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In this Post: I cover the realities of working the luxury spa world, from my personal experience at a guest ranch.
This weekend, I covered some massage shifts for a friend at a legendary guest ranch north of me. For years I have been curious to check out this renowned property! And I finally had the opportunity.
I’ve been asked before to help out at the ranch. But I never felt I had the freedom to do so! You see, this ranch is remote, about 90 minutes from my front door. Cell service is limited. The shifts are long, so you typically stay overnight.
Whether it was parenting restrictions or running a business that was open seven days a week, I never quite felt like I could break away!
Now that I’ve downsized my business, and I don’t have staff relying on me, and my son is a little older, I finally felt the freedom to explore this employment opportunity.
Working the Luxury Spa World
So Friday, after a booked day of massage in my office, I jumped into my car with a cooler packed full of goodies, four books to read, (You guys, I’m insane, I know it! Every time I travel anywhere, I bring way too many books with me!), and an excited demeanor!
I was eager to see the ranch, anxious to see the spa, and thrilled to have two nights kid-free!
Change of Plans
The Thursday before I left, I got an email from my supervisor. They had given away the employee housing where I was supposed to stay. SOOOOO…… I was going to be put up in the lodge.
I was so excited! My room was beautiful – big, plush white beds, granite countertops, and a veranda with a view. I settled in without a hitch! I sat down with one of the four books and enjoyed the quiet!
The next morning, I woke up early. While guests slumbered all around me, I was brought back in time. Back to my cruise ship working days, when I logged 80+ hours a week waiting tables. EVERYTHING about this morning felt oddly familiar. Being ready at the crack of dawn to make sure things were set up for guests, living in extravagance but not truly being a part of it, and enveloped by natural beauty.
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The shifts were 7-7, but I wasn’t scheduled anything until 1:00 that first day, so my supervisor showed me around the 200,000-acre ranch. She showed me the artwork commissioned for the lodge, the private ski area, the horse’s guests can ride, the rivers they can fish, and the woods they can hunt. She showed me the mess hall where staff eats, staff housing, and the employee gym.
And then she took me to get my COVID test. While I spend a ridiculous amount of time cleaning and disinfecting my office between clients, the ranch takes a little different approach to the COVID crisis.
In true luxury style, they throw money at the problem.
Upon arrival, every guest is required to take a COVID test. Most staff members receive a test once a week. However, if you have a school-aged child who has started back to school, you must take the test twice a week. Everyone receives their results within two days. They are spending $100,000 a month on COVID testing. Insane!
I loved getting a COVID test. Although I had zero symptoms, there is something so reassuring to knowing FOR SURE that I am free from the virus! And, it was absolutely awesome to know that every one of the guests was tested as well!
After lunch, which felt a lot like summer camp, I scurried back to the spa for an afternoon packed full of massages.
Creams, Lotions, and Oils
There was a variety of lotions, oils, and creams to choose from. So I decided to play around with different options until I settled on Biotone Pure Touch Organics Creme. To be honest, I was hesitant even to try this one! Historically, I have HATED Biotone. Not so much the texture or feel, but the smell. The smell was notorious for activating my gagging reflex. Yet this organic line was different. It was odorless, provided nice glide, and lasted a long time!
While Sacred Earth truly is my jam, and I can’t ever see giving it up, this was a worthy adversary!
During my cruise ship days, we were required to wear a uniform. It took some getting used to, but once I was accustomed to the new routine, I began to love it. I didn’t have to think about what to wear in the morning, if I was going to be over or underdressed, or how I would be perceived.
One of the reasons schools often have uniforms is to bridge the economic gap between students—it kind of evens the playing field.
I was pleased to find shirts with the lodge’s logo on them to wear while giving massage, for all the same reasons I was pleased to have a uniform when I worked on the cruise ship!
I tend to air on the side of underdressing for situations. When I arrived at the ranch, I immediately felt out of place with the clothing I had chosen to bring. In my haste to pack quickly after work on Friday, I hadn’t quite thought threw my environment. Not like I was showing up a complete slob, but my wardrobe was a little lacking! The uniform leveled the playing field, just as it does for students.
Over the years, I have worked at a few high-end places. The clientele differs from the neighborhood vibe I have created in my own office setting.
When working in my office, there is a camaraderie. A warmth that comes with working with the same clients for years. I’ve seen clients through marriages, births, deaths, and worldwide pandemics. There is a depth to the relationships that provides comfort and stability.
This is lacking in spas. While sometimes the clients are interested in getting to know their therapist, often they are not. Often there is a divide—a serving versus being served mentality.
And so, I find that anytime I work in these types of environments, there is far less talking going on than at my office. Which, to be honest, can often equate to less work. Less information to remember, less diligence with keeping things client-focused when the conversation turns towards me, and generally fewer distractions.
Anonymity Ain’t All Bad
At times, I crave this kind of anonymity! When I went through my divorce, I would have LOVED working in this type of environment. No one who knows a thing about me. No one to ask seemingly innocent questions that sent me in a downward spiral, And no one to have to share the truth with eventually.
Other times, I love the more relational type of environment I have created. Years ago, when my main job was a spa at the base of a ski area, I used to want to pull my hair out by how many times I had to share with people the exact same things. How I ended up here, how long I’d been practicing, if I skied, and so on. It felt like groundhog day answering the same questions on repeat every hour.
Towels Instead of Blankets
On a side note, I have to ask; What is up with high-end spa’s thinking that towels make suitable substitutes for top blankets? I see images all the time of luxury spas with this type of a setup. It looks good, I guess. But is so unpractical!
With the very first client I worked on, we experienced technical difficulties. When it was time to flip over, the sheet went one direction, the towel another, and it was all I could do to keep him covered. So, I abandoned their standard table dressing, found some blankets, and confidently went about draping as I saw fit. Call me a rebel.
But seriously, can any of you shed some light on why spa’s think this is THE way to dress a table?
I was on-call for a total of 24 hours during my weekend, and probably did 9 hours of actual work. If you look at it as just 9 hours of work, it doesn’t seem like that much. BUT… The mentality at this ranch was that if the guests wanted something, they should get it. And quickly. What that translates to is a staff that needs to be able to drop everything and attend to the guest’s needs. It means that during any of those on-call hours, you have to be ready to jump. That is a tall task! It takes energy to perpetually be ready to go!
By the end of that first day, I was exhausted, so much information to take in, navigating the culture of the place, and REALLY long shifts had me ready to curl up in that plush bed they were providing!
Day Two was a little easier. I had a better idea of what to expect and what was expected of me. Again my morning was pretty quiet. I got halfway through the book I started Friday night. I once more had lunch at the mess and had an afternoon booked with massages.
By the end of the day, I was tired, but not like I had been the first night. Like with anything new, there is a certain amount of energy expelled on the unknown! This was no different.
By the time I got into my car to head home, it was 7 pm. I relished the ride to catch up on some of my favorite podcasts, and then I was thrilled to be home. Thrilled to see my son. And thrilled to sleep in my own bed.
Would I do it again? For sure! Would I want to do it regularly? No, not really. I think a schedule like this lends itself better to the youngsters. The ones who don’t have families relying on them. If I were in my 20’s, I’d be all over it! But I’m not.
- Boulder College of Massage Therapy Graduate
- Nationally Certified through NCBTMB
- Colorado Licensed Massage Therapist
- Certified CranialSacral Level 1 through Upledger
- Certified Herbal Therapist through Nutrition Therapy Institute
- Certified Fujian Massage through Barefoot Masters
- Fort Lewis College - Majored in Art, Minored in Business Administration
- 6 Year Winner of Best Massage Therapist for "Best of The Boat" Competition
- Massage Business Owner Since 2008