Trips That Will Change Your Life: Learn to… Uncover The Real You

It took a nutritionist — and a bear — to help me figure out what I really needed to change


It was a disturbing question on many levels, but mostly because I was asking it of myself. Out loud. While looking in the bathroom mirror. After a shower. Totally nude.

A little voice in my head immediately tried to make me feel better: You’ve given birth to two children, Vicki. The second issued forth just six months ago. If it took nine months to put it on, it’ll take nine months to take it off. Plus, those little girlies are soooo worth it. And at least you fit back into your Seven jeans. But there was another voice in my head, too. She was louder. And more pragmatic: Shut the hell up and DO something about it, you whiner.

So when I read about Stowe Mountain Lodge, a new, über-luxurious resort at the base of Spruce Peak and Mount Mansfield in Vermont, I knew I had to get my jiggling gut north. It wasn’t the über-luxury that called to me — the rooms with private balconies and stone fireplaces and flat-screens and organic cotton linens; the indoor/outdoor pool that looks out toward the slopes; the personal concierge service that customizes each guest’s visit, whether you’re skiing or fly-fishing or golfing the 18-hole course that winds along the mountainside; the restaurant that uses only local cheeses and produce and grains because Vermont, as a state, is just green like that; the 21,000-square-foot spa with crazy stuff like reclining “sound chairs” and an “herbal steam chamber.” (Okay … maybe the spa had a little to do with the whole “calling to me” thing.)

[sidebar]Mostly, though, I was motivated by the fact that the resort had a partnership with Cooper Wellness. Yeah, that Cooper Wellness, the Dallas company founded by the guy who — literally — invented aerobics. I could go to the chichi-est ski resort in Vermont and meet with Cooper’s fitness trainers and nutrition counselors and behavior coaches, who would evaluate where I was and where I wanted to be and thenwould write out a whole plan to direct me back to the person I was before I squeezed living things out of my body.  

Of course, I didn’t quite envision that a scale would be part of that plan. Or the drawing of several vials of blood. Or body-fat calipers. (Because no matter how you look at it, there is nothing über-luxurious about body-fat calipers.) But the wellness people at Stowe Mountain Lodge promise to “cultivate the relationship between living habits and health,” and if they could do that in this paradise, well … I could handle a little pinching and prodding. Especially when, in the end, my nutritionist simply reminded me of things I needed to hear — more fruit (eat half an orange as a snack midmorning), more veggies (add a salad to dinner), fewer handfuls of Goldfish throughout the day, and fewer slices of sausage pizza … even when all the time you carved out to cook that pork tenderloin with steamed broccoli was consumed by a two-and-a-half-year-old’s 30-minute meltdown over her mother’s inability to control when Dora the Explorer is on TV.  

“And you need to slow down,” nutritionist Patty explained, meaning that I needed to set aside at least 20 minutes to eat a meal, which seemed reasonable, only because I know that a Dora episode lasts 22 minutes — when I can find one.

I thought about all of this long and hard during my deep-tissue massage in the cozy room with the fireplace crackling. And during my paraffin hand and foot treatments. And during my facial in which a woman used a tool to zap electricity into my muscles, which she promised would make me look less maternal after just one treatment — so that, had I been emotionally stable enough to look in a mirror again, I might have had another “Who is that?” moment, but in a good way.

I decided to head out with Kimberly, the in-house naturalist, on one of the resort’s special  “guided mountain safaris” for one reason: to burn off lunch — warm beet soup with lemon cream, and Vermont dry-aged beef on a lentil cake with truffled cauliflower. (They said it was low-fat, but it tasted too good for that to be true.) Kimberly didn’t follow a path, instead trailblazing along the top of a steep hill, through two feet of fresh snow, which I stared at, scrutinizing each step, terrified that the snow would crawl up my Seven jeans and freeze my calves right off my legs.

“Oh my God,” Kimberly said. I looked up from myself and saw her staring at the trunk of a tree. We were in the woods now, but still on the edge, and for the first time I looked past the tree, past the lodge, out over the landscape with the pines and the hills and the mountain peaks in the distance. It looked like a painting. All still. And quiet. And calm. She pointed up the tree, at dozens and dozens of black notches and scrapes that ran to the very top of it, which must have been 70 feet high. They were the marks of a black bear. This was his tree. He’d been marking it for years. In her whole career, Kimberly didn’t think she’d ever seen a tree like this one. And I forgot all about the calorie-burning, and the gut flab, and the mirror. All I could think was this: “I wish the girls were here.”

You need to slow down, the expert had  told me. Of course.  

IF YOU GO:  Contact: Stowe Mountain Lodge, 7412 Mountain Road, Stowe, Vermont, 802-253-3560, The lodge opens officially in April. Get there: Seven hours from Philadelphia, or a 45-minute drive from Burlington airport. Details: From $1,095 for a one-day wellness retreat, including overnight accommodations, personal training, meals, and follow-up consultation via telephone.

INSIDER TIP:  Sneak away for a meal at the Hen of the Wood in Waterbury (92 Stowe Street, 802-244-7300, First: It’s in a very cool, rustic gristmill. Second: The menu changes daily, depending on what’s available from local farmers. Order the mushroom appetizer made with Vermont bacon and Cold Hollow Cider, if they have it. (Talk about changing your life …)