Skiing has definitely changed over the past few decades to make the sport more enjoyable and luxurious. No, I'm not talking about the development of shaped skis, the proliferation of high-speed lifts, or the perfection of snowmaking and smooth-as-silk grooming. I'm referring to the "new" phenomenon of offering spas at or near ski areas.
Hey, this is supposed to be rough and raw New England. Icy cold air, rocky and steep trails, and maybe a wood-fired hot tub are the rewards for the hearty at the end of the day, if you're lucky.
Not any more. Maybe it's because the aging Baby Boomers just aren't the jocks they used to be or their priorities (and pocketbooks) have changed. Now, while many skiers still like a hard day out on the slopes (or not), when they finish for the day, getting pampered and restored is becoming foremost on their minds.
Spas have been around almost since the beginning of civilization. The ancient Babylonians and Greeks had them, but it took the Romans to perfect them. Initially built to soothe the Roman soldiers' muscles and wounds from all the wars they fought - sort of like skiing, right? - they soon were adopted by the general population to provide rest, relaxation, and solace.
The word spa originates from the Latin phrase for "health from water" and in Europe, "taking to the waters" is at the heart of the spa experience. Here in America, while hot springs, saunas, and steam rooms enter into the spa experience, getting a massage or facial is more often associated with going to a spa.
There is also the difference of a destination spa where it is a total experience that includes mind and body fitness and healthy eating in addition to the relaxation and treatments. Day spas - and there are many more of these in the North County - offer massages, facials, and body treatments, plus manicures and pedicures.
At this time, Vermont has the most extensive spa services, but New Hampshire is catching up. Maine is lagging behind (at least in locations close to ski areas). Here are brief descriptions of recommended New England spas listed under their nearby ski areas.
Stratton Mountain, Stratton, Vermont
A full-service day or overnight spa, Avanyu has a wide choice of massage therapy to take away the muscle soreness of a day on the slopes. Services include Reiki, reflexology, sports massage, plus body scrubs and treatments, facials for all skin types and ages; nail care, a fitness center, indoor pool and outdoor whirlpool, relaxation areas and spa meals.
Avanyu Spa at The Equinox, 35676 Main Street (Route 7A), Manchester Village, Vt. 05245, (800) 362-4747, www.equinox.rockresorts.com/.
Stowe Mountain Resort, Stowe, Vermont
All new in 2004, Stoweflake offers the very European "taking of the waters" circuit, which includes a hydrotherapy waterfall, a mineral soaking pool, hot tubs, and steam rooms. This is in addition to a six-room fitness center, a wide variety of massages and body treatments, salon services, and a private fireplace lounge in which to relax and rejuvenate.
Stoweflake Mountain Resort & Spa, 1746 Mountain Road, Stowe, Vt. 05672, (800) 253-2232, www.stoweflake.com.
Topnotch at Stowe Resort and Spa, Stowe, Vt.
More rustic than the previous two listings, Topnotch at Stowe offers all of the spa services aficionados expect from a full-service spa. Tired muscles can be revitalized with shiatsu, sports and Swedish massages. A lap pool, saunas, steam rooms and whirlpools help get out the kinks and a wide range of salon services is also available. Guests are given the option of spa cuisine or regular entrees.
Topnotch at Stowe Resort and Spa,4000 Mountain Road, Stowe, Vt. 05672, (800) 451-8686, www.topnotch-resort.com.
Cannon Mountain or Bretton Woods Mountain Resort, New Hampshire
Recently reopened after a major renovation, Mountain View Grand is an all-new 1865 resort set on 400 acres in northern New Hampshire. The spa is located in the resort's observation tower and, in addition to traditional spa treatments, offers a Japanese-style Ofuro tower-top hot tub. As its brochure says, this aromatic cedar-lined hot tub allows for "360 degree panoramic privacy."
Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa, Mountain View Road, Whitefield, N.H., 03598, (800) 438-3017, www.mountainviewgrand.com/.
Wildcat Mountain, Attitash-Bear Peak, or Jackson Ski Touring Foundation, Mt. Washington Valley, N.H.
Traditional New England hospitality and atmosphere are the highlights of these two spas located at either ends of the picturesque Jackson Village. Christmas Farm Inn has an indoor pool, but both have a steam room and offer a variety of massages, body wraps, and facials.
Christmas Farm Inn & Spa, Route 16B, (800) 443-5837, www.christmasfarminn.com/, or The Inn at Thorn Hill & Spa, Thorn Hill Road, (800) 289-8990, www.innatthornhill.com/, are both located in Jackson Village, N.H., 03846.
Armed with this information, you just might want to plan your next New England ski vacation not by the attributes of the slopes or the resorts, but by the delicious-sounding, reinvigorating services provided by the nearby spas.
Karen Cummings has been writing about skiing for more than two decades. She lives life, balanced between Boston and Maine, with a smile. Karen began skiing at the tender age of 25 and immediately discovered apres-ski, spas and shopping-her specialties.