Heated concrete loungers at the new hot springs spa construction in Whitehorse on Aug. 26. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

New Takhini Hot Springs facility takes shape

The current pool will close at the end of September, with new facility to offer spa-like experience

As Yukoners take their last dips in the Takhini Hot Springs pool, next to it construction is in full swing on a facility that will be very different from the hot springs locals have known for 50 years.

The pool will close at the end of September and the current facility demolished as work continues on the new operation that will give visitors more of a spa experience.

It’s envisioned as a hot springs facility that will be in place much longer than the half-century the current facility has been open. Takhini Hot Springs President Garry Umbrich envisions visitors coming for hundreds of years, as is the case in many of Europe’s hot springs.

“Stonework is timeless,” Umbrich said in an Aug. 26 interview highlighting the extensive stonework already in place and part of the construction happening at the new facility.

Standing outside the main entrance of the new facility, Umbrich made it clear the experience at the new hot springs facilities will be a very different one for customers.

“The idea is everything here is based on the view,” Umbrich said. Large buildings have been erected — the main entrance to the pools, sauna and steam rooms, and a relaxation building — with work underway inside each to build walls, showers and the different facilities that will be available in each.

On any given day, Umbrich said there are 20 to 25 workers on site building the pools and features.

Surrounding the buildings are large rock pieces and walls (that will also feature greenery) strategically placed to direct visitors, leading to the three hot pools visitors can soak in.

Nearly 100 truckloads of rock have been delivered from Whitehorse-area gravel pits in addition to the 400 loads of gravel that sit under the facility.

While construction continues on the third and largest pool that will accommodate up to 30 visitors, the first and second (accommodating 10 and 20 respectively) are finished.

Sitting in the smallest pool, a circular space made of rock features including a waterfall, Umbrich highlighted the view of a pond and forested area.

“It’s just paradise,” Umbrich said of the view, making it clear the new facility is a place to soak, unwind and relax.

The second pool is covered and not visible, but Umbrich notes it will be fully accessible and with a quartz-lined surface and benches that have a stone look to them.

There will also be warm pools and cold pools throughout where visitors can cool off from the hot pools, which will be considerably hotter than the current pool given water will be coming in faster to a smaller, shallower area.

“It’s all done just through gravity,” Umbrich said of getting water to the pools and throughout the system.

The water is also being used to deliver heat to the buildings along with wood and passive solar heat. Solar panels will also be added in later phases of the project. There’s also areas outside that will allow for barefoot walks, including one to a gazebo near the source of the springs. Buildings will be connected, meaning visitors will not have to endure too much cold walking between areas.

Walking into the main entrance, Umbrich noted even before COVID-19 the facility was built to give clients a lot of space. The building was already designed so that visitors would make their way through the entrance and showers and then out to the features in a one-way direction.

“These places are designed to be spacious,” Umbrich explained.

While there have been some adjustments — ordering more plexiglass for instance, planning for more directional signage — they haven’t had a huge impact on the $6 million cost of the project.

The challenges have come in the form of shortages in building materials and working with Outside LED experts on lighting fixtures that will create simulated northern lights to dance along the ceilings in the buildings. As Umbrich said, those working with the lighting system would normally come up from Outside for about a day’s work, but given the requirement to self-isolate for 14 days that won’t be happening, leaving hot springs officials to work at this point with the lighting experts virtually.

Given some of those challenges, Umbrich said while work continues to build and open the facility, that may happen later than the Jan. 1 date that had been originally envisioned.

When it does open, visitors will be asked to book their arrival times online as the facility will limit the number of people coming in to 20-minute segments, ensuring the shower areas are available.

Along with the pools, sauna and steam rooms, there are heated slab recliners inside the relaxation building.

“Once you lay on a heated stone slab, it’s unbelievable,” Umbrich said, noting the recliners are featured as part of spa services on some cruise ships.

There are also moveable heated recliners planned for the second floor of the relaxation building with additional space for beds and benches in the heated building where building temperatures would be 25 C or 30 C. As with many features of the new facility, stone takes precedent on the walls in the relaxation building.

The new hot springs facility takes its inspiration from both Asian and European examples of hot springs operations, along with the more familiar site for many Yukoners of Liard Hot Springs. As Umbrich explained, when officials first went public with their vision for the hot springs, one of the most asked question was whether it would be like Liard.

That said, the new hot springs will be unique and something the Yukon has not seen before. Umbrich is confident it will offer an experience locals want.

“We fully expect Yukoners to be half the business,” Umbrich said of a typical season.

With COVID restrictions, Yukoners are making up 95 per cent of the hot springs business now, with line-ups often seen at the current facility after it reopened with COVID-19 restrictions this summer and between 150 to 200 people taking in the pool on a typical day.

“We don’t survive without locals.”

Umbrich acknowledged there are some wondering about pricing and noted while the cost (though not yet determined) is expected to be higher for the full hot springs experience during peak periods, there will be options that will make it more affordable.

Those options will include lower cost options for people using the pools only, coming in at non-peak periods and purchasing punch cards for multiple visits.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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Takhini Hot Springs President Garry Umbrich poses for a photo within some of the new rock features near the largest of the new pools being constructed outside Whitehorse on Aug. 26. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

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