People like us can have a hard time with vacations. Triathletes work hard to eat clean and follow a training plan. Our mental health and relationships demand that we take some time off and retreat from the world, but our vacation choices often threaten to undermine our hard work and set us up for failure.Many vacations involve relying on restaurants for most meals, which frequently upsets our nutrition plan. We often can't stick to our training or even sneak in some basic fitness. We end up feeling sluggish and grouchy and not being much fun.This spring I was contemplating a way to take some time off work without eating at chain restaurants, surviving on gas station food, or watching my muscles atrophy. I remembered when I was in college and lived in Arizona. I would drool over promotional materials from the fitness spas and resorts in the Sedona area, promising myself that someday I would be able to afford a stay at Canyon Ranch or another resort filled with yoga, hikes and organic food. This year I didn't have the desire to travel to the Southwest from my home in Ohio so I Googled "wellness resort" to see if anything materialized closer to home.It was my lucky day, and I stumbled upon Skyterra, a North Carolina wellness resort and vacation destination for fitness geeks and for those looking to lose weight or make a lifestyle change for the better. Photos of yoga, nutritious food, and paddleboarding beckoned from my laptop screen. As it turned out, Skyterra was just opening its doors to the public for the first time, metamorphosing from a grand idea to a real destination. I visited in September to check it out and pass along my thoughts to our members here at BeginnerTriathlete.I concluded that Skyterra is the perfect vacation for:
Each guest at Skyterra is assigned to one of the elegant houses in the gated community where the resort is located. There were three guest suites in our house. (One was occupied by a single man and the other was unoccupied.) Our suite was well-appointed with such niceties as bamboo-fiber towels, a large, modern bathroom, a walk-in closet, and a king bed. Outside the door was a desk and chair, which I used as a workspace that was physically (and mentally) separated from our room. Downstairs was a shared living room with a cathedral ceiling and gas fireplace, a full kitchen equipped with high-end appliances, and a spacious screened porch with a gas fireplace and rocking chairs overlooking the dense forest.The activities and meals were headquartered a short walk through the neighborhood at a small lodge. The lodge accommodated lectures on nutrition, stress, exercise, body composition, etc.; meals around a large table adjacent to the open kitchen used by the chef; the evaluation room used to take body composition measurements; a massage room; ground floor cardio and weight studios, and best of all, the "Treehouse." The Treehouse is the name given by the staff to the screened porch just off the dining room. The porch floor is covered in rubber fitness mats, and yoga classes as well as mindfulness and breathing exercises are conducted there daily. Lying on my back on a blanket with my eyes closed, listening to the stream trickling by and the birds calling, was absolute heaven. It was just the opposite of city traffic, urban gyms and work deadlines.
Although Skyterra is ideal for an individual or for couples who are both health-oriented, the resort is incredibly accommodating. A phone call to the executive team will help you devise a plan that could include a whole group, or perhaps a reluctant partner. One Skyterra executive said they hosted a couple that included a female partner who wanted to partake of all the fitness and nutrition activities available, while the male partner wanted only to hike and fish. It was easy to accommodate both at the resort, which is set on a stream popular for fly fishing, and minutes away from gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountain and Pisgah Mountain hiking destinations.Although the schedule offers something nearly every hour from breakfast until dinner, all classes and activities are optional. You can just as easily take the meals home to your lodging and nap the day away, or drive into town for sightseeing.During our stay, we shared the grounds with a father of young children getting away to reevaluate his health goals; a retired couple who realized they were heading in the wrong direction, fitness-wise, and wanted to enjoy a luxurious experience that would help them set goals together and tackle health living as a team; a young couple on a relaxing secluded vacation together; and a few women who were vacationing alone, looking for a spa experience and some inspiration to eat cleaner. I am solidly an introvert, but it was fun getting to know the other guests, sharing meals and classes with the small group. (Although some left and new arrivals joined, there were never more than 10 of us.) I could always retreat to the quiet of my guest suite, but heading out onto the lake on paddleboards for the first time with a group I had grown to like and trust over the course of a few days led to genuine laughter and a surprisingly fun morning I would not have enjoyed as much alone.
As a triathlete and endurance sports writer, I was skeptical about learning much in the lectures, which I thought would be geared toward neophytes. I was dead wrong. Both the nutritionist and fitness director were extremely well educated and shared very high level information about recommended protein and nutrient intake by type of workout, recommended heart rates, and more. In fitness classes and yoga practice, instructors referred to very specific anatomy and understood the very structures that tend to trip up triathletes: the IT band, the sacroiliac (SI), weak glutes, and piriformis syndrome.The fitness director, Jeff Ford, conducted a mobility assessment at the start of my visit, and quickly noticed limitations I knew I had, and some I didn't. He had solid recommendations for correcting a weakness in my foot that I knew was a problem affecting my gait. During free time, we swapped book titles and talked Maffetone. It was like vacationing with all the best experts on the BT forums! In addition, I benefited from data gleaned from their amazing InBody scale, which told me my left arm weighs more than my right, and my body composition is just where it should be.Scheduled workouts were also no joke. The staff were masterful at creating workouts customized for each guest. One morning we all traipsed down the hill to engage in an outdoor circuit training workout. And while I can run for a very long time, I found I was not great at oscillating a heavy rope, nor throwing a medicine ball. A training session in the cardio area of the gym proved plenty taxing, doing interval training on the cardio equipment. Each guest was choosing his or her own speed, but the staff leader was pushing, calling the time, and having us rotate machines to break up the workout. I was good and sore from some of the strength workouts, and it felt so nice to be sweating hard and building strength while on vacation.Best of all, I was able to live in my favorite workout clothes all week. Despite the chic accommodations, the schedule was such that all of the guests attended meals and classes in gym wear, which was both comfortable and helped break down barriers and promote a casual, family atmosphere. (Each of the guest houses had full laundry facilities available.)
One of my favorite parts of my stay was mealtime. Each meal was prepared with local ingredients (honey from the chef's own beekeeping efforts, eggs from a neighbor, produce from the farmer's market) ... and cooked to perfection with lean protein, healthy fats, fascinating vegetables and zero empty carbs. Although some guests had a goal of weight loss, it was OK to ask for seconds. Each guest's dietary preferences were posted in the kitchen, and the chef referred to them regularly. I try to keep to a Paleo diet, which is often impossible on the road. While at Skyterra, I don't remember having to forego a single item on my plate. Often the dressings were oil and vinegar with a few spices, or a fruit compote. Lean meat or fish was served nearly every meal, with a plate presentation worthy of any upscale restaurant. Best of all, the chef was right in the kitchen preparing the dishes while the guests milled around in the common area, socializing. We formed a great rapport with Ken and Joe, the chefs on duty during our stay. The environment was quite homey, and it was easy to request extra bell peppers or a bit more bison. Nuts and fruits abounded for snacking.The only downside to eating at a super healthy place like Skyterra is that there was precious little in the way of sweets, and no adult beverages. The executive team said they have gone back and forth on the issue and are still evaluating their offerings. The simple solution, when I visit again, is to bring a bottle of wine and some chocolate with me. The well-appointed kitchen in my guest house would easily accommodate my penchant for evening alcohol and sweets, if I just planned ahead. Since I hadn't packed it in, we simply drove into town one night and enjoyed some treats at a local wine bar.
The community where Skyterra is located is in Lake Toxaway, which boasts a sizable body of water. However the community itself has a small lake within its hilly, forested boundaries. I participated in a paddleboarding activity one morning, which was fun and relaxing. About halfway through, I asked if it would be possible to do some open water swimming, and I was happily sent off into the waters with my wetsuit and goggles. One end of the lake is fairly choked with reeds, but there was plenty of space to swim back and forth in the open water and achieve a perfectly good workout.The gated community Skyterra is part of also has a pool and hot tub, which are available for guest use. The pool is not a lap pool, but is used for aqua-based fitness classes.
Skyterra organizes a few hikes each week outside of the grounds, transporting the guests in a posh Mercedes Sprinter van to trailheads nearby. We hiked to Rainbow Falls, which was about three miles out-and-back, but made challenging by the hills. It was another nice opportunity to bond with the other guests and with the staff, who joined in the hike as equals and friends.The natural scenery in the area is quite breathtaking, even on the short walk from my bedroom to breakfast. There is hardly any sound of traffic. On a nighttime walk under a full moon, we heard an owl calling.Some guests also headed out for day trips on their own to whitewater rafting destinations, or a tour of the nearby Biltmore Estate.
If you needed to stay true to a strict triathlon training plan while at Skyterra, you might be able to, with some accommodations. Open water swimming was no problem. Road cycling would be nearly impossible, as the community footprint is too small to accommodate decent mileage, and the road outside the gates is a two-lane mountain highway with hairpin turns and no shoulder to speak of. It would be highly unsafe for training. However the cardio area of the gym had spin bikes available, and there were numerous places to set up a bike on a trainer, if you brought one with you. Running is possible on the almost empty roads of the neighborhood, although they were impossibly hilly for a flatlander like me. I stuck to the treadmills for run workouts, and tried to pretend my heart wasn't racing from the walk uphill to my guest house.
In all, Skyterra provides an amazing environment in which healthy bodies are celebrated and there's no need to gird yourself against poor food or weird looks for wearing running tights. The staff and curriculum promoted a sense of calm and well-being that permeated all parts of my stay, even without availing myself of a massage on my private porch. The weight-loss element of the resort, which is a key component for some, took nothing away from my enjoyment, and it was refreshing to see modern, correct nutrition philosophies espoused by the staff.I stayed there for five days and four nights, completing my stay one week before a scheduled triathlon. I had a great performance at my race, despite not engaging in any true endurance training while at Skyterra. I was inspired to incorporate more strength training into my life. Additionally I realized how boring my meals taste, and learned some new tricks for spicing up my wheat-free, cheese-free life.Destination triathlons are one option for a healthy vacation, but they aren't usually much fun for the other members of the family. Skyterra was a terrific experience for all: relaxing, beautiful and healthy.
Skyterra information and rates are available at www.SkyterraWellness.com
Editor at Beginner Triathlete, web marketing consultant at SiteInSight, writer, entrepreneur, advocate for unstructured nature play for kids.