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Not Your Mother's Spa

In Utah, getting pampered has never been so hard.

By K.C. Summers
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 9, 2005; Page P01

Who wouldn't want to go to a spa?

Well, me.

Perhaps you, too, cringe at all the girlie-girl stuff. Maybe New Age music makes your skin crawl, and you're skeptical about the alleged health benefits of anti-aging rebalancing aromatherapy seaweed wraps, and you find the whole concept of someone fluttering over you, patting and kneading and rubbing, a bit creepy, yes?

Other Adventure Spas in North America

"Twenty years ago spas were all about pampering; now they're really focusing more on wellness, stress relief and fitness," says Betsy Isroelit, spokeswoman for Spafinder.com, an online directory. The site is searchable by category; to find spas that combine traditional luxury services with rigorous outdoor activities and fitness programs, search under "Hiking."

Here are several North American spas Isroelit recommends for their strong hiking and outdoor progams. Unless otherwise specified, rates include meals, classes, lectures and use of fitness facilities, but not spa services.

El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and Spa, Taos, N.M., 800-828-8267, www.elmontesagrado.com. "A true eco spa, with hiking and skiing," says Isroelit. Rates start at $255 per room per night, based on double occupancy, in the off season (April and November), $325 all other months. Meals not included. A one-night "Get to Know Us" package, available through Feb. 10, is $295 double and includes an hour's massage or custom facial, use of the fitness center and pool, yoga and other fitness programs.

Green Valley Spa, St. George, Utah, 800-237-1068, www.greenvalleyspa.com. "The ultimate hiking resort in a luxury setting." Rates start at $540 per person double per night and drop to $500 for a seven-night stay. The Complete Luxury Package includes one spa treatment per day, plus a $100 sports/medical credit.

Lodge & Spa at Cordillera, Edwards, Colo., 800-877-3529, www.cordilleralodge.com. "The setting and the skiing is the big thing." Rates start at $395 per person double per night and include hiking and fitness classes, but not meals. Shuttle service to the Beaver Creek ski area and use of the ski-in/ski-out facilities there are complimentary (lift tickets not included).

Miraval, Tucson, 800-232-3969, www.miravalresort.com. "A wonderful desert mountain setting. They're known for their equine program." Apparently you bond with your horse as well as find your inner self. Rates in fall and winter start at $550 per person double per night and include round-trip transfers from the Tucson airport and one spa service per night, up to $115. Summer rates start at $415.

Mountain Trek Fitness Retreat & Health Spa, Ainsworth Hot Springs, B.C., 800-661-5161, www.hiking.com. A small spa (14 guests max). "It's like being in Switerland, with big lakes and big mountains." The Fit Plan Weight Loss program requires a one-week minimum stay, includes meals, three massages a week, and all prescribed consultations and assessments . Cost: $2,700 (all prices in U.S. dollars). In the summer, the Mountain Hiking program has three- and four-night options for $1,300 and $1,750, respectively.

New Life Hiking Spa, Killington, Vt., 866-298-5433, www.newlifehikingspa.com. "It's not very expensive and it's really nice; their big thing is hiking." Operates May through October out of the Inn of the Six Mountains, a ski hotel in Vermont's Green Mountains. "We don't have loofah rubs," says founder Jimmy LeSage, "but we have excellent massages and facials." Rates start at $225 per person per night double for the two- to four-day program; $215 for five to 10 days; and $205 for 11 days or longer.

Rancho La Puerta, Tecate, Baja California, Mexico, 800-443-7565, www.rancholapuerta.com. "A huge range of fitness options, and the weather and the setting are fabulous." Weekly rates start at $2,080 per person double in summer and $2,460 in fall. Rooms with kitchenettes and villas also available.

-- K.C. Summers

One of the new breed of adventure spas might change your mind. The best combine traditional spa treatments with challenging outdoor activities such as rock climbing, mountain biking and kayaking, so you feel as if you've earned that lavender adobe massage.

Case in point: Red Mountain Spa in St. George, Utah. About two hours north of Las Vegas in the spectacular red-rock country of the American Southwest, it has all the usual luxury spa trappings -- state-of-the-art facilities, manicured grounds, a solicitous staff and a full complement of massages and body treatments. But the core of its curriculum is a series of rigorous early-morning hikes, led by expert guides over more than 30 trails. In addition, there are dozens of up-to-the-moment fitness classes -- Chi Ball Stretch, anyone? -- and a roster of serious medical evaluations, such as bone density screenings. Plus, the food is billed as "cuisine," and they serve wine with dinner. A good sign.

Still, when a gourmetish, outdoorsy pair of friends invited me to come along on what they promised would be a magical getaway of physical activity and spiritual renewal, I went with some trepidation -- knowing I was promised something hard-minded and hearty, but afraid I'd wind up immersed in a giant vat of essential lavender oil. Even scarier, maybe I would succumb to the herbal goo and not sign up for any of the hikes. Maybe, deep down, I really am a bathrobe-wearing, Yanni-humming sybarite.

Here's what I learned during three intense days at Red Mountain Spa.

1. Hiking down a mountain is a lot scarier than hiking up, especially if it's a near-vertical descent on slickrock in the middle of a lava field. The trick to getting down alive: Look at your feet. Take baby steps. Trust your guide, who is repeating gently, "Heel-toe, heel-toe, that's right, baby steps, nice and easy," as he coaches you down the hellish incline. Sliding down on your rear is also okay.

2. Slickrock, despite its name, is not very slippery. It's actually the loose lava rock that'll do you in -- it looks benign, but it shifts under your feet and can cause a broken ankle before you even bag your first peak. And by the way, you can have the fanciest, most expensive hiking boots in the world, but they won't do you much good if you haven't tied the laces properly.

3. Adventure spas seem to attract an inordinate number of funny, ribald, professional women -- and the men in their lives. No girls-only ethos here. The first thing you notice upon arrival at Red Mountain are the men -- in the spa, at the salad bar, on the yoga mats and, most of all, on the hikes. The International Spa Institute, a trade organization in Lexington, Ky., estimates that almost 30 percent of spa-goers are men these days. "We're even seeing men-only spas pop up," says ISPA president Lynne Walker McNees.

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