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Jackson Hole

Never has heaven made you feel so much like hell. You stand, aching, at the end of another day of overachieving at North America's burliest ski resort. You got up with the Wyoming sunrise and wedged into the day's first tram. All day you bounded through pillows of powder in the Rock Garden, flirted with mineshaft drops, did laps in the Hobacks. Now it's 3 p.m., and you're "cooked," as the locals say.

Not long ago, unless you drove 12 miles to downtown Jackson, the only R&R option at Teton Village was unwinding with a pitcher of beer and chicken wings at the Mangy Moose. Ditto for dining or nightlife. This afternoon, however, you hand your skis to a valet at the Snake River Lodge and head into the Avanyu Spa. After a dip under a heated waterfall you move on to a massage with warm river stones and then to the Swiss shower, where 36 nozzles pummel your aches into a toasty glow. Next stop: dinner at the Four Seasons Resort, where none of the courses, it's safe money, will come with a cup of ranch dressing.

This is the Jackson Hole of the new millennium. The place that's long cultivated a rawhide mystique has developed a softer, swankier side (picture Tommy Moe in a $190 detoxifying seaweed body mask). Since 1996, more than $300 million has been spent to transform once-tiny Teton Village into a grand resort at the foot of Rendezvous Mountain. Seven posh new hotels, condominiums and townhome projects have doubled the number of beds to 3,200 (not counting nearly 100 cabins, homes and townhomes recently built just beyond the village boundary). Five new restaurants are slated to open by December, along with two full-service spas.

The mountain's owners, meanwhile, have spent $37 million in recent years installing the Bridger Gondola and four other lifts, expanding snowmaking and creating children's programs. The goal? Expand Jackson Hole's appeal beyond its traditional devotees, the testosterone-drenched young males with more lint than dollars in their pockets.

"Today's demographics show that these hardcore skiers are still there, but they're older and wealthier," says Rob DesLauriers, longtime professional skier and developer of the new Teton Mountain Lodge, an 85-unit condo-hotel that?s a long snowball's throw from the tram station. "I'll go frickin' hardcore from buzzer to buzzer, but when I come back to the lodge, why not be pampered with nothing but nice? I want a hot tub." The new Jackson Hole means fans "want to come back with their families and bring their friends," says DesLauriers. Skiers who've been hesitant to visit Jackson because of its reputation as a punishing mountain with few slopeside amenities should rethink their vacation strategies.

If you haven't visited Teton Village in a while, prepare not to recognize the place. The resort's signature clock tower still stands, but much of the ersatz alpine architecture is gone, replaced by six-story piles of timber and stone. The design-some call it "parkitecture"-is meant to evoke the rustic tradition of National Park architecture. But make no mistake: This is more penthouse than bunkhouse.

No need to worry about catching a chill after a plunge in the Four Seasons Resort's heated outdoor pool-an attendant stands ready to wrap you in a warmed towel next to the outdoor fire. Just don't forget your appointment with the bootfitter, who's waiting in your room with several demo models. You can also rent skis online before you arrive. Buy into the 40-unit, fractional-ownership "residence club" at the 124-room hotel, which opens in December, and the staff will pack the personal effects in your condo when you leave, but not before photographing the rooms so they can replace the items before you return.

Cleopatra swore by milk-whey baths, which are offered in the 17,000-square-foot Avanyu Spa, but you can bet she didn't have a hydrotherapy tub in which to soak. Vail Resorts purchased a controlling interest in the 88-room Snake River Lodge two yearss ago, then revamped it and added the large spa.

One look around neighboring Teton Mountain Lodge and you know that DesLauriers used his experience as a world ski traveler to accouter the place. Present are all the luxuries skiers crave, including in-room boot dryers, coffee makers and double showerheads.

Even the Inn at Jackson Hole-a Best Western-now boasts Vertical!, a sleekly urban-style restaurant with a two-story wine tower and a menu with artisan cheeses from boutique farms like California's Cowgirl Creamery.

Why this change from spurs to spas, and so quickly? When the Kemmerer family bought the resort in 1992, Teton County officials concerned about willy-nilly growth stopped any village redevelopment until they saw and signed off on a coherent plan. That plan, and another for the Forest Service, were approved in 1996. The unmistakably high-end flavor of the changes reflects the county's sky-high land prices, the resort's desire to lure older and wealthier skiers in their vacation-home-buying prime, and the need to lure guests year-round.

The spate of changes hasn't thrilled all the locals, some of whom have taken to calling their home "Jackson, California." One headline writer dubbed the revamped village "the mild, mild West." But Jerry Blann, president of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, says just because you can now ski from Corbet's Couloir to the clubhouse doesn't mean his hill can't dish out the thrills.

"You can take a little bit of the rough edge off with the base area and some of the amenities," says Blann, "but the mountain doesn't change."

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