mountain retreat

Mountain retreat star: Above-ground swim spa

Boulder, Colorado, consistently ranks as one of the best places to live in the United States — and for many reasons. The city is nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and it is known for its sunny days, beautiful scenery, and active lifestyle. Residents enjoy easy access to trails and the opportunity to bike, hike, climb, ski, and more.

But for professional athletes, it’s more than a place to live and play. It’s a place to train. From the elevation to surprisingly great weather, Boulder draws some of the best athletes across all sports.

Athletes like Mirinda Carfrae and Tim O’Donnell. 

The professional triathletes have called the mountain city home for more than 10 years. With the foothills in their backyard, the couple can walk out their door to run, bike … and swim.

Building their house on a double lot, Carfrae and O’Donnell were able to install a Master Spas swim spa and create a true mountain retreat.

above ground swim spa
The most popular way to install a swim spa is above ground. But you can use hardscaping, decking, and more to create a custom look that fits your style.

Above ground swim spa ideas for backyard 

The Boulder home of Carfrae and O’Donnell is a modern take on the farmhouse style. It features white siding, black-framed windows, and rustic wood columns. There’s a second-floor porch with a black railing. A covered patio offers a splendid view of the mountains. 

But before 2020, the backyard had yet to reach its potential. There was a custom fire pit that offered plenty of space for outdoor entertaining. The rolling green lawn provided space for their growing family.

A new partnership with Master Spas, though, was just the encouragement the couple needed to transform their space into a true mountain retreat. Working with local landscapes and contractors, the yard now features an 18-foot swim spa, lush landscaping, and hardscaping that blends into the natural surroundings.

The H2X Challenger 18D Pro by Master Spas did more than upgrade their backyard — it upgraded their home training options. They can swim, recover, and relax without leaving home. The swim spa features an airless jet system for stationary swimming, as well as hot tub seats for relaxation. 

mountain retreat landscaping
This mountain retreat features a variety of thoughtful landscaping choices, which complement the surrounding views.

Landscaping a Boulder mountain retreat

Mirinda Carfrae and Tim O’Donnell wanted to make the most of their outdoor living space. When it came to designing the backyard around the H2X Challenger swim spa, one of the goals was to integrate it into the overall design.

One of the main design considerations was how to make the sloped backyard work to their advantage. A thoughtful design, along with a custom deck, helped create an environment ideal for training, entertaining, and family fun. 

Custom deck and spa steps

A deck can help a homeowner create a more comfortable transition from the yard to the swim spa. For Carfrae and O’Donnell, the custom composite deck turns the swim spa into an intentional design feature. 

With the edge of the swim spa about 24 inches above the platform, the swim spa looks as if it is partially in-ground. The space allows for easy entry into and exit from the water. In addition, there is space for drying off, patio furniture, and entertaining. 

But the designers had something more in mind when they built the custom composite deck next to the swim spa.

Included in the deck design are trap doors and a crawl space, which are key features for the couple as swim spa owners. The doors provide access to the components of the spa in the event that it needs service. As for the crawl space, it provides access to the equipment and also serves as a storage space — perfect for pool floats, exercise equipment, and the spa vacuum.

Master Spas recommends that there be 3 feet of access on all sides of the spa. 

above ground swim spa
This boulder backyard features a variety of hardscaping, from oversized concrete pavers to natural rock. Not only does the design complement the homeowners’ style but helps with drainage.

Mountain retreat hardscaping

Incorporating hardscaping into your backyard design can add texture, layers, and diversity to the space. 

But for Carfrae and O’Donnell, the paths of river rock and larger boulders were more than just decorative. They helped create a functional outdoor living space on the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The rock defines the swim spa area, as well as areas of the landscape.

In addition, the design allows water to properly drain from the backyard, preventing erosion. It’s a problem that many homeowners encounter but especially so for those who live where water can run off the mountains.

The strategically placed stone helps keep the ground intact while protecting the swim spa equipment.


Often considered part of the hardscaping, a well-designed walkway will take your backyard design in the right direction. And when it comes to a backyard with a swim spa, a walkway creates an invitation to take a dip in the spa.

There are myriad path designs for your backyard — mulch, pavers, stepping stones, flagstone, stamped concrete, and more. Carfrae and O’Donnell opted for a modern design, which features oversized concrete pavers and pea gravel. Not only is it beautiful but it’s a low-maintenance option for a busy family.

Colorado landscaping ideas
The backyard of this mountain retreat features low-maintenance perennials such as lavender and black-eyed susans.


Landscaping is a dynamic way to integrate a swim spa into your outdoor space. Landscape beds can help soften the line between a concrete patio or composite deck and the lawn. The design team chose a variety of ornamental grasses, bushes, and perennials, including lavender Black-Eyed Susans. Trees were planted along the fence line, too. In the future, they will provide much-appreciated shade on a sunny Boulder afternoon.

Built-in fire pit

A stand-out feature before the swim spa installation, the backyard also has a built-in fire pit. The design team thoughtfully integrated the fire pit into the overall swim spa backyard design. A concrete patio was added to expand the entertaining space, and comfortable outdoor furniture offers space to relax.

The fire pit and swim spa allow the family to use the backyard year-round, even on a snowy Colorado day. The swim spa is fully insulated and has a built-in heater, keeping the water temperature comfortable. 

The family typically keeps the water in the upper 90s in the winter for therapy and relaxation. In the summer, the water temperature is lower for training and family fun.

above ground swim spa ideas
A Master Spas swim spa can help you create a backyard retreat, whether you live in the foothills of the Rockies or in the plains of the Midwest.

How to buy a swim spa

Do you want to be able to swim, exercise, and relax at home? Having a Master Spas swim spa allows you to swim on your schedule while adding a fun factor to your backyard. You can click here to find out more about the benefits of hydrotherapy and relaxing in a hot tub. Or, contact your local Master Spas retailer to learn more about swim spa ownership. Wondering how much a swim spa costs? You can request a quote here.