By Mary Govoni
Tucked into the mountains of Rutland County, Vermont, the New Life Hiking Spa is getting ready to celebrate its 40th season. But what exactly is a hiking spa? The two words together may seem like a bit of an oxymoron.
At New Life, guests and staff celebrate both the joys of outdoor exercise in the mountains, as well as the pleasures of personalized spa treatments and therapies upon returning to the resort’s home base.
New Life Hiking Spa is changing the way hikers experience the Appalachian Mountain Range as they traverse through and across some of New England’s most picturesque and well-traveled trails. And afterward, guests get to unwind while taking advantage of the resort’s spa facilities and fresh foods.
Vermont’s New Life resort currently holds the title of the longest-operating hiking spa in the nation. And this new industry is facing a massive incline in its participants and is projected to continue in its growth in the coming years.
In the past six years, there has been a 28 percent increase in annual hikers, with an estimated 38 million individuals partaking in hiking and backpacking nationwide. Hiking spas seem to be a growing phenomenon across the United States’ mountain ranges.
Hiking For All Guests
New Life resort is tucked into Vermont’s Green Mountains, and operates from May to October, during the New England prime hiking season.
It focuses on daily hikes that lead guests through the Vermont wilderness and caters to the abilities of hikers of all experience levels. For beginners, guests can be acquainted with the Vermont countryside through a series of different nature walks that range from 2-4 miles through farmland and rolling hills.
The classic, intermediate hikes offer guests a bit more of a workout through 4-6 mile hikes at a higher incline. These hikes offer the chance to see historic New England sites, beautiful lookouts, and serene waterfalls.
Hikers that have experienced these trails late in the season almost always say that “there are far fewer sights more rewarding than Vermont’s fall foliage”.
And for more advanced hikers, the ones not faint of heart (or for those afraid of heights), New Life offers trails along rugged terrain with summits reaching 4000 feet.
Mount Killington, the Green Mountains’ second highest summit boasts supreme views of New England’s seemingly endless, rolling greenery.
Regardless of any hiker’s experience level, the end of every hike is best celebrated with a little self-pampering. New Life offers a number of spa treatments, everything from deep tissue massages to herbal body exfoliation.
A Hemlock, a New York City local and New Life Hiking Spa guest said that the outdoor exercise and the spa treatments helped her leave feeling “super healthy, glowing, and optimistic that she was going to take care of herself”.
Awards and Recognition
And these types of reviews are certainly not lacking. Travel and Leisure awarded New Life Hiking Spa the number one spot in their 2014-2015 article regarding “Best Destination Spas in the United States”.
New Life beat out resorts like North Carolina’s Westglow Spa and Malibu’s The Ranch at Live Oak. It’s the kind of place Travel and Leisure deems: “where to go for mountain air and some serious walking”. Other notable mentions include features in Health Magazine and SHAPE Magazine.
And yet while it holds a title as a world-renowned “spa”, it’s also “not a white-robe-and-slippers spa where people have an expectation of being cared for in a traditional spa way’’.
There’s much more of a communal sense of achieving wellbeing through the hikes and the shared meals, as described by Andrea Haas, a Connecticut school teacher who has been a New Life guest for years.
And the sense of community is what Jimmy LeSage, the company’s founder, credits its prolonged success to. It comes down to well-traveled hikers sharing their expertise and their tips with guests looking to pick up the hobby or just experience the natural beauties of Vermont as best as they possibly can.
The New Life Hiking Spa’s Mantra
The New Life Hiking Spa mantra is that all hiking trips must be carried out “one step at a time”. Hiking here is no competition, the way Jimmy LeSage believes it is meant to be.
Everyone on the trail is equal. There are groups of hikers and there are individual hikers, but deep in the Vermont woods, there is a sense of silence, an unparalleled serenity.
It’s what guests and workers agree is a natural wonder, the “smell of the warm earth mixing with a sweet breeze sweeping through the trees”.
This sense of shared success amongst guests is essential for the resort draws people from all walks of life. Some are hikers serious about exploring the nation’s wilderness in its whole, while others are looking for a way to escape after overcoming a serious illness or emotional distress.
Others feel they just need a way to take in the many benefits of the untouched wilderness that they are not awarded during their everyday routines. The primary goal is for guests to achieve a personal sense of wellbeing, not only while they are within the Vermont woods, but once they’ve gone home and returned to the hustle and bustle that accompanies life.
A Lifestyle Change
LeSage encourages his guests to learn from their stay at New Life. He does not aim for guests to leave the resort feeling refreshed only to burden themselves with the same stresses they came with days priors. He advocates for a lifestyle change.
While he knows it’s sometimes easier said than done, LeSage also argues, “If I can do it, well, hell, why can’t you do it in your life?”
While making the necessary changes in order to live a healthier and more naturally reward life can be difficult, at New Life, it seems much easier to find ways to do so in such a supportive environment.
As New Life Hiking Spa celebrates its 42 year anniversary, LeSage and his staff reflect upon how the resort began as well as where it’s going.
It started with a $1,000 investment and has grown into a community. And after having toured quite a few spas around the country, LeSage knows that wellbeing can come at quite the cost. New Life aims to maintain the unique experience of a hiking spa at an affordable cost.
Mary Govoni is a freelance writer from Cape Cod, Mass. She loves traveling to find food, good conversation and good company.