadic sweats and sauna events. He works in partnership with BC Mobile Sauna Society, founded by Karlis Kalnins, who created the first B.C. sauna truck in 2001, and has since built numerous sauna-equipped vehicles.
Sinclair noted he "loves the health benefits, social connection, physical release and stress relief" a good sweat offers. "At the end you feel much better. Plus it's fun and there's something mischievous about setting up in an unlikely place," he said. Unusual venues have included "the middle of the woods by a rushing glacial river, Spanish Banks in the winter."
People rent the sauna bus, which fits up to 20, for events ranging from polar bear swims and birthday parties to festivals and team-building events. It's fully camperized with a kitchen and even a sound system.
Saunas build a sense of community and wellbeing where "you don't have to consume things," said Sinclair. It's "more of a spiritual project." And, noted Sinclair, "this is the best time of year for a sauna."