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The Philadelphia Inquirer

It's not a spa, it's a teen 'summer program'

Canyon Branch

An offshoot of the famed Canyon Ranch resort lures wealthy young campers to Bryn Mawr. It's not all pedicures and pampering.


Whatever you do, do not call this a spa camp.

It makes the people at the Julian Krinsky Canyon Ranch Young Adult Summer Program tense.

Frankly, they are sick and tired of folks focusing strictly on the manicures, pedicures, facials and massages that the 13-to-17-year olds get as part of their stay at this $2990-for-two-weeks camp on the campus of Bryn Mawr College.

"We offer 150 different classes," says owner Tina Krinsky, sipping orange juice on the canopied slate veranda of the Wyndham Dining Room, perfect for a wedding reception, where the students takes their meals.

"We teach about nutrition and exercise. Mind, body, spirit," Krinsky says. "It's not just about pampering."

Here she stresses, once again, that the one-on-one life coach sessions, the personal trainers, the reflexology and private beauty treatments are simply perks. And the campers don't indulge in them every day. Only three times a week.

It is 8:15 in the morning, breakfast time, and the campers (70 percent of them are girls) arrive wearing layered tank tops and shorts, or sweat pants. On their feet they've got either $200 sneakers or $5 flip-flops(French manicured toenails going al fresco). Silver hoops dangle from some of their ears, gold and diamond pendants from the necks of others. Only a few have bothered to slap on makeup.

This is the only summer camp in the world that carries the Canyon Ranch brand name, which has become synonymous with top-shelf luxury. Which is why the teen at the CR program don't eat any of their meals at the regular college campus cafeteria. Instead, nutritionists and chefs from the Canyon Ranch resorts in Arizona and Massachusetts come here to create the camp's menus and train the cooks who work for this private dining room.

"We're pretty vigilant about that," says Morey Brown, program director for the Canyon Ranch company, who flies out from Arizona regularly to keep an eye on things.

There are crisp white tablecloths and vases of fresh flowers on the campers' tables, and there's a buffet offering the 74 current campers cheese omelets, whole-grain rolls, juices, organic yogurt, fresh fruit and high-fiber cereals.

Some help themselves to two or three fully loaded plates. Some take just a carton of milk and a piece of toast. Sodas - diet or regular - are not allowed, so plain coffee(no lattes or cappuccino, sorry!) must make do.

At this camp, the student-to-staff ratio is two-to-one, and each dorm room is equipped with a window-unit air-conditioner (they're pulled out before the Bryn Mawr students return for classes). The daily schedule includes classes in golf, tennis, yoga, Pilates, journaling, fashion design, cooking, spirituality, biofeedback, cardio kick boxing, exercise ball aerobics, hypnotherapy and meditation.

As if that weren't enough, there are also evening "field trips" to see stars such as Pete Sampras or Venus Williams play World Team Tennis; to a local movie theater that's rented out especially for them once a week; and, of course, to the King of Prussia mall.

After breakfast, the campers walk across campus to a row of four neo-Victorian buildings that sit on a ridge overlooking the sports fields. As they enter the luxe rooms (high-gloss hardwood floors, flat-screen plasma TV in the art room, bowls of fresh fruit every-where) they will not venture back into the heat until lunch. Unless they are playing golf, tennis or practicing taichi, these campers do their exercising in air-conditioning.

These are not insecure fat kids in need of serious trimming. Lots of them play sports back at their schools, particularly tennis and golf. No, these are the real-life versions of the actors you see on shows like The O.C. and Laguna Beach - glossy high schoolers enjoying their elevated social stations.

"I know what it sounds like," says 15-year-old Jenny Findel of Westchester County, N.Y. "You say Canyon Ranch and you feel like you have to explain yourself, to tell people it's not superficial."

But, Findel says, she's actually learning something. In fact, she just left a class called "Taste the Difference," where the instructor passed around unhealthful and healthful versions of tortilla chips, chocolate, granola bars, candy and cheese while discussing the dangers of high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and hydrogenated oils.

The verdict? Doritos are much tastier than the healthful chips. Real cheddar - yes! Non-fat-individually-wrapped-American-cheese slices? Nasty. And as for the chocolate - dark is healthier than milk, but who really cares?

Before lunch the kids gather for a quick meeting with their handlers. "Announcements!" fitness director Beth Wallace shouts. "There will be no self-defense class this afternoon. In stead, there's a makeup demonstration at 1:30."

The CR program attracts teenagers from as far away as Paris, who stay anywhere from two to six weeks at a cost that can quickly reach nearly $9000.

Expensive? You bet. But Krinsky likes to point out that tuition at other luxury summer camps, such as Sail Caribbean ($3600 for 14 days) and Action Quest ($3300 for 17 days), are plenty steep too.

"We like to think of ourselves as the Four Seasons of camping, instead of the Holiday Inn," she says.

This year, 15-year-old Marley Spector, who lives on Long Island, enrolled for four weeks. "But next year I think I'm going to stay all six weeks," she says. "I'm just comfortable here, you know?"

"I'm just not a traditional camp person," adds Allison Klein, 16, from Manhattan, as she flips her hair over her shoulder. "I've gotten so much better at my golf here. And the guy who does the biofeedback thing. He attached this sensor to my finger and ear and gave me strategies for staying calm during, like testing. He showed me breathing and things to do before the SAT and everything."

Lunch - whole wheat cheese enchiladas, black bean soup, organic salad bar, grilled asparagus, fresh fruit, turkey, organic peanut butter and whole grain chocolate-chip cookies - goes fast.

At 1 p.m., classes resume. There's the makeup demo, spinning, indoor rock climbing and meditation. Plus a two-hour sushi-making class, where seven girls in Canyon Ranch aprons are cutting vegetables, steaming rice, and learning how to use measuring spoons.

"This whole teaspoon, tablespoon thing - not working for me!" groans 14-year-old Katie Goldman of Long Island, as she attempts to mix a vinegar souse. Taking a quick break, she says she is learning more "take-home skills" here that she might at another camp.

"At regular camp, you learn how to be in the woods. How's that going to help you?" she says. "After this camp, I'll go home and take yoga and Pilates."

OK, but honestly. Aren't the massages and the facials, the mani's and the pedi's, part of the draw?

"Oh, we love them," Spector says. "There're like our rewards for all our hard work."

Which explains why they're booked solid, here at the camp that's not a spa.

Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer - August 1, 2006