More Dogs on Main Street
May 2, 2008
In the process of putting this year’s "Park City Follies" show together, we reached a point where we needed photos that would depict "a lifetime of privilege." Of course we have the Talisker ads, with their vacuous rich people frolicking in the snow while wearing ill-fitting sweaters from bygone eras. But that wasn’t quite enough, so we decided to do some searching. What would Lauren Hutton and her unshaven posse really be doing on their luxury vacation in Park City? They can’t stand out in the woods waiting for somebody to pour the champagne all day.
Apparently, they would be going to the spa.
The Talisker Spa at Tuhaye is one of a growing number of luxury facilities cropping up around Park City. Promontory has something somewhat similar, though its Web site is super-secret and requires a password to get in. The Montage Hotel at Empire Pass is under construction now. It is oriented more around its spa facilities than the ski hill, despite the slopeside location. The St. Regis & Kathy Lee hotel will also have some kind of spa facility there. It’s a huge business, and might as well be on a different planet from where and how I live. So I did a little online research into Bubble-Bath Tourism.
The Montage facility at Laguna Beach offers some unusual programs. This is pulled right off its Web site. I am not making it up:
"Spa Montage introduces ‘Surrender,’ an innovative new approach to bodywork that allows the therapist to determine a guest’s individual optimum treatment. ‘Surrender’ begins with a brief consultation to discuss lifestyle and guest needs. The therapist then recommends the ideal treatment or series of treatments to heal and address individual needs. The ‘Surrender’ experience can be booked for as little as two hours or as long as a full day, and the therapist can develop a personalized menu for recommended spa services for the length of a guest’s stay. From $450." The experience can also be booked for a multi-day retreat that includes "beach walks," "journal writing" and the all-purpose palliative "valet parking."
Aside from the beach walk and valet parking, there’s nothing there I recognize. The price runs $450/hour. That’s on top of hotel room rates that range from $800/night for a crummy little hotel room to $6,500/night for a suite. In other words, this is a massage parlor with prices that would make Elliott Spitzer blush. The beach walk is complimentary. You can play in the ocean, without a guide, free of charge, because they couldn’t figure out a away to charge for it. Air is also complementary at the Montage.
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The Tuhaye club offers similar excitement, minus the beach walk. This is from a review of the rustically elegant Tuhaye spa, located over in Kamas: "The decadent ‘Cold Room’ is chilled to 60 degrees and offers members a refreshing blast of water from the 12-inch showerhead and showcases the hand-carved, white granite ‘Giving Bear,’ which holds refreshing ice chips in its paws." They also do oil changes: "Inspired by a Native American tradition, 10 pharmaceutical grade essential oils were dropped along my spine in sequential order, encouraging the body’s structural and electrical alignment." And you can sweat it out in a steam room where "two grand amethyst geodes glow from backlit crystal niches recessed into the walls." It sounds a little over the top, but it sure beats a steam room that grows mushrooms in the tile grout.
All these special treatments require a lot of hands to run. The industry standard for five-star properties is three or four employees per guest, not counting the oil-drippers and aromatherapists. Together, the Montage, St. Regis & Kathy Lee, Tuhaye, and the others there will need about 3,000 employees at full operation. Unless there is a program to retrain backhoe operators as estheticians when the buildings are complete, we will be filling those jobs with new people. Since there aren’t three unemployed people in all of Summit County during the busy season, this really means 3,000 new people. If they have families, it quickly becomes a population of 9,000 people at a modest three people per household.
So in order to keep the Giving Bear stocked with ice chips, and the mud baths clean, we are going to build or grow a new city about the size of Heber. Schools, roads, water and sewer systems all of that has to be built to accommodate the new population of hospitality-industry wage earners. While the walk on Laguna Beach is free, operating the school system for the children of the person administering the high colonic is not. Somebody has to pay for that, and to a large extent, will be you.
The granite Giving Bear may be delivering ice chips to the spa patrons, but it’s a charging grizzly for the rest of us. We’ll be living with increased traffic, dirtier air, crowded schools, higher taxes, more expensive water and sewer, and possibly water shortages so the spa patrons can lounge under 12-inch-diameter shower heads surrounded by magic crystals.
I’m not suggesting that everybody needs to stay at the Holiday Inn Express and feed quarters to the Magic Fingers machine. But is the trade-off worth it? We strip-mined Empire Canyon and will be paving over farmland for the city to support it all. Is there enough utility to society as a whole in providing $450 mud baths for a tiny group of people with nothing to do but exfoliate, to justify the costs to everybody else for supporting it? If we had Michigan’s unemployment rate, it might be something to get excited about. I don’t want a granite bear serving me ice chips in the shower, and I’m not very sympathetic to having my quality of life diminished for the benefit of those who do. It truly is decadent.
Can’t they just buy a gallon jug of Mr. Bubble at Wal-Mart and get a room at the Yarrow? Oh, yeah, we’re going to tear that down to build more of this stuff.
Tom Clyde served as Park City attorney in the 1980s and is the author of "More Dogs On Main Street." He has been a columnist at The Park Record for nearly 20 years.