The Last Resort? Canyon Ranch Succumbs to Botox


“We’re not adding cosmetic procedures, we’re adding confidence procedures,” Ms. Docherty said at the Lenox location, a Gilded Age mansion that has undergone a $10 million renovation. “Our product is personal, precise and science based.”

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The Canyon Ranch C.E.O., Susan Docherty.

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Lauren Lancaster for The New York Times

She would like to open Canyon Ranches in Florida and California to attract tourists from South America and Asia. Ms. Docherty also wants to extend the brand to the “continuing care retirement community” market, which includes assisted living: a growth business, to be sure.

“There are a lot of boomers who have not taken very good care of themselves,” she said.

During its peak seasons (summer in Lenox and winter in Tucson), Canyon Ranch charges over $1,000 per night, which includes tasty but spartan food and group fitness classes. The resort has long offered nutritional counseling and services like facials for an extra fee, but Ms. Docherty is adding pricey new services, like genetic testing for $299, and is pushing a doctor-monitored all night sleep study, or polysomnography, for $2,950.

“Sleep is sexy right now, it is totally sexy,” she said.

Kurt Cobain Did Pilates There

Mr. Zuckerman had been an accountant in New Jersey and moved his pregnant wife and young child in 1958 to the desert town of Tucson, where he became a real estate developer. As he approached his 40th birthday in 1968, a doctor told him that his yo-yo dieting was going to kill him. He needed to lose 30 to 40 pounds for good.

He went to Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico, but was the only male guest there and left after a self-conscious two days.

Ten years later, after his father died, Mr. Zuckerman again decided to confront his health. He went to the Oaks at Ojai, in California, and at last began to lose the weight. He returned home thinking about how to focus fully on his new commitment to health and fitness.

Two weeks after returning, he and his wife bought a 42-acre dude ranch in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains of Arizona for $714,000. He hired Karma Kientzler, the woman at the Oaks at Ojai who had helped him to find a fitness program (then a somewhat novel concept) feasible for a middle-aged man with a history of asthma.

Ms. Kientzler moved with her two young children to Tucson and began to imagine what a day at Canyon Ranch might be like. “I wanted the morning to start out with stretch for men and women, I wanted aquatics, I wanted aerobics,” she said by phone recently, as she readied herself to head to Canyon Ranch, where she still works.

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A climbing session.

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Lauren Lancaster for The New York Times

The Zuckermans put mirrors up around a clubhouse they owned near the Canyon Ranch property and let Ms. Kientzler use it as a studio to train instructors. “Tucson was so small then, I had to go to Phoenix to buy the kind of record player I needed,” she said.

There was a lot of improvisation in the early days. Mr. Zuckerman met a woman who had moved from New York to Tucson because of her arthritis. “Phyllis Hochman walks in,” Mr. Zuckerman recalled, “and she said, ‘I’d like to be your trail guide.’ I said, ‘What’s a trail guide?’”

“To be in Tucson and not to hike is to be in Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower,” Ms. Hochman told him.

In the 1980s, Mr. Zuckerman decided he wanted to offer yoga but couldn’t find any instructors in town. “The only place I finally found yoga teachers was west of Tucson, there was a seminary or sanctuary or something,” he said. “These men and women came to the Ranch in white robes and taught yoga. I got letters and phone calls from guests saying, ‘Are you turning this place into a cult?’”

Destination health spas had been a part of American culture (the Golden Door, Cal-a-Vie), but Canyon Ranch’s focus on a mind-body-spirit approach to weight loss, with exercise and small portions punctuated by indulgences like massage and body treatments, was seized on by high-profile figures, including Richard Simmons and Oprah.

As Jane Fonda brought aerobics to the VCR and Olivia Newton-John brought headbanded leotard fashion to the street, Canyon Ranch brought diet and exercise to the vacation.

In Vail, Colo., a few years after Canyon Ranch opened, Ms. Kientzler met a man named Ron Fletcher, a former Martha Graham dancer who was teaching a strengthening movement program that he had studied for years in New York at the physical therapy studio owned by Joseph and Clara Pilates.

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An exercise class in the indoor swimming pool.

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Lauren Lancaster for The New York Times

Ms. Kientzler returned twice a year to Vail to study Pilates with Mr. Fletcher and began to offer it in the early 1990s at Canyon Ranch as part of its “Emotion in Motion” classes. She hired John White, another Martha Graham dancer, who had come to Tucson after visiting a friend there. “I thought I was moving to the middle of nowhere, and then I’m teaching Pilates to people like Elaine May, George C. Scott, Anne Bancroft and Kurt Cobain,” Mr. White said.

Celebrities, upper-middle-class suburbanites and rich vacationers from around the country (and beyond) flocked to Canyon Ranch to jump-start health and weight loss. In 1989, the company opened the outpost in Lenox.

Leaning Las Vegas

Over the next two decades, the company expanded and contracted like some of its clients’ waistlines.

Canyon Ranch developed luxury properties, like 100 homes on land adjacent to the retreat in Tucson. The company joined forces with Celebrity Cruises and now operates spas on 20 cruise ships. And it built a 134,000-square-foot day spa that connects the Venetian and Palazzo Resorts on the Strip in Las Vegas.

There have been failures, too. Canyon Ranch operated a hotel in Miami Beach that was financed in part by Lehman Brothers and opened in September 2008, a few months before Lehman went bankrupt. (The hotel was sold and is now the Carillon.) The company opened a location in Kaplankaya, Turkey, in 2016, and pulled out of the management agreement less than a year later, after an attempted coup and terrorism hurt European tourism to the Turkish Riviera.

One of Ms. Docherty’s big ventures is the development of 19 luxury apartments attached to the Lenox resort, resplendent with white marble and costing in the millions. Eleven units remain on the market.

“I think people are waiting to see if Canyon Ranch is going to change,” said Mr. Zuckerman, who was supportive of the project.

By 2014, when he was well into his 80s, he sold a majority interest in Canyon Ranch to Mr. Goff’s Crescent Real Estate Holdings. Mr. Goff hired Ms. Docherty as Canyon Ranch’s first corporate C.E.O. in 2015. Earlier this year, Mr. Zuckerman sold his remaining interest to Crescent and retired, though he and his wife still live in a house on the Canyon Ranch grounds in Tucson, and he still works out almost daily.

Many of the concepts Mr. Zuckerman championed have become part of Americans’ everyday lives. Boutique fitness studios and day spas are now in strip malls around the country. Being able to spend extended time in a public setting wearing workout leggings is no longer a special thrill. Whole Foods and other distributors have made organic food and juice bars mainstream.

A brand that was ahead on all of this now has to fight for relevance. “Canyon Ranch caters to an elite demographic that is older, white and wealthy, and it hasn’t adapted to the notion that wellness is no longer something you do for a weekend or a week when you need an intervention,” said Jason Wachob, the founder and C.E.O. of MindBodyGreen, a wellness-focused media company aimed at millennials. “That is so out of touch.”

But the loyalty of aging baby boomers is a considerable asset. Ms. Docherty is trying to bring energy and attract new customers to an enterprise that gets more than half of its business (58 percent in Tucson, 55 percent in Lenox) from repeat guests.

Nili Cohen, 73, from Fort Lee, N.J., is one of them, first vacationing at the resort in Lenox about 25 years ago. This October she visited for the 110th time.

Ms. Cohen likes to start her days at Canyon Ranch on the group walk at 7 a.m., then eats a small breakfast, does a 9 a.m. stretch class and then plays tennis for a few hours. She often caps off the day with a 4 p.m. “muscle melt massage,” followed by a meditation session and perhaps a facial. She sees on-staff doctors there to monitor her cholesterol.

Thus far, she has loved the changes implemented by Ms. Docherty and her team. The food is better, Ms. Cohen said, and the gym equipment is more modern.

But she doesn’t like Botox, even as she understands why Canyon Ranch is starting to offer it. “They have to be with the times,” Ms. Cohen said.

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