• Print
  • Email Peak Performance Email

Peak Performance

Redefined and redesigned, The Aspen Club now offers an ambitious package of holistic health, spa, and sports-medicine treatments

"Ow," I say, feeling a little jolt of pain.

"Tennis," replies Bruce, twanging a tendon in my forearm.

"Ooof," I exclaim as his probing fingers find a tender spot on my elbow.

"Golf," he answers.

Face down on a treatment table at the end of three and a half intensive days at The Aspen Club, my dings and dents are being tweaked by Bruce Cavan, a therapeutic sports-massage specialist. I call my condition "Boomeritis," the cumulative mechanical and soft tissue damage resulting from pursuing athletics into your forties with unabated (and often foolish) enthusiasm. I'm here because the recently renovated Aspen Club, with its new emphasis on sports-injury and lifestyle-specific programs, is aimed at people just like me.

When I called for information, I was put through to Gayle Godwin, director of the club's Center for WellBeing and a former U.S. Olympic and National tennis coach. I related my problems to her: a tender thumb tendon from skiing misadventures and a hot-air balloon crash-landing; misshapen fingers from taking too many ground balls at second base; a creaky, sensitive rotator cuff (the structure around the shoulder joint) from too much throwing and hitting; a painful elbow from tennis and golf; stiff, sore Achilles tendons from running, hiking, and tennis; a twingy knee from skiing and tennis; as well as chronic lower back pain from all of the above, exacerbated by having taken up boardsurfing a few years ago. When I finished this litany of athletics gone bad, all that I heard for a few seconds was a muffled chuckle. Then: "Well, you sound just perfect." At least Gayle had a sense of humor.

The 22-year-old Aspen Club is at the edge of town, just past the head of the famed Ute Trail. For years the club was known mainly for its racquet sports, hailed as one of the best in the country. But last December, under the leadership of Michael D. Fox, its new principal owner and CEO, it was officially relaunched as a modern fitness, healing, and lifestyle center. Five tennis courts and a single racquetball-squash court remain, the 77,000-square-foot building now given over to a vast, two-level cardiovascular and strength training arena with scores of machines in a central atrium; a large indoor swimming pool; a sports medicine section staffed with physical therapists and physicians on call; a pampering spa; and a holistic therapeutic treatment center. The club already counts among its members Forstmann Little's Ted Forstmann; Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers' John Doerr; professional basketball player David Robinson; 60 Minutes' Ed Bradley; actress Sally Field; John Kennedy Jr.; and Martina Navratilova.

Having such different traditional and alternative disciplines under one roof is what makes The Aspen Club stand out. Dr. Robert Hunter, an Aspen orthopedic surgeon and member of the club's advisory panel of physicians, says there's nothing exactly like it anywhere in the country. He ticks off the Cooper Clinic in Texas, Scripps Institute in California, and Mayo Clinic in Minnesota as offering high-quality, comprehensive medical evaluation programs. He also cites North Hawaii Community Hospital in the Big Island hamlet of Waimea for innovative programs that combine "high-tech with high-touch." But, he says, none of them have The Aspen Club's intensive dedication to sports.

"The performance and fitness focus at The Aspen Club is quite different," he explains, "and the concept of one-stop shopping to see how you are now and how you can progress is tremendous. You can come here and get a total assessment of cardiac fitness, pulmonary fitness, and body fat, as well as a complete conditioning prescription and orthopedic evaluation."

He notes that soon the club will include a "full-fledged, medical clinic for ankles, knees, hands, elbows, and shoulders. That way, if we run into a problem with a particular body part, we can call over one of the physical therapists and go over it with the patient. Then the therapist can take the patient right over to a trainer. You can come in at ten o'clock and go out at one, having seen a doctor, therapist, trainer, and having had a complete evaluation of your biomechanics."

From my own experience at other health and fitness spas, and based on a few calls I made, he's right: No other health and fitness facility offers The Aspen Club's cross-discipline mind-body workup. Canyon Ranch in Arizona probably comes closest, but even it doesn't match The Aspen Club's emphasis on sports medicine or its 34 treatment rooms.

The members I spoke to seemed especially pleased with the radical changes. Aspen resident Michael Goldberg, president of Miami-based Aerolease International, one of the largest passenger airliner leasing companies in the world, had dropped his Aspen Club membership years back when he added an elaborate gym to his home. However, once he saw what the renovated Aspen Club incorporated under one roof, he immediately signed up again. "It took something special to get me back," he said.

Allen Chozen, managing director of Montgomery Securities in San Francisco until it was acquired last year, joined the club shortly after he and his wife completed their new Aspen home. The couple hike and bike, and Chozen said the club complements their outdoor sports. "It gives us a balance. We do a lot of cross-training and hiking, then go to the club and work out on the machines. For us, it's perfect."

It also seemed perfect for my purposes. In three and a half days I wanted someone to evaluate my injuries; analyze my workout to see whether it was helping or hurting me; and give me a general fitness report card. That, Gayle replied, was exactly what the club did. "We customize programs for each person, depending on how long they're going to be here."

The first step, she said, was to fill out a five-page lifestyle/health questionnaire. Once I faxed it back, she would use the information to create my schedule, coordinating the club's sports medicine, fitness, and workout components with various therapies and evaluations. But, she advised, much of the final program would hinge on the biomechanical evaluation I would receive as soon as I arrived.

I landed in Aspen on Sunday evening and on Monday morning met with Gayle in her office. "We want to help your injuries while you're here," she said, "but we also want to give you some medical and holistic tools to take home with you that will help alleviate the pain over a period of time."

The consultations, evaluations, workouts, and treatments Gayle had penciled in were chosen from a menu of more than 50, which included six body therapies; eight types of massage; six psychological and spiritual well-being techniques; six nutrition and fitness consultations; six therapeutic body treatments; 13 movement and fitness training sessions; and eight sports-performance-specific consultations. Some were new to me: craniosacral therapy (improving the flow of the fluid that circulates through the spine and head), the Alexander Technique (a gentle neuromuscular spinal retraining method), and myofascial release (manipulating the body's connective tissue), for instance. She explained that all three were related to correcting posture and body movement and releasing pain—which she felt were especially important in my case. Pilates-based method training and yoga were also on my schedule, and being a skeptic, I suggested that we drop both. "We can change anything," she agreed, "but why don't you see Bill first and see what he says."

Bill Fabrocini, the physical therapist who heads the club's Sports Medicine Institute, is an expert at biomechanics—the alignment of body parts and their relative movement. The biomechanical evaluation he gives—in which posture, muscle balance, and movement patterns are examined—is considered the backbone of an Aspen Club program.

The procedure took an hour, during which time I went through various motions while standing, bending over, and lying on the examining table. From his observations Bill created a thumbnail sketch of my primary defects: a flat and hypomobile lower back, which was causing poor shock absorption; inadequate hip rotation; general overcompensation; and an excessively pronating stance.

"If we had to pick the top five things to work on with you," he said, "they would be lower-back mobility; pelvic stabilization, which is essential in bump skiing; shoulder mobility and scapular stability; pectoral stretch mobility; and pronation of the feet, which is really important because it relates to all the other problems. Kinesthetic awareness is also critical for you."

For the next three days I was poked, prodded, worked out, and fussed over—for the most part based on his findings. He showed me a dozen or so exercises I could do to help correct my problems over the long term. Gayle checked out my tennis stroke, encrusted with nearly 40 years of bad habits, and suggested a few adjustments to reduce the strain on my elbow and rotator cuff that made perfect kinesthetic sense: switching grips and adopting a more "baseball-y" serve. Melissa Temple, a personal trainer, taught me intensive new crunches and gentle shoulder and elbow techniques. (The golf pro the club uses was on vacation, so my golf swing went unremarked—a good thing.)

Some of the other sessions weren't as portable. Craniosacral therapy and myofascial release reduced pain and helped me move more fluidly. However, physical therapist Pauline Ingram, who has studied craniosacral therapy since 1983, was unhappy we had just a single hour session and that I had to rush off to another treatment immediately afterward. "I usually work with people in a structured long-term program, so seeing someone only once is a little frustrating," she said. "It takes a lot of trust and comfort to make major changes, and someone who gets cranio work shouldn't have to jump up and run to another service."

Next was the Alexander Technique, which has been popular with performing artists for a century, with Lori Schiff. It proved very helpful in understanding the "correct" way to sit, stand, and move, but again two sessions were eight to 18 short of a complete course. To get the full dose, I was told, I'd have to find an Alexander Technique instructor at home in Los Angeles.

As for Pilates and yoga, I'm still a skeptic. The Pilates machines I tried showed me that strenuous back and abdominal exercises needn't overstress injured areas. But everything that instructor Catherine Cussaguet had me do was on the equipment, whereas I would have preferred learning mat-based Pilates exercises to take home. During yoga, instructor Richard Bird tried hard to convince me that his discipline could help me, but I only ended up cramped and miserable. He also seemed somewhat out of step with my overall program, and didn't make it clear how he was using yoga to address the back problems Fabrocini had targeted.

At the end of my club visit I counted 16 separate consultations and workout or body-therapy sessions, at a cost of $1,355 with tips still to add. I had learned a lot, but I also had several criticisms. First, there was no take-home written analysis summarizing results. This would have been especially helpful following my biomechanical evaluation, because Fabrocini showed me the exercises so quickly I was unable to absorb them all. Second, although I had originally mentioned that I wanted someone to analyze my regular workout routine for effectiveness and injury potential, no one ever followed up.

Finally, not all of the instructors and therapists seemed to be on the same page—or even the same team. Despite having filled out the lengthy lifestyle/health questionnaire, I was often asked what my complaints were. Staff members I spoke with agreed that the different disciplines needed to be better coordinated.

That was last July, and I was one of the first persons to have an interdisciplinary club program developed for him. It was also when the club was still suffering what Skip Hamilton, an Aspen Club sports medicine therapist, aptly referred to as "growing pains." The dust and opening jitters have since settled.

The Sports Medicine Institute has been moved into its permanent quarters, and the Center for WellBeing has set up in the space the institute vacated. Dr. Hunter has set up a diagnosis room with its own small X-ray unit, which will allow him and his colleagues to conduct rigorous on-site medical evaluations. Gayle Godwin tells me that steps have been taken to better coordinate guests' requests, and a written analysis and take-home program are now given at the end of Aspen Club visits. Staff members are working more closely together, she says.

Since my visit I've discovered that those three and a half days had far more impact on me than I'd anticipated. Thanks to the Alexander Technique sessions, I am more kinesthetically aware, and I can feel when I am sitting or standing incorrectly. More than that, when I work out I find myself trying a little harder, remembering Melissa Temple's comment that I sometimes might be overprotective of my injuries. While stretching, I make an effort to practice the exercises Bill Fabrocini showed me. And I remember the words of Julie Anthony, an Aspen Club clinical psychologist who coordinates inputs from all sources during a program: "Fitness, health, and good nutrition are a consistency game, not a crash course."

In the end I took home a lot, including a rueful understanding of how to rehab those old dings and dents—and, more important, just live more comfortably with them.

For information on The Aspen Club's programs, call 970-925-8900. Guests of members pay $25 per diem to use the club. If you don't know a member, you can book one service daily and pay $15 extra to use the club's facilities. Or if you stay at one of the Frias Properties' luxury condominiums, homes, or hotels, such as The Independence Square, the club's affiliation requirement and entrance fee are waived. If you stay at one of Frias' standard properties, you pay $10 per day to use the club's facilities.


High Points

It's not uncommon for visitors to Aspen (elevation 8,000 feet) to get altitude sickness, caused by a decline of oxygen in the blood. Symptoms include nausea, headache, sinus pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, and in more serious cases, severe breathlessness or a cough with phlegm. (Altitude sickness can be fatal if it is left untreated.) Here's how to minimize the chances you'll fall prey to it.
• Spend a day allowing your body to adjust. Don't climb to the top of Aspen Mountain on the first day—and don't get too many spa treatments, which are dehydrating by nature.
• Don't drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or take sleeping pills during the first 72 hours after your arrival at the club, and don't overindulge in food—or in caffeine either.
• Drink lots of water. At this altitude the air is so dry your body needs a gallon a day—at least—to keep it hydrated. A good test, according to some locals: If you get up at least once a night to urinate, you're drinking enough.
• Take steam baths to restore moisture to your skin and lungs.
• Be aware of altitude sickness symptoms. If you start to feel any of them, slow down or take a break. If they persist, seek medical care.
• Once you have adjusted to the altitude, you may want to take the VO2 Submax Test, which involves running on a treadmill to ascertain how well you breathe during different intensities of exercise at altitude. The Aspen Club can refer you to local doctors who will administer the test.


Day By Day

When you sign up for a custom-designed health-fitness program at The Aspen Club, your schedule is tailored to your needs and time. Here's a breakdown of what Richard John Pietschmann did during his three and a half days at the club last July.

MONDAY
10:15 Meet with Gayle Godwin to assess and modify the program that she developed based on a faxed lifestyle/health questionnaire. "We want to help your injuries while you're here, but also give you some tools you can take with you when you go home," she says

11:00 Biomechanical exam with Bill Fabrocini, director of sports medicine. After checking my posture from several angles he has me lie on the treatment table to assess my range of motion, flexibility, and abdominal muscle strength. He places a pneumatic mat that measures pressure when the abs are contracted under the small of my back and has me do various leg lifts. "Not bad," he says. He tells me that the primary sources of my chronic bad back are insufficient lower spine curvature and the way my feet meet the ground.

12:00 Clinical psychologist Julie Anthony, a former professional tennis player, gives me a nutritional and lifestyle thumbs-up based on the questionnaire I completed before my arrival. She also passes along a hint: Cosmetic sponges placed in the heel of my tennis shoes will reduce stress on my Achilles tendon.

1:30 Lunch in the Aspen Club Café: Delicious linguine with wild mushrooms, tomatoes, arugula, and a dash of extra-virgin olive oil.

3:00 Craniosacral therapy with Pauline Ingram. "It's a therapy used a lot with people who have chronic back pain," she says. She massages my back, shoulders, neck, and head to move the spinal fluid around. It turns out to be one of the most relaxing treatments I've ever had.

4:10 Lori Schiff introduces me to the Alexander Technique, a neuromuscular spinal retraining regime that's been popular with performing artists for a century. She eases my spine, neck, and head into the correct standing and sitting postures so that I can learn to duplicate them.

TUESDAY
10:30 After walking a mile to the club to warm up, I meet Godwin on the tennis court for a brief lesson to examine my stroke. She notes that I should have my racquet handle wrapped: Though the 4 5/8-inch grip is the biggest made, my hand still curls around it too far, which aggravates my tennis elbow. We hit for a while, and then she suggests that I change my grip from Continental to Eastern, which will put my wrist and forearm more squarely behind the ball and make the racquet more vertical throughout the contact zone. In other words, less elbow strain and more forgiving hits.

11:30 Melissa Temple, a no-nonsense Aussie with an easy manner, meets me on the workout floor for a 90-minute session. She's talked with Fabrocini and has devised an injury-specific workout that includes using elastic Therabands to strengthen my rotator cuff. After the one and a half hours, my first real exercise at altitude, I am toast.

2:00 Back at the café for a light lunch: Thai noodle salad with peanut sauce and poached free-range chicken, plus a carrot, celery, and beet juice drink.

4:00 The Alexander Technique again with Lori Schiff, who has an amazing way of placing her leg behind you while you're seated in a chair to "show" your back how to align itself.

5:00 Pierre Pelletier, a former pro cyclist, executes myofascial release, a massage aimed at "releasing" connective tissue instead of surrounding muscle tissue, thereby improving the relative movement of body parts. It is not gentle: He twists and contorts me, reaching the inside of my spine through my stomach, noting various "crunchy" and "grotty" tendons and ligaments. Pelletier has me describe my level of discomfort on a scale of one to 10, and he is careful not to exceed seven. At the end of an hour he says, "Take a steam, drink a ton of water."

WEDNESDAY
10:00 I walk again to the club and meet Catherine Cassaguet, a tall Frenchwoman, in the Pilates studio. She slaps me onto "the Cadillac" and "the Reformer" machines and guides me through a variety of back-strengthening exercises.

11:00 Yoga with Richard Bird. I warn him of my skepticism. We proceed from a gentle warmup to power yoga, but I am sore from yesterday's session with Temple and cramping up. (I also haven't drunk enough water this morning, which certainly doesn't help any.) He switches back to the gentler positions and movements. After nearly two hours I am still no fan.

1:45 A quick veggie drink for energy in the Aspen Club Café.

2:00 Fabrocini is convinced most of my injuries are connected to or exacerbated by biomechanical problems. "You need to work on lower-back mobility, pelvic stability, and foot exercises," he says. The hour is devoted to showing me the first batch of more than a dozen target exercises.

3:00 Another myofascial release session with Pelletier. He pronounces me much improved, then gets to what he didn't have time for the day before.

THURSDAY
9:00 Wrap-up session with Fabrocini. He gives me the rest of the exercises aimed at strengthening my lower back. "It's like a series of tight door hinges you have to loosen," he explains. I try each exercise quickly, as he has to work out pro basketball star David Robinson at 9:30.

10:00 Sixty minutes of personal training with Temple. My quads are still sore. The most important thing she has shown me is that I'm overprotective of my back.

11:00 Debriefing with Julie Anthony. She declares me in the 99th lifestyle percentile among the people she sees. All the same, she says, "What I hear from everybody is that you need to concentrate on your whole body—for example, you have to keep your knees in the right direction when you do squats."

12:00 After a quick shower and steam, I fling myself on Bruce Cavan's massage table, expecting a gentle reward as a good-bye. He applies a full-on therapeutic sports massage instead, just to get one last shot at those dings and dents. I groan happily.


Couples Therapy

According to Skip Hamilton, co-coach of the U.S. Olympic cross-country ski team, cycling endurance team member, and Aspen Club sports medicine therapist, men and women often don't exercise together because they're physically mismatched.

"I see couples come in here all the time saying that they're unable to do sports together," says Hamilton. "The man is usually stronger, so the woman can't keep up. But it's all a matter of adjusting the balance."

The key, he explains, is to alter the workout to even out the disparity, mainly by increasing the challenge for the man. Here are some of his ideas.

HIKING AND SKIING
"Load the man up," Hamilton says, "and make him do the talking. This will give the woman a chance to breathe more easily and keep up the pace." For example, have him carry the backpack and the water bottle.

CYCLING
Slightly deflate the man's bike tires, slightly overinflate the woman's. And give him a heavier frame to ride, such as a mountain bike.

ROLLERBLADING
"Equal out the resistance." That means putting slower wheels on his blades, faster ones on hers.

RUNNING
"It's one of the few sports in which there's little you can do to slow someone down," Hamilton explains. "It's too biomechanically sensitive." The one thing you can adjust safely is the man's weight—as long as it's distributed correctly. For example, he can wear heavier running shoes, wrist or hand weights, or a weighted vest, which keeps the resistance at his center of gravity. Do not add a backpack or ankle weights: These may alter his biomechanics too much and cause injury.

WALKING
"Treadmills side by side, set at a conversational pace, can be a great social outing," states Hamilton.


Jet Sets

"They say that five minutes of this equals fifteen minutes of hand massage," explains Janette McKechnie, a massage therapist at The Aspen Club. "But you can't do this for more than twenty-five minutes max."

She's speaking of the thermal mineral Kur bath, which The Aspen Club often recommends before a full-body massage. The Kur is a combination of water and Hungarian salts taken from 6,500 feet below ground, heated to 104 degrees Fahrenheit in a 10-foot-long, pale blue Setma bathtub. At one end there is an array of knobs labeled "upper back," "hips," and so on that control the 55 water jets along the sides and bottom. By controlling the pressure of the jets and using a hand-held water wand—a long hose—the therapist massages various parts of your body without ever touching you.

While the surrounding atmosphere is relaxing—the room is warm and dimly lit; soft flute and harp music emanates from hidden speakers; a light eucalyptus aroma hangs in the air—the bath feels like a workout. And in a sense, it is. "Any type of bath or massage dehydrates you," McKechnie says, "because it releases toxins. That's why you have to keep drinking water."


In & Around Aspen

There are two things The Aspen Club doesn't offer: a dietary program and overnight accommodations, although it has package deals with the Hotel Jerome and The St. Regis.

We sent Richard John Pietschmann around town to find the best places to stay and the healthiest restaurants in which to dine. Here's what he came up with (prices vary according to season). Restaurant prices are based on a meal for two, excluding beverages and gratuity.

THE BRAND
Six one- and two-bedroom condominiums on the second floor of an 1891 building in the center of town, a quirky if pleasing mix of styles from Bauhaus to English Country. The apartments all have kitchens. Temporary membership in owner Harley Baldwin's private, celebrity-intensive Caribou Club is included. One-bedroom: $200-$890 per night; two-bedrooms: $230-$2,625.

* HOTEL JEROME
The carefully restored 109-year-old rustic brick exterior and main floor are complemented by 93 large rooms furnished with antiques and reproduction pieces. Exceptionally comfortable beds, large closets, and marble bathrooms with double vanities and separate soaking tub and shower. The swimming pool is large, the food is some of the best in town, and the J-Bar is one of Aspen's best watering holes. Doubles: $175-$805; suites: $425-$2,000.

* THE LITTLE NELL
The 92 conventionally luxurious rooms are large—standards average 600 square feet. Big bathrooms with separate soaking tub and glass shower, lots of closet space, and gas fireplace; most have a small balcony. The Restaurant at The Little Nell is one of the best in town, and the swimming pool area affords a lovely view of Aspen Mountain. Doubles: $205-$625; suites: $425-$3,800.

THE RESIDENCE SUITES
Depending on your point of view, Terry Butler's seven-suite boutique hotel is either cluttered or comforting. Located on the second floor of a 19th-century building, the hotel is crammed with the art, objets, and furnishings Butler has collected over 30 years. The one- and two-bedroom suites are extravagantly decorated, each sporting a different theme. Most have fireplaces and kitchens; upholstered walls are common; bedding and linen is top-drawer. Suites: $195-$2,975.

SARDY HOUSE
Aspen's top bed-and-breakfast, constructed in 1892, then later connected to a brick "carriage house" built in the 1980s. The 20 comfortable, authentic Victorian-period rooms avoid the overdone B&B syndrome. Good beds and modern bathrooms, plus a swimming pool. Jack's, the seven-table restaurant on the first floor, is topnotch. Doubles: $90-$490; suites: $150-$750.

* THE ST. REGIS
Little has changed in Aspen's largest hotel (257 rooms) since it changed management (The Ritz-Carlton pulled out last year; now it is owned and managed by Starwood): Oriental carpets still line the corridors; oversize paintings hang in the lobby; chandeliers and marble abound. Suites are comfortably large and come with such amenities as Bose speakers. The outdoor Jacuzzi and outdoor heated pool are luxurious. The Alpine suites afford the best views. Also in the hotel is Starwood's Restaurant, where the 18-page wine list is extensive. Doubles: $159-$749; suites: $279-$4,000.


Healthy Meal Plan

BREAKFAST
The morning menu at the Hotel Jerome's high-ceilinged and wonderfully Victorian Century Room wins. It has egg-white omelettes and other healthy fare, but the "low fat" whole-wheat pancakes with genuine maple syrup were the best I've ever tasted. (Julia Child is said to love them too.) $25.

LUNCH
It's impossible to find a better-tasting healthy lunch than at the Aspen Club Café, whose executive chef, Matt Snyder, came from the well-known restaurant Sunflower, located "down valley" in El Jebel. All café dishes are simply prepared, contain little or no fat, feature organic ingredients, and exclude red meat. $22.

DINNER
I couldn't find a single upscale restaurant that identified dinner menu items as "healthy," "low-fat," or "low-cholesterol." Nonetheless, says The Aspen Club's lifestyle and nutritional consultant Julie Anthony, "in a town of this sophistication it's not that difficult to eat healthily." Aspen chefs understand and honor requests for low-fat preparation, and the town's best restaurants rely heavily on fresh fish and vegetables flown in almost daily. Here are my top four picks.
The Century Room Try the delectable grilled Colorado trout with orzo and lemon nage, or veal T-bone with stone-ground cheese grits. $105.
Matsuhisa Sushi superstar Nobu Matsuhisa's newest outpost, housed in a Main Street Victorian building, is excellent and low-fat by definition. $80.
Ajax Tavern At the foot of Aspen Mountain, it's run by the same company that owns Napa Valley's Mustards. Count on it for the same good California-Mediterranean food. $80.
** Renaissance Aspen's most "citified" restaurant, owned by Charles Dale. His $65 prix fixe no-meat menu is prized by local vegetarians. $100 à la carte.


Needle Points

Dave Ruther, an acupuncture specialist who practices acupuncture at The Aspen Club and is currently furthering his training in China, says that interviewing acupuncturists well before you begin treatments is the key to protecting your wallet—and your health. If they can't describe their methodology and assess your problems in simple, understandable terms, he says, chances are they don't know what they're doing. "There are a lot of people practicing acupuncture who have poor educational and practical training. When they start going off on a tangent about some purple ray, forget it." Here are some questions you should ask.
• Are you certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM)? Certification requirements are rigorous: at least 1,350 hours of training and clinical experience at a full-time, formal program (in Chinaschools can last up to 12 years; in the United States they last only four) or four to five years of professional training, including 100 patients and 500 patient visits minimum per year over that period. The NCCAOM also requires that applicants pass an examination in acupuncture, a practical exam in point-location skills, and a course and examination in clean-needle technique. To find out whether an acupuncturist is a member, contact the NCCAOM at 703-548-9004.

• How many different styles of Chinese medicine do you practice? Ruther says an acupuncturist should know at least 12 styles, since that's the absolute minimum Chinese acupuncturists learn. "What makes a good Chinese-medicine practitioner is the number of different ways he can understand what's happening in your body," he explains.
• What gauge needles do you use? "Thinner needles mean less pain and equal effectiveness," states Ruther. "Number four or five needles—also referred to as 34, 36, or 38 needles—are preferable."
• Do you use herbal remedies as well? If so, what are the possible side effects? Ruther, like many, is an avid believer in the use of herbal infusions. But in untrained hands, he points out, they can be dangerous. For example, one remedy, often sold as "ma huang" and composed of ephedra compounds (ephedrine alkaloids include ephedrine, the ingredient in nasal decongestants), has been associated with high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, seizures, strokes, even death. For more information on Chinese herbology, contact the American Association of Oriental Medicine at 610-266-1433.
• How many times have you treated my specific condition? Again, if the acupuncturist can't give you simple answers, stay away.
• How much do you charge per hour? Reasonable acupuncture rates range from $45 to $75 per hour.


The Menu

At The Aspen Club, "head to toe" pampering means just that. Here are some luxuries you'll find there.
• Classes in stretching, aerobics (including box aerobics), Qi Gong, Feldenkrais Method, step, body sculpting, spinning, Tai Chi, water fitness, and fitball.
• One-on-one lessons in biofeedback, meditation, hypnotherapy, sound therapy, aromatherapy, yoga, and sports-related mental performance training.
• Individual assessments of nutrition, lifestyle, well-being, metabolic rate, biomechanics, microfitness, cardiometabolic stress, orthotics.
• Acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, and reflexology.
• Eight different kinds of massage (among them a high-altitude massage, which includes long, rhythmic strokes over the whole body and massaging of the skull to relieve symptoms of altitude sickness); six body therapies, from baths to scrubs, European and Ayurvedic; seven kinds of facials, from Alpine Herbal Facial to Gentleman's Facial; and all the usual high-end salon services.
• A full-court indoor basketball and volleyball gymnasium; five covered tennis courts; a racquetball-squash court; indoor heated lap swimming pool (25 yards long); outdoor Jacuzzi; indoor simulated ski and snowboard training studio with pros on site; nursery and kids' gymnasium with babysitters.
• Locker rooms with sauna, steam room, and whirlpool bath; two "relaxation lounges" with chaise longues and hassocks set before a fireplace or waterfall.
• Outdoor activities and excursions, including cross-country and downhill skiing, tennis, hiking, snowshoeing, rock and mountain climbing, golf, kayaking, and rafting.


Aspen Address

ACCOMMODATIONS
THE BRAND 205 SOUTH GALENA STREET; 970-920-1800
HOTEL JEROME 330 EAST MAIN STREET; 800-331-7213
THE LITTLE NELL 675 EAST DURANT AVENUE; 970-920-4600
THE RESIDENCE SUITES 305 SOUTH GALENA STREET; 970-920-6532
SARDY HOUSE 128 EAST MAIN STREET; 800-321-3457
THE ST. REGIS 315 EAST DEAN STREET; 970-920-3300

RESTAURANTS
AJAX TAVERN 685 EAST DURANT AVENUE; 970-920-9333
ASPEN CLUB CAFE 970-925-8900
THE CENTURY ROOM, HOTEL JEROME 330 EAST MAIN STREET; 970-920-1000
MATSUHISA 303 EAST MAIN STREET; 970-544-6628
RENAISSANCE 304 EAST HOPKINS AVENUE; 970-925-2402

* Member of Platinum Card Fine Hotels & Resorts
** Member of Platinum Card Fine Dining

Most Recent Features