By: B.J. Fleming
Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa will surprise the hell out of you. If you want the best skiing in California, go to Mammoth. Everybody knows that, and that is not at all what this story is about. This story is about one of the best ski weekends I’ve had just 90 miles outside of the City of Angels (about half that distances from the Ontario Airport for out-of-towners), that had very little to do with skiing.
I went to the Lake Arrowhead Resort for a day of skiing and dinner at the hotel – pretty standard stuff for a lifestyle site. What wasn’t pretty typical was to find a legitimate Alpine Lodge with decent skiing this close to L.A., but even that wasn’t the best part.
The best part was that there was this crazy, untapped, reservoir of gentlemanly leisure, and there wasn’t a guy to soak it all up there other than me. It was as if Jack London and a Grecian Shipping Heiress decided to build a winter lodge, but didn’t want too many visitors so they kept the occupancy down to about half.
First of all, the drive out of L.A. was a journey in itself. After surviving the initial push through the Inland Empire, the rise into the mountains mirrors the rise of the sun. Which, as you carve your snowtires uphill, filters through the fog clouds which naturally roll down hill with the rising temperature each morning.
You arrive after picking your way through a haze-smeared pine forest to the Lake Arrowhead Resort and Spa. It looks pretty typical for a lodge – but I grew up in Montana, so I suppose that indicates a certain level of its architectural genuineness. But, it really starts to impress when you finally get inside. Marketing director Leslie McLellan says, "In 2007 we did this major, major renovation. This was a Hilton in the 80s, and that’s actually how I came. I came with Hilton as the director of sales and marketing here. And it was like, what were they thinking when they built this hotel? The fireplace was much smaller, copper all around. I mean, it was ultra modern. It did not fit the mountains."
We got to the lodge at 7 a.m., about 5 hours before usual check in times, and had zero problems getting right to our rooms. Well, that’s not exactly true. We had several problems getting to our rooms because I insisted on sitting in all of the high-backed leather chairs and speaking with a British accent. But that’s actually not such a bad problem to have.
The lobby looks like what a PETA spokeswoman would make if she was instructed to build a hunting lodge, but in a good way. And, in fact, this is not that far from the truth. The locals and clientelle are an interseting mix of conservative people open to hunting/4-wheeling and socially conscious, green visitors. But it’s not obtrusive. The only thing that struck me as odd was that they have several wooden carvings at are replicas of taxidermy.
All of the seating is leather, much of it studded with brass. The 10-foot wide fireplace is going at all hours (we arrived at 7 a.m. and left the lobby close to midnight), and the waitstaff at Bin 189, the hotel restaurant, are happy to bring out cocktails to the lobby area allowing you to gesticulate elegantly with an Old(e) Fashioned while you tell a story about hunting real animals.
Also adorning several nooks of the lobby are replicas of artifacts from the original inhabitants of this area of California, the Paiute and Serrano American Indians. In fact, says McLellan, "They brought in a lot of replicas of Serrano artifacts. It’s probably some of the best Sarano stuff you’ll ever see."
Incidentally, all of this is new, and was part of a $25 million renovation completed in the last few years. Everything in this hotel, though rustic in style, is top-end luxury with that new-alpine-lodge smell still wafting in the air.
We stayed in a single-bed room on the top level of the Lodge, and it (like every other room in the hotel) underwent a major renovation in 2007. This occurred when ownership of the Lodge and literally the two closest towns changed. After being united, the Lodge (which had been supported by the town for some time), underwent an enormous renovation. They got rid of much of the previous decor which was largely modern and sharp-lined like a more-colourful IKEA, and replaced it with the hand-carved wooden I-beams, weathered leather, and American Indian artistry that are its signature today.
In the room, the first thing we noticed was top shelf booze in the minibar (Grey Goose, Crown Royale, and Patron), for lazy evenings in. Off to a good start. After our pupil’s narrowed, we noticed a king-size bed with rust-colored, suede duvet, a sturdy, oak desk and ergonomic chair for a work station. A passable 32-inch highdef LG TV (size matters to us. a lot.) decorates a handsome dresser. All of the furniture is dark wood of differing varieties, much of it is gilt with leather and metal studs. It is, in short, an almost perfect den for a man of leisure.
The bathroom is austere with a sliding, glass, 70% opaque door which, oddly, doesn’t seal. A good half inch will always exist between your restroom antics and any lady-friend you decide to bring along, so discretion, and keeping the television volume high, are advised. The counter is a sand-colored granite and the over-large shower can easily fit two. Maybe more if you meet snowbunnies of the right mind on the mountain. Speaking of, the night before we arrived, Charlie Sheen had spent 3 nights there.
Like I said at the beginning of this article, if you want great skiing in California, you should probably go to Mammoth. But, if you only want a couple solid runs, and you want to save somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 (at least for the trip I planned), then staying in SoCal is a better bet. Snow Valley knows this, it knows what it is, and it embraces it well. The overall relief is only about 1,000 feet. But the entire left side of the mountain is effectively park terrain (see above with the….is that a pontoon? I never figured it out).
Above that, though, is slide peak which offers slightly steeper, ungroomed terrain. The runs, as you might guess, are relatively short. But, they’re long enough for a small mogul line to set up and to hit one ore two airs to impress the ladies on the chair.
Snow Valley is at its best for the social aspects of skiing. Talking to people in the bars at the base, at the cafe mid-hill, while at the tubing hill at the bottom, or listening to the all-day tunes broadcast by a local radio station…from the deck. Lift tickets are remarkably cheap, too, at $45 for an adult on a weekday.
The spa was one of the more interesting facets of the Lake Arrowhead experience in large part because it was the part I least expected to be interested in as a man. However, their treatments are absurdly broad, very interesting, and happily manly. They offer the standard fare when it comes to spa treatments (manicures, massages, facials, etc.), but you will want to look at some of their other, "alternative" options. The runner of the Spa of the Pines, Monique Michaud, is a Miami transplant and says,
"We like to change it up as much as possible from month-to-month. We like to keep it hip. For a long time, people thought they had to go to L.A. to get the best and newest treatments. That’s changing. Now people in L.A. are coming here."
When the spa opened, they embraced the former culture of the region and used a lot of traditional Paiute and Serrano American Indian healing techniques. Unfortunately, the supplies needed to effect many of these treatments are extremely rare, so some of them are no longer available in their original form. However, the philosophy behind them remains the same, and this is nowhere more apparent than in the "off the beaten path" menu of spa items.
I chose the Dream Insights with Energy Work because I’d heard about treatments like that, but had never experienced one. Nancy asks you to "bring a dream" to the massage, and I chose one that has plagued me for years about this terrifying guy right here. The experience was a little unusual: a combination of counseling and what I would describe as "therapeutic touch," but without any full-pressure, traditional massage. There was one hiccup, when, in explaining my dream, the power went out due to a large amount of snow they’d received over the last week or so. This, obviously, means the boogeyman is real. But, to her credit, Nancy was able to complete the massage without my heart stopping from ice-cold terror. In fact, after it was over, I felt pleasantly woozy (read: high), and Nancy took me through a "grounding exercise" before releasing me back into the wild. Below are four of the more masculine treatments on the alternative menu.
Deep Surrender – by Lucy
This deeper massage focuses on the back, neck and shoulders to relieve the stress and tension that we tend to carry in those areas. The treatment will begin with relaxing Hot Stone therapy to warm the muscle fibers and tissue. This heat helps to prepare tight, sore muscles for using much deeper pressure, myo-fascial release techniques and trigger point therapy. This therapeutic treatment will leave your body feeling rejuvenated and relaxed. It’s 80 minutes for $180.
The WiFi Massage – by Michelle
Can’t get enough of your Blackberry, Mac or iPhone? This massage focuses on areas of the body that are most effected by the technological age that we live in. Your healing journey begins with a cooling compress over your eyes to relieve the strain from your computer screen. Then, your head, neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, and hands will be the focus of this massage. 80 minutes for $190.
Dream Insights with Energy Work – by Nancy
This unique spiritual dream healing session blends dream work with guided imagery. Nancy utilizes energy work with stories, cyrstals and the healing sounds of drumming for the purpose of enhancing your own intuition relating your dream to your life. Your session will provide spiritual responses to your dream which can expand your understanding and connect you more fully to the healing potential of your dream. 80 minutes for $180.
Linda’s Special – by (you guessed it) Linda
A truly reviving experience. Linda’s limited vision is compensated by her amazing therapeutic touch. What her eyes can’t see, her hands can feel. she specializes in therapeutic injuries such as neck, shoulder, lumbar, sciatic nerve, and joint pain. After a short evaluation to determine your individual needs, you will experience modalities such as hot stones, deep tissue, acupressure, moist heat, and moderate stretching. This massage is perfect for those in need of pain management and education on coping with injuries.
Possibly my favorite part of the spa, though, was the men’s waiting room. It’s kind of like that room in "Tin Cup" where he finds the woman crying – a place to relax and decompress after your relaxing, decompressing treatment. There’s a lot of leather, a giant tv, low light…you get the idea.
The pool area, at first, looks like it would be more fun duing the Summer (in which there is an enormous free concert series worthy of another article). There’s an average-size swimming pool and two hot tubs to one side of it. Then, you realize the visceral thrill of competing to see how many rolls one can get in the snow before thinking their heart is going to stop and sprinting back to the hot tub. Also, cocktails (see below), in pool-safe plastic cubs.
In the Summer there are three decks near the pool with grills for use by the lucky renters of the rooms adjacent to them, and directly inside the door is where the spa is located. Which, incidentally, is directly below the…
Restaurant, Bin 189
McLellan put it best when it comes to Bin 189.
"They try to be as cutting edge as possible, but you also have to remember that we have this whole local contingent here. You’ve got to try not to be quite so sophisticated. When they first opened, it was all high-end. Probably the most popular thing here is mountain meat loaf. Mostly when you come to the mountains, what do you want? You want to be able to get great soups, hearty meals like meat loaf or a good steak or something like that."
I’m not going to lie. Lake Arrowhead resort is a little bit of a diamond in the rough. There’s shopping and some decent off-campus restaurants during the day, but things shut down (on weekdays) around 5 or 6. Luckily, Bin 189 (a vintner’s pun on the lodge being located off route 189), more than picks up the slack.
We started with a sweet old fashioned (one of the better I’ve had, even considering whiskey bars in L.A.), and a chamberrytini for the lady, which is exactly what it sounds like (and, I confess, delicious). We ordered a flight of custom whites and to accompany a seafood bisque which was oustanding. And, even for a guy that is the antithesis of a sommelier, the wine complimented the soup well. My guest said it was "smooth and not too crisp; it compliments the soup rather than overpowering it." We also had a very decent tuna tartar to open.
For the main course, we embraced the rugged cuisine suggested by Ms. McLellan, and ordered a marinated pork chop and New York strip. The pork chop was one of more well-seasoned I’ve had, and my guest (who spent a year in France eating pork at least once a week), said it was the best she’d ever had. My steak, conversely, was barely seasoned at all. I ordered it medium rare, and the 12-ounce cut (closer to 15 ounces), was best in the middle. The meat was of a high enough quality that it needed no seasoning, except on the edges where it was cooked more thorougly. There, I only added salt, though, and I have a notoriously unsensitive palate, so it would likely be perfect for the average diner.
The red flight we were given took a shotgun approach to both our dishes. Two of the wines went well with each meat, and a third was a "wild card" and didn’t fit either of our pallettes particularly well. That said, we gave the waitress, Leishell, no direction whatsoever other than "bring us something good." She was nothing but accomodating, and it’s a credit to the restaurant’s cellar, and to her, that she succeeded. And, in any event, the flights are remarkably cheap at only $10 a pop. Had we wanted more, it would’ve been only too easy to order a few more, pick a favorite glass out of each, and keep the taste test train rolling.
Call me romantic, but despite the outstanding cuisine, my favorite part of the restaurant is that the chef, simply referred to as Chef Andrew, was born and raised in the tiny town of Arrowhead. And, all growing up, has wanted no other position than chef at the Lake Arrowhead Lodge.
Made Man Custom Mancation
In our brief time at Lake Arrowhead resort and spa, we noticed a lot. And a lot of what we noticed was how ideal and relaxing a place it would be for a man, a group of men, or a group of non-girly people to go for a few days, drink some good wine, relax in a classy atmosphere, eat some incredible food, and have themselves a legitimate mancation. However, up until this very article, Lake Arrowhead has catered mostly to couples and familes. Don’t get us wrong, those are fine things. But, the true diamond in the rough of this decidedly refined resort, is the amenties that men enjoy while there. So, with the help of Leslie Saint McLellan, an employee there, we’ve developed the Lake Arrowhead Mancation. Inclcuded in it is the following:
· Guest Room
· Filet Mignon dinner plus a Whiskey Flight, 3 shots of different whiskey, Jack Daniels, Bulleit and Crown Royal
· Sports Massage
· Snow Valley Mountain Resort lift ticket
Package for two is $481.00 *
Package for one is $305.00 *
Additional night room only is $129.00 *
* Tax, Service Charge, Parking (reduced to $10.00) and Conservation Fee additional. Package is available Sun-Thurs and is subject availability and black out dates.