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

"He made it all up," Henkel said. "If you read his stories today, they're really quite corny."

Henkel and Kuhlmann soon grew too attached to the town and its quirky personality to consider selling off lots. To defray the blockbuster budget for building their opulent, film-set vision of the "Vild Vest" -- the millions of dollars they poured into the renovations, the haute rustique furnishings and the eclectic artifacts -- they decided to rent the town out for corporate retreats at US$10,000 a night.

When that didn't generate enough income, they opened it as a luxury spa and an outdoor sports haven, offering a full menu of massage therapies, four hot springs (two inside, one outside and one in a tepee) and everything from guided mountain biking to white-water rafting, backcountry heli-skiing and snowshoeing. There's even an ice rink at the foot of the saloon porch steps.

One of Henkel's favorite activities when he's at Dunton (he and his family spend about 80 days a year here) is to skin up the nearby mountains on skis, schuss back down, then slip into the piping-hot water up to his ears in the cavernous bathhouse, where the air is thickened by steam rising from a rock-lined pool.

The steam condenses on the bronze Mexican statuary strewn about the room and floats up into a private aerie with a massage table where guests can be gently rocked and vibrated into demi-consciousness in a Trager therapy treatment.

Though the resort can accommodate up to 34 people, on our weekend we were one of only two couples in residence. Mary-Catherine McAlvany, a jewelry designer who lives two hours away in Durango, had surprised her husband, Dave, a gold trader, with a romantic weekend for his 30th birthday. They were staying in the Well House, a spacious guest cabin with slate floors, a wood-burning stove and a hot spring-fed sandstone tub.

"It's a big splurge for us," Mrs. McAlvany said. "But the fact that we're the only ones here makes it feel like we rented the whole town for the weekend."

Over a dinner of organic Mexican roast chicken with poblano con crema, and chayote and tomatillo salsa, Mr. McAlvany, who had his own restaurant in Boise, Idaho, said that to him the most attractive things about Dunton were the extreme remoteness and the eclecticism of the place.

"I think the reason Mary-Catherine brought me here," he said, "is because we like to ice climb and practice yoga. It's kind of a rare combo -- not many places offer both."

Regrettably, the 10m waterfall (a quick snowshoe trek past the library and the open-air wedding chapel) wasn't frozen solid enough to hold ice climbers that weekend. But the next morning, after an excessive breakfast of homemade granola with fresh pineapple, kiwi and blackberries; asparagus omelets; banana bread; and unnecessary bacon, we headed out on Dunton's network of cross-country ski trails.

There are trails that pick up just beyond the horse barns and steep ascents up through the aspen and spruce at the back of the 70-hectare property.

But we chose the gentle climb up the unplowed pass toward Telluride, following the curves of the west fork of the Dolores. As our dog bounded through the deep powder ahead of us, my husband and I tried to keep pace, arms pumping metronomically, working up a lather.

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