With a lush backdrop of evergreen trees and sparkling rivers, it’s no wonder that the Pacific Northwest’s La Rive Spa, DAYSPA’s first-ever cover contest winner, gleans inspiration from its lush surroundings. The stunning oasis is located in Spokane, Washington, a city that long ago functioned as a fur trading center and whose name translates to “children of the sun” in the Native American dialect of Salishan.
Today, Spokane’s clean air, crisp climate and outdoor adventure opportunities attract residents and visitors alike. And it’s here that the Kalispel Tribe built the Northern Quest Resort & Casino, in which La Rive is housed, in 2000. Reconnection with nature and oneself is at the heart of La Rive’s mission, which is supported by its unique interior design, nurturing staff philosophy and indigenous treatment offerings. —By Andrea Renskoff
Named for the French word for river, La Rive’s design was inspired by the Pend Oreille river, which runs through the Kalispel reservation 60 miles north of the resort. Its floor plan features meandering hallways whose flow mimics the natural curves of a river. Indeed, there isn’t a straight line to be found within La Rive’s interior.
All fabrics and linens, from wall coverings to towels, feature the soft green, blue and brown hues of the earth. Throughout the spa, artwork references the bluish purple camas flower, a plant that has historically helped members of the Kalispel tribe thrive. “During times when there was no other food, the root was dried and eaten,” explains spa director Yvonne Smith, a former area day spa owner.
Among the most aesthetically dramatic areas of the spa is the Healing Waters Coed Relaxation Lounge, where a curved wall features three waterfalls cascading into a whirlpool simulating the run-off of a river. Floors are finished in river rock, and soft ground lighting alternately mimics sunrise and sunset, the prime moments of day for relaxation and reconnection. Dark, plush lounge chairs and a golden ceiling complete this soothing retreat.
Rich metal, an element long associated with natural health, can be found throughout La Rive’s lounges and treatment rooms. The men’s and women’s locker rooms also make generous use of peaceful browns and greens, and each contains a unique experiential shower, wherein a computer screen allows guests to choose from an array of water experiences. Various jets, lights and music all coordinate to provide a tropical storm complete with thunder and lightening, for example, or an Arctic blast.
For indigenous tribes of Spokane, the concept of “spa,” although not referred to as such, carries healing and spiritual history. “Purification is a central part of the Native American culture,” says Smith, noting the tradition of sweat lodges and the long-ascribed-to rejuvenating powers of water. “And the Kalispel Tribe believes that healthy and active lifestyles bring long and prosperous lives.” Accordingly, La Rive’s menu offers treatments adopted from Spokane’s native tribal culture, as well as classic European techniques.
The luxurious Camas Duet Suite is put to grand use for the Couple’s Loving Retreat (90-120 min./$290-$390), which begins with a 30-minute, candlelit aromatherapy soak in a stainless steel tub, followed by a rinse in a six-jet oversized shower before guests settle in for side-by-side massages. Recipients often opt to add on a foot soak in one of the suite’s overstuffed chairs, performed while they enjoy a mimosa or glass of wine. Gourmet food can be ordered from a full menu serving the adjacent Masselow’s, Spokane’s only AAA four-diamond restaurant. “We are so fortunate to be working with food service of this level and integrity,” says Smith. “Everything is prepared here on the property. They even bake their own crackers.”
Top-quality food has also helped La Rive attract more male clients. Whereas not long ago, 90% of guests were female, Smith now estimates her clientele to hover at a 75/25 percentage ratio. “Our male guests really appreciate that they can order ‘boy food’ like sliders and beer,” she says. “We’ve also created a men’s area in the salon featuring a sleek barbershop feel and flat-screen TVs.” Male guests often go for the deep-cleansing Men’s Pure Hydration Facial (60 min./$110), which includes a neck -and-shoulder massage, or the popular Golfers Performance Massage (60-90 min./$115-$170).
Both sexes are wild about the Pend Oreille River Stone Massage (60-90 min./$115-170), which uses warmed stones from the actual river along with cedarwood oil to help soften muscle tension and release blocked energy. The popular Purification Ritual (90 min./$185), inspired by Native American traditions, uses a woven-fiber cloth to exfoliate the skin. The body is then covered in red mud to draw out impurities. After a rinse, juniper sage oil is employed for massage.
Under Smith’s direction, the spa took a bold step and underwent a total re-branding in March of this year. First up was a name change, from the former moniker of “Currents.” Smith felt this name hedged a disconnect from the spa’s intention of tranquil design and hospitality. “It was meant to represent the idea of currents in a river, but could be misinterpreted for ‘trendy’ or a reference to electricity,” she says. “It just didn’t capture the feeling of comfort and wellness of the spa.”
With a new name and fresh logo and marketing materials, La Rive relaunched with a huge open house called “Love. Life. Spa!” The event drew 400 local guests to wine and dine, sample product from five vendors, enjoy mini-services and book discounted treatments. “We shook a lot of hands and sold a lot of product,” Smith reports.
Free valet parking is just one of the perks that both local and resort guests enjoy, all of whom are also granted full-day use of the hotel pool and fitness facilities. La Rive’s clientele averages 60% resort guests, 40% locals. While the spa does advertise, its most effective marketing stems from word of mouth. “Our spa sets itself apart because of how it feels. When you come here, you want to come back,” Smith opines. It also helps that the resort carries name recognition. “The Kalispel Tribe is prominent in the area,” Smith explains. “Members participate widely in community outreach, support social groups and make charitable donations, particularly to organizations involving health care and those benefiting children.”
Industry veteran Smith is quick to note that in our world of high-tech social media, people “really respond to human connection. The touch of even a little complimentary hand treatment makes a huge impression.” E-blasts, Facebook and Twitter have done their part to foster connection, but La Rive’s staff still sends handwritten thank-you notes to all guests. And that desire for human touch also translates to more guests gathering at the spa to celebrate special occasions, or simply to seek respite from everyday concerns. “We see so many couples, friends and families coming to reconnect,” Smith reports.
Even more alluring than the beauty of the space may be the warmth and care exhibited by La Rive’s staff. Because the Kalispel Tribe is seen as a desirable employer, offering great working conditions and benefits, an opening at the spa will typically garner 100 applications. In addition to professional experience, Smith seeks people who are involved in community outreach. And the application process is rigorous. Prospects undergo a series of interviews and then a practical evaluation of everything from initial greeting to treatment finish. “We want to see how comfortable therapists will make guests feel,” Smith explains. “In hiring, there’s a large subjective component; we want to know that they’re going to fit in.”
Smith credits much of the spa’s success to its relationship with product vendors. “They really train on product knowledge,” she says. “When the staff is enthusiastic, it’s easy to sell.” Smith, who is constantly on the lookout for new and different products, considers retail of utmost importance, and not just to the spa’s bottom line. “It allows the guest to continue the wellness experience at home,” she explains.
La Rive’s most recent retail hit? Plush bathrobes. Because the resort has an on-site embroidery service, personalized robes can be pre-ordered and made ready for guests on arrival. The spa is also developing a private-label product line that will make use of healing indigenous plants. And the spa’s nail station is being completely revamped. While its former design featured luxe, European-style banquette seating, Smith says that was the wrong ergonomic choice, for both technicians and guests. “Our new design allows for chair movement, and there are foot rests for the technicians.”
All of La Rive’s therapists are extensively cross-trained and encouraged to receive treatments. Training is never complete, and the Kalispel Tribe is very generous in reimbursement for continuing education. “We are extremely grateful to the tribe for their investment in the spa,” says Smith.
By moving forward while preserving the heritage of the past, La Rive has experienced growth rather than downturn in these tough economic times. “We are interdependent with the tribe, our vendors, our employees and our guests,” Smith offers. “We work beautifully together.”
La Rive Spa
Open since: January 2010
Size: 14,000 square feet
Facilities: 6 massage rooms including wet room and duet suite; 2 esthetics rooms; 4 mani/pedi stations; 4 hair stations and separate men’s salon area; coed relaxation lounge with whirlpool and cedar warming rooms; his-and-hers locker rooms and lounges; retail area
Staff: Spa director, manager, services supervisor, salon and retail supervisor, 10 massage therapists, 4 estheticians, 6 attendants, 4 concierge, 5 hair designers/nail technicians
Most Popular Treatments: Pend Oreille River Stone Massage, Purification Ritual, Natural Oxygen Facelift (90 min./$175)
Product Lines: Ancient Secrets, Comfort Zone, CND, Davines, Farm House Fresh, Intraceuticals, Jane Iredale, Moroccan Oil, SpaRitual, Tara Spa Therapy
Average Client Visits Per Month: 850-950
Andrea Renskoff is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.