Women’s Wellness Weekend combines outdoor adventure, health
August 14, 2015
Rather than gain 5 pounds on vacation, visitors to the Vail Valley should go home stronger, fitter and more focused.
At least that's how Gaby Milhoan, co-owner of Peak Wellness Retreat, sees it. The wellness concierge company provides custom wellness retreats May through November and also hosts the Mountain Fit: Women's Wellness Weekend in Vail the third weekend in August each year. This year the event takes place this coming weekend.
The retreats are geared to visitors whom they hope to send home with more than just good memories.
"We send people home with a wellness plan and 30 days of coaching, accountability and meal plans," Milhoan said. "If it's someone needing to lose weight or gain strength, we can help them continue those goals. That's way cooler than just taking home a Vail T-shirt."
Why add a wellness component to your vacation, or even fully integrate the two? There are lots of reasons, Milhoan said.
"Sometimes to really make a change in life, something radical needs to happen," said Milhoan who started the company with triathlete Lauren Arnold two years ago, not long after Milhoan was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 29 and underwent treatment.
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"You need to get away from your daily life, and whatever your daily stresses are that inhibit you from taking the time to focus on yourself," Milhoan said. "That gets you in a place where you can be more successful and focused."
Milhoan knows this firsthand. The steroids she took as part of her cancer treatment contributed to a 60-pound weight gain. She flew to Hilton Head, South Carolina, to a fitness retreat to help her lose weight. Arnold, her friend and co-worker at the time, went with her.
"We thought, 'This is cool, but we're walking on flat ground on the beach,'" she said.
The women realized Eagle County would be the perfect place to host their own retreat program.
"When you look at our backyard, we have fantastic natural resources here, not to mention all the wonderful fitness and wellness providers," she said. "I wanted to bring all the pieces together and curate what really is a comprehensive wellness experience. We really wanted to put Vail on the map as far as being a wellness destination."
An empowering two days
Back to the Mountain Fit weekend. Last year 15 women took part; this year organizers expect that number to double.
"We bring in top experts and leaders in the health and wellness community for the two-day retreat," Milhoan said. "Then we focus on exercise, nutrition, outdoor adventure, mountain boot camp, stand-up paddleboard yoga; it's an awesome and empowering two days to kick start health improvement."
First off, each attendee will get a body scan, an "in-depth body composition analysis that looks at the body's lean mass broken down by fat, muscle and water," Milhoan said.
From there, the weekend is packed. After the body scan, attendees will nosh on breakfast at Terra Bistro while Dr. Lisa Muncy, an Eagle County-based integrative internist, leads a seminar called Happy Belly, Healthier Body, followed by a morning hike and coaching session with outdoor fitness expert Ellen Miller.
After a gourmet picnic on top of Vail Mountain, guests will learn about women's health from a sports medicine perspective from a Howard Head Sports Medicine specialist. Then work up an appetite for a farm-to-table dinner that evening during a mountain boot camp and ropes course atop Vail Mountain.
'Taking in all the elements'
On Sunday, there's a stretch and roll class to get the body woken up, followed by another breakfast-and-seminar focused on breaking down the body scan participants got on Saturday. Next up, attendees will head to Piney River Ranch where they can hike around the area, or take a stand-up paddleboard yoga class with local instructor Julie Circo. Her class is an hour and 15 minutes long and starts with instruction on paddling and stroke technique. The intent is to get participants comfortable being on the paddleboard first; then the yoga poses begin.
"Most of the people who come (to a SUP yoga class) aren't serious yogis and maybe haven't even paddled before but want to do something fun and different outside, so it's a casual experience," she said.
Usually people relax and gain confidence quickly because the boards are stable and wide, she said.
"People start to relax and smile and breath, just taking in all the elements around you: the sun, the breeze, the view of the mountains," she said. "People just love it."
Next up, over lunch, Dr. Jacqui Slavin will lead a nutrition seminar, followed by an hour of tabata (high intensity interval training) drills.
The weekend comes to a close with a relaxing "sip and spa party," complete with wine, appetizers, massage and essential oils.
"We call it a body reboot — it's education, getting to meet some of the best experts in the industry, and then it's just a fantastic experience," Milhoan said.
'How to be healthy'
The feedback for both the custom retreats and last year's inaugural Mountain Fit Weekend has been impressive.
"What we continually hear is 'It saved my life,'" Milhoan said.
Take Rosie Vianco, a 60-year-old woman from Dallas, who attended a custom retreat in the spring of 2014. Milhoan and Arnold met Vianco at the Hilton Head, South Carolina, retreat they attended.
"She was 300 pounds and she lived at that fitness retreat for a year and in a year, she lost 150 pounds," Milhoan said.
Following her time in South Carolina, Vianco came to Vail and spent two weeks doing a custom program.
"When she showed up, she had no muscle, no strength," Milhoan said. "She'd only done rapid weight loss for a year."
After doing a metabolic profile and meeting with experts through the Vail Vitality Center, who Peak Wellness Retreat partners with, Vianco got to work on building her strength and she learned clean eating habits. In the course of two weeks, she lost 7 pounds of fat and gained 6 pounds of muscle.
"When she left she came and told us 'I spent a year in a facility where all the food was put in front of me. I learned how to lose weight, but I didn't learn how to eat, or how to be strong or how to get my life back. I finally feel like I know how to be healthy for the rest of my life.'"