Mini Tour: Soul to sole

The joys of Colorado spas

By Christine Loomis

The joys of Colorado spas

In a state where cloud-piercing peaks have the power to stir or soothe the soul, most mortal endeavors pale by comparison.

Not so the massage, able to provide relaxation, stress relief and the ultimate soothing of muscles-and souls.

A spa day may seem indulgent, but studies have long shown the health benefits of de-stressing. The venerable Mayo Clinic cites studies showing that massage can reduce anxiety, pain and fatigue. At many hospitals, patients can request massage as part of their care.

©Spa at the Broadmoor

Everyone can benefit from spa treatments, and Colorado has a wealth of them from which to choose. While resort spas are more expensive than day spas, you're paying for luxury within and soul-stirring landscapes without.

The Lodge and Spa at Cordillera is tucked into the hills above Edwards off I-70. It's a best-of-both-worlds place-a few minutes from the slopes and shops of Vail and Beaver Creek, yet peaceful and secluded. Guests choosing the 80-minute Spirit of Cordillera body treatment can add a 50-minute Sole Connection foot treatment and lie in sublime tranquility for two-plus hours while a therapist works his or her magic. Ask for Kari Shaw, my vote as one of the best spa clinicians around.

Combining treatments in this way is often suggested to obtain maximum impact. Ella Stimpson, director of the Broadmoor spa in Colorado Springs, says, "If you have a body treatment with an added massage, you get enough time to reach a point of true de-stressing."

The Broadmoor's 90-minute Journey to Nirvana-exfoliation, herbal body mask, calming wrap and massage-is designed to do just that. Mine didn't quite live up to Cordillera's Spirit of Cordillera/Sole Connection combo, but I walked away supremely relaxed and well moisturized against Colorado's suck-you-dry climate.

Providing an "experience" is the catch phrase at many resorts. Spa goers are encouraged not just to mix and match treatments but also therapy styles-perhaps some deep tissue work on your upper back, Shiatsu on specific points and a relaxing Swedish massage on the rest. You can even request the type of music you want.

Many resorts offer spa packages aimed at couples, girlfriends, or mothers and daughters as customers find that a spa getaway is not only physically renewing but relationship-renewing, too.

When my daughter Molly and I first went to the Broadmoor for a mother-daughter package, we took yoga, had our nails done (mine pink, hers blue), enjoyed a massage together, and laughed more in two days than we had in weeks. Mothers of teenage girls will understand the importance, and rarity, of that. We lounged in the Broadmoor's comfy beds and tried a variety of superb dishes at the restaurants. This year, Molly had the signature facial and learned more than I could ever tell her about good care for her young skin.

I've also "spa'd" with my closest friends and each time I wonder why we don't do it more often. Tamara and I hiked the hills around Cordillera and sat late into the evening by the pool under starry skies, sipping wine and supporting each other in the trials and tribulations of our lives. Leslie and I see each other every day, yet connecting on a meaningful level so often eludes us. At the Vail Cascade Resort & Spa we were soothed and centered at the spa and while moseying together along Gore Creek, during a weekend of renewal, reconnection and, yes, shopping.

A trip to the mountains is not required, however. Spas are in practically every city across the state. One of Denver's best known is at the historic Brown Palace Hotel. Try the Four Hands Quartet massage; two clinicians work on you to the sound of the Colorado Symphony.

La Fontaine Aesthetics in Cherry Creek is an example of another trend: a medi-spa, combining medical and traditional spa treatments. Although there are benefits to one-stop shopping for Botox and a Bamboo Lemongrass Body Scrub, there are caveats, too. If you're looking for a medical spa, ask if the doctor is onsite and board certified-many facilities have a doctor who only oversees from a distance.

Ken Oleszek, M.D., co-owner of La Fontaine, is board certified in internal medicine and he personally provides clients with beauty-enhancing medical services. La Fontaine also includes a cosmetic dentistry practice. If you want a facial from an outstanding aesthetician, ask for Lisa. "Just because a product is natural doesn't mean it's good for your skin," she points out. Many spa products are marine-based or include nut oils, and people with a shellfish or nut allergy could have a bad reaction to them.

©Spa at the Broadmoor

What La Fontaine gives medical clients that they won't get at medical offices is Asian-influenced spa décor and a serene ambiance. The elegant setting is decidedly gender-neutral with rich, dark woods and an earthy palette. In fact, many of La Fontaine's clients are men-for both spa and medical treatments.

Angie Primmer, Cordillera's spa director, also sees more men requesting spa treatments. "It's not just a foo-foo thing and they're realizing this. If they're athletes, they know they can get a massage and get back to training faster."

To appeal to men, many spas offer massages geared for golfers or cyclists, and facials using products specifically for a man's skin. Radio personality Dom Testa wishes they would also offer better-fitting robes.

"I'm not an overly big guy (six feet and 186 pounds), but I have found it's near-impossible to sit down and have my pre-massage tea without contorting myself to keep the robe closed."

Testa, 46-year-old star of the Dom and Jane Show on Denver's Mix 100, has been getting massages for ten years. He still sees a little foo-foo in spas ("No self-respecting man drinks water with sliced cucumbers in it"), but he likes the basics, describing himself as "a plain ol' boring Swedish massage man." He definitely prefers female therapists. "Do I sound like a caveman?"

Lee Bowen, 57, vice president of a Denver financial group, has been getting massages for about three years, primarily because the woman in his life likes spas. He jokes that a TV placed strategically below the face-rest might entice more men to try it. Ironically, his idea isn't such a joke. At least one Colorado spa is planning to put big-screen TVs in its men's locker room.

Personally, if I ever walk into a spa and find a TV blaring, I'll be out of there quicker than you can say "vanilla bourbon milk bath." In spas, as in pretty much everything else, men and women are just plain different.

Male or female, many of today's clients are younger than the traditional spa goer-in their 30s and 40s. They're booking massages and facials, Botox and dermal fillers, in hopes of warding off signs of aging before they start.

Maybe men have it right when they put the emphasis on relaxation. "The best thing to do for yourself is de-stress," says Primmer. "Be happy with yourself and what you have in life. Happy people look better and younger."

Christine Loomis is a Lafayette, Colorado writer who would get a massage every week if possible.

Some Colorado Spas

Resort spas

Day spas