Stretch into your senses in Eagle County |

Stretch into your senses in Eagle County

Cassie Pence
Vail CO, Colorado
AE Cooking Class 01 TS 01-11-08

Last Sunday afternoon at Dogma Athletica in Edwards, 15 people who traveled to the Vail Valley for a yoga, cooking and snow retreat stretched into down dog, took a deep breath and listened quietly as teacher David Romanelli began to tell a tale:

“There was this experiment in Washington, D.C., where they took Joshua Bell, a world-famous violinist, and positioned him at a subway stop during rush hour. He looked like a street musician, but he’s one of the world’s greatest musicians of all time,” Romanelli said. “The experiment was a test to see how many people would stop and listen.”

The class lowered into plank pose, moved through a vinyasa and stretched back into down dog. Romanelli continued his story.

“Over the course of 45 minutes that Joshua performed, about a thousand people hurried past, few even turning to look. Only seven people stopped, if just for a few seconds. And here’s a guy who sells out huge concert halls,” Romanelli said. “So I ask you this, would you have stopped to listen to him play? Would you have taken the time out of your daily routine to appreciate this beauty?”

The class stepped into warrior II, and bending deeply into their right quadriceps, everyone felt a slight sting.

“The perception of beauty is a moral test,” Romanelli said, quoting Henry David Thoreau. “Meaning, do you have the wherewithal to recognize beauty? We all can develop a capacity, a patience and a taste for beauty.”

Romanelli is a modern-day yoga teacher out of Los Angeles who some may recognize from Yahoo’s health page, where he writes an almost-daily blog about yoga and life’s quirkiness. He’s visited the valley before with his Yoga + Wine and Yoga + Chocolate seminars.

This time around, he teamed up with the crew at Eat!, Drink! and Dish Restaurant in Edwards, along with Beaver Creek Resort Company and Dogma Athletica, to create “The Ultimate Threesome” ” a four-day retreat combining cooking classes and gourmet meals, snow sports and yoga. The posh retreat was created as an escape from the frenzy of everyday life and routines. It’s designed to help people learn to appreciate those beautiful moments in life, whether it’s an incredible meal, the intense burn in yoga class or pristine white powder.

“I call a retreat spring break for older people,” Romanelli said. “It fulfills the dream of a luxurious vacation with the carefree passion and newfound connections more commonly experienced when traveling in your late teens, early 20s.”

Yoga retreats like The Ultimate Threesome reflect a larger vacationing trend happening around the world in exotic locales. Travelers forego aimless wandering for a more structured trip centered around various interests like yoga, cooking, surfing or Spanish lessons. Part of the allure is the scheduled itinerary. With no plans to make, attendees are free to fully immerse themselves in the experience.

“Sure, I like that source of adventure when you just go somewhere with no plans, but it’s so much more relaxing for us to have a schedule,” Melanie Scharff said, who was at the retreat in Vail from Los Angeles. “We were just in Hawaii, and I felt like we spent hours just driving around. Everything is scheduled and we don’t have to worry about it.”

Organizers Pollyanna Forster, co-owner of Eat!, Drink! and Dish, and Romanelli planned the retreat with diverse experiences in mind, but they also wanted to keep it loose. A day’s schedule went something like this: yoga in the morning or evening, skiing or snowshoeing the bulk of the day, a gourmet lunch and dinner with a cooking class somewhere in between. There was time to go off and explore Vail on your own or mingle with new-found friends. Many attend these trips to feel a sense of community and meet like-minded people. Between yoga class and multi-course wine dinners, there’s plenty of opportunity to bond.

“I don’t know what it is about yoga, but it makes everyone happy and relaxed. So you strike up conversations easily and meet new friends,” Pam Andrews said, who divides her time between Los Angeles and Cordillera.

After the first day of skiing, the group trickled into Dish for a late-afternoon cooking class themed “More Flavor per Square Inch.” As the class sipped on bubbly or freshly brewed herbal tea, Forster taught how to uses spices and oils to pack flavor into healthy ingredients like spinach, bok choy, brussel sprouts, lean Aspen steak and white cod.

“Olive oil is a lot like wine,” Forster said. “There are so many flavors, you might find yourself having 10 different olive oils in the kitchen for different purposes.”

In tiny ceramic dishes at each table, she set out several different spices, including togarashi (a hot seven chili spice), pink Murray River Sea Salt (mined from an underground river in Australia), white pepper and curry. After introducing each spice, Forster invited the first round of people to step into Dish’s kitchen to saute and grill the various veggies and then participants switched to grill the proteins. Cooking completed, everyone sat down to eat and experiment with the different seasonings: togarashi on the bok choy, curry on the garlic spinach, sea salt on the steak.

“I wanted to show that with even simple preparations you can still have big flavor,” Forster said.

The biggest benefits of a retreat like this are the special amenities and insider knowledge that comes along with being teamed up with an expert like Forster. How many people can say they’ve stepped into a popular resort restaurant and cooked with professional tools right alongside the chef? Or, how many people after yoga class have been served Vosges’ warm white drinking chocolate right on their mats? This was all part of the Ultimate Threesome package.

But the pinnacle of pampering occurred on day two. After skiing first tracks on six inches of fresh snow at Beaver Creek, everyone headed for lunch to Trapper’s Cabin, hidden away in a grove of Aspens off the Bachelor Gulch Lift. Forster greeted the group with cushy slippers, hot miso soup and a glass of red, as the battle ensued for a spot near the roaring fire.

This cooking lesson took place outside, underneath the intense Colorado sun alongside the grill. The menu was perfect outdoor winter fare: bitter greens salad with meyer lemon dressing, grilled Peruvian purple potatoes and line caught king salmon on cedar planks. Forster walked us through all the ingredients and then her sous chef, Kevin Delonay, demonstrated how to whisk flawless salad dressing. Forster’s cooking classes weren’t lofty affairs, but down-to-earth lessons applicable for everyday meals. She revealed enough tricks of the trade, however, to make you a better cook.

“I encourage you to taste all your ingredients. First raw, then a little bit cooked and then seasoned, so you can taste the evolution of the meal,” Forster said.

Romanelli set the intention for the entire weekend during the retreat’s opening yoga class. A mantra of his, Romanelli challenged everyone to live in the moment.

“Sometimes we let the foreground of our life ” the e-mails and the worries ” get in the way of appreciating the background,” Romanelli said. “And the background, the landscapes of our life, is what we really remember.”

Romanelli’s charge was not taken lightly, but at retreats like this one, where activities center around heightening the senses, those visceral moments naturally seem to linger.

Cassie Pence is a freelance writer based in Vail. E-mail comments about this story to

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