Sat, Jan 15, 2005 - Page 16 News List

Rocky Mountain high life

For snowshoeing, heli-skiing, climbing, white-water rafting and mountain biking in style, the exclusive resort at Dunton Hot Springs will fit the bill, but only if your pockets are as deep as Tom Cruise's or the princess of Monaco's

By Anne Goodwin Sides  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , Dunton Hot Springs, Colorado

"And, of course, they would have had their trusty pocket knives with them," I responded, accepting the glass of wine.

Less Is More

I had come to Dunton Hot Springs looking for a less-is-more weekend, a Luddite's paradise. I wanted to be pampered and well fed, to earn rosy cheeks working up a sweat in the crisp mountain air, to soak in the geothermal pools until pruney, then curl up with a great book by the fire. Dunton didn't disappoint.

Wisely, Bernt Kuhlmann and Christoph Henkel, the producers of this pluperfect frontier town, shunned the theme-parkification of other historic Western sites -- the stagecoach rides, mock gunfights and hotel rooms with cowboy-themed lamps -- and relied instead on Dunton's true West DNA, with a few surgical enhancements.

They painstakingly resurrected the shacks that were salvageable and trucked in similar-era cabins to replace those that were beyond repair. Then they installed desirable anachronisms like radiant-floor heating, wireless broadband Internet and videoconference facilities. They even added electric lights in the summer tepee bedroom.

The interior of each cabin was reborn as a piece of art in its own right -- a magazine stylist's collage -- created largely by Katrin Bellinger Henkel, Christoph's wife. She chose an 18th-century Rajasthani matrimonial bed as the centerpiece for the honeymoon cabin.

The Cadillac Portfolio, 13 Eggleston photographs depicting an unheroic South in the late 1960s, hangs in the dance hall-screening room, somehow fitting in above the foosball table. Over the bed in one particularly Architectural Digest-worthy cabin, she hung an antique Indian robe where a headboard might be.

Dunton's reconstruction was so flawless that its unvarnished grit seemed to have been scrubbed clean. Instead of being dumbed down, Dunton had been, well, dandified, just enough to appeal to the current clientele -- international magazines that come to shoot fashion spreads and Hollywood and European royalty like Tom Cruise and Princess Caroline of Monaco, who tend to expect Frette linens and don't flinch at the tariff.

Big Makeover

It's a far cry from the abandoned mining town that Henkel, an heir to a German household products fortune, and his close friend, Kuhlmann, a colorful Austrian who favors lederhosen and dabbles in screenwriting, acting and Colorado real estate, stumbled on a decade ago.

The friends were skiing in nearby Telluride when they learned that Dunton Hot Springs was on the market for US$1.12 million -- roughly the price of a condo in Aspen. Fifteen minutes after crossing the rickety bridge over the west fork of the Dolores River, they had decided to buy the town, even though most of the structures were listing, moldering or had already caved in.

They intended to develop it into an exclusive enclave of vacation homes for a few handpicked members of their tribe -- writers, publishers, film people, international men and women of mystery.

Their initial affection for Dunton and their desire to resurrect and perfect it was fed by the stories of Karl May that they'd read as boys.

May, a popular German writer of highly romanticized adventure tales about Indians in the Old West, wrote during Dunton's heyday in the 1890s. His sentimental portrayal of frontier life shaped the image of the American West for generations of German-speaking readers, though May had never actually set foot in America.

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