Wyomings Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has a reputation. Iconic ski guidebook author Charles Leocha described it this way: If youre like many skiers and riders arriving in Jackson Hole, your very bumpy plane landing is just a precursor to the adventure waiting for you on the mountain.

Despite that fair warning, for first-time visitors, the abrupt ascent of the mountains flanking the hole for which the area was named can come as a shock.

Were not talking about hotels tucked into the base of a ski slope here but rather properties dwarfed by peaks that simply rise abruptly from the flatlands around them.

For an enthusiastic skier whose abilities have never quite caught up with her love of the sport, the spectacle was daunting.

You ski; Ill spend the weekend in the spa, I told my companion, somewhat cravenly, as we checked into the Snake River Lodge, at the base of the mountain in Teton Village.

The lodge is managed by RockResorts, despite having been sold by parent company Vail Resorts to Chicago investment firm Lodging Capital Partners last month.

Although Snake River Lodge lacks the cathedral-ceiling great room typically found in an upscale Rocky Mountains resort ski hotel, its public rooms are inviting enough to keep visitors indoors for at least part of their stay.

From massive chandeliers made of antlers to Frederic Remington-style sculptures and bears carved into unexpected places in the woodwork, the lodge decor exudes cowboy chic.

Fringed leather chairs flank one of several fireplaces that warm the lobby area, and bistro tables and chairs line up in front of another. All were filled with people in either ski gear or casual wear enjoying cocktails, reading books or working on laptops in obvious comfort.

Casual yet upscale

As we waited by the tiny, somewhat rickety lodge elevator to get to our fourth-floor digs, a group of guests trooped by wearing spa robes and flip-flops.

Were casual here, our bellman explained, adding we should feel free to wander the property in pajamas if so inclined.

The lodges 88 rooms and 44 suites feature beds puffy with goose-down comforters, in-room fireplaces -- depending on room category -- and bathrooms with granite countertops.

Ours also had a balcony with views of horses and dogsleds, Snake River Lodge at Jackson Hole won AAA Four Diamond status for the third year in a row last month.but prospective guests should be aware that rooms on the uphill side of the property no longer offer views of the pristine mountains -- but rather of new competitor the Four Seasons Jackson Hole, which opened in 2003.

Of course, nothing says upscale like a full-service spa, and here the Snake River Lodge goes all out, with the largest such facility in all Wyoming, the five-story, 17,000-square-foot Avanyu Spa.

Avanyu features a grotto-like, free-form hot tub under a waterfall; a heated indoor/outdoor pool; and the requisite sauna and steam room on the main floor.

Male and female clients have their own floors -- with more hot tubs and such -- and the remaining two levels house gym equipment and treatment rooms.

Avanyus treatments range from gentle to heavy-duty, as witnessed by names such as Fields of Wildflowers and Rolling Thunder.

Presented with the options, I made the inspired choice of the Avanyu River Stone Massage, a soothing treatment that combines the use of hot and cold stones and aromatherapy oils. Recipients can choose 25, 50 or 80 minutes, priced from $80 to $190.

On the menu

Just as youd expect in the Wild West, the menu at the lodges GameFish restaurant includes plenty of high-protein, on-the-range fare such as smoked game and locally raised Angus steaks -- served up with a serious wine list.

The breakfast buffet, meanwhile, offers game sausage, grits and house-cured salmon, alongside the more traditional pancakes, egg dishes and fresh fruit.

A highlight of the visit was the Solitude Cabin Dinner Sleigh Ride. Guests assemble at the base area at an appointed hour and then bundle into sleighs drawn by a team of Belgian draft horses.

They then ride up the mountain to a tiny cabin for a four-course meal served with a full bar, accompanied by live folk music. Prices are $66.95 for adults and $36.95 for kids 10 and under.

The real draw of Jackson Hole in winter is, of course, the menu of on-snow activities, ranging from dogsledding and guided snowmobiling to some of the best skiing and snowboarding.

True to its reputation, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort doesnt offer a lot of terrain for beginners, although the Teewinot Quad and the Eagles Rest lifts serve a selection of green trails.

But intermediates will find a wide trail network. In fact, there is so much intermediate, or blue terrain, that the mountain divides them into two categories -- blue and dotted blue -- the latter presenting more challenge.

The reason for the distinction is that the plentiful expert black diamond terrain is serious stuff, with steep pitches and chutes that resort staff prefer to set aside for those who can handle it.

Snake River Lodges televised mountain report described one such run like this: Advanced intermediates may, under certain conditions, make it down. Take it as a promise or a warning. For us, it was enough said.

To contact reporter Felicity Long, send e-mail to [email protected].

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