(The Gear Loop) - The health benefits of float therapy are well documented , according to numerous research papers*, floating can help relieve stress, anxiety, depression and even pain. And with the help of a thick neoprene suit, bobbing about in cold water among chunks of ice is both surprisingly fun and surprisingly relaxing.
Ice floating, as this curious pastime is called, has long been a favoured activity in Finnish Lapland where, for the past two centuries, locals have found lying on their backs in frozen water the best way to view the Northern Lights.
Having now experienced ice floating on a sunny day in the Alps, I reckon floating under the world’s greatest light show would be one hell of an experience.
The French ski resort of Val d’Isère is the latest spot in which to try floating with ice. Before I tried it, it sounded like a gimmick, but I’m up for trying most things - even once conquering mild claustrophobia to dive beneath thick ice on a lake in Val Thorens.
Val d’Isère’s Lac d’Oiullette sits at 2500m near the bottom of the Madeleine slope, just over the summit of Solaise, which is an easy gondola ride up from resort. Don’t worry, you don’t have to go on skis.
A large hole of around 5m2 has been carved into the middle of the lake (away from pistes and lifts and noise) by "ski and adventure school" Evolution 2, and off to the side, they’ve fashioned an igloo that serves as a chilly dressing room of sorts.
Having worn wetsuits most of my life, I was sceptical that the thick neoprene of the survival suit would actually keep out water. Of course it did, and because I donned the suit, which looked something like an over-sized bondage accessory in a fetching shade of lobster orange, over my ski kit, it kept the cold at bay, too.
Not perhaps surprising when Damian, the "Float Master" from Evolution 2, explained that survival suits are designed to keep a human alive for eight hours in water of around 1°C.
The floating itself was relaxing, but the waddling across the lake with a friend was a good precursor… we looked and felt hilarious in our get-up and several intrigued walkers stopped to add to the banter.
Slipping into the frozen water took a little courage, but I quickly realised the suit would do its job and support me. I immediately relaxed onto my back, looking up at the blue sky - a strangely calming experience.
I can see how having the Northern Lights to look at is an advantage here, though perhaps I have the attention span of a gnat. But after about 20 minutes the novelty of the experience and the lobster jokes wore off, and I started to get itchy feet (or rather, flippers).
After a while, I slithered out in a very ungainly manner (less mermaid, more whale), and padded back over to the igloo to de-robe and collect my reward of two Haribo jelly sweets. Something to get the blood sugar levels back on point.
It was great fun, but perhaps not worth the €90 per person fee. I think if it cost €50, they’d get twice the number of punters taking half a day off from skiing during their holiday to try it.
But curiously, I soon noticed a post-float "glow" descend over me - and it wasn’t just the giggling. I felt lighter and more relaxed. They say floating calms the overactive sympathetic nervous system (i.e fight or flight) and I really think it did.
Or maybe that was the enormous vin chaud that I bought at the nearby La Plage l’Ouillette.
An ice floating experience with Evolution 2 costs €90 per person, for a two-hour session, with a minimum 30 mins in the water.
* Check the science here