Driving out from Minneapolis, in seemingly no time at all, one arrives at the Afton Alps Golf Course. The rolling terrain continues as you follow the signs for the ski area, but give no hint of what is to come. The first entry is for parking near the Crest Mountain Grill, the new location of the Ski Patrol and access to several lifts.
Continuing on, the road dead-ends into the maintenance area, but a left turn starts your descent. A steep grade gives a hint as to what awaits you for skiing, confirmed as the first slope appears next to the road. This descent into a valley is both surprising and picturesque, giving the feel of a European resort tucked into the Midwest.
Hills rise on either side, though the skiable terrain all lies to the right. A parking lot will give you access to the main base area and the Alps Chalet, but the road continues around and onward, towards the new “Landing Zone” Terrain Park Village featuring a new Terrain Park by Snow Park Technologies. The road ends at The Meadows, yet another area to rent equipment, attend ski school, buy lift tickets, or just access the slopes.
In all, Afton Alps has 3 such full-service areas, definitely unique in the Midwest skiing pantheon. With nearly 300 skiable acres, 50 trails, 18 lifts and four terrain parks, there is enough terrain to challenge experts to beginners, day or night. It is almost overwhelming to check out the map and try to figure out where you want to hit first. Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced Terrain is intertwined throughout the resort, allowing skiers of varying skills to get down to the same lift along different routes.
Vail Resorts recently purchased Afton Alps, and brouhght along some cash to upgrade, improve, or create facilities as needed. Beyond the aforementioned Terrain Park Village, Vail spent money on improved Snowmaking Capabilities, a new Guest Services Facility, and a new Lift Ticketing and Scanning System. The latter allows for easy onboarding at the lifts, and one can track vertical feet and more data via the Epic Mix technology.
For dining, updated kitchen equipment, modern redesign of the restaurants and, at the Landing Zone Village, “The Truck” (a new modern food truck).
And, some celebrity action. Lindsey Vonn is not the only famous area skier – 2014 Sochi Olympian, Team USA Freestyle Skier, Vail Resorts Epic Pro Team Member and Bloomington, Minnesota native Keri Herman visited Afton Alps after returning from Russia. It was after my visit, unfortunately, but a great inspiration to the local shredders, I’m sure.
I had a lot of fun meeting with the Marketing Manager Amy – turns out she is part of the family that sold Afton Alps to Vail Resorts. Along with the 50th Anniversary celebration, that is a nice bit of continuity to the handover. With her history lesson and tour under my belt, I got kitted up and headed up the lift.
I knew my first run had to include a ride through a culvert that created a tunnel under an access road and, while more appropriately sized for kids, it was a great way to start the day’s skiing.
As mentioned above, with 50 runs and 18 lifts (though not all were running), there is an endless way to traverse the slopes. One of the things I really appreciated was that many of the advanced runs had Beginner or Intermediate runs close by and accessible, so bailing out was usually an option if I felt uncomfortable.
It was midweek, so lift lines were practically non-existent, but I can imagine that it gets crowded on weekends. I skied most of the mountain, save the terrain parks (not quite comfortable enough for that yet), and ended up re-skiing several favorites. It was a blast interlacing the trails, hitting the trees (only once, the dirt is starting to show through), and trying to hit as many runs as possible.
For dinner, “The Truck” was not open, and while Paul’s in the main lodge looked like a nice place to eat, I opted for the Crest Mountain Grill – the ski in, ski out option was too good to pass up. After eating a really tasty burger and enjoying a local Surly IPA, I headed back onto the slopes to work off the sudden need to nap.
The other option was to sit on the deck and watch other people do the heavy lifting, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to ski more in this fun location.
Since Afton Alps is now a part of the Vail Resorts family, local skiers can take advantage of the Epic Season Pass, enjoying a season at Afton Alps and covering a weeklong trip or more to some of the great Colorado resorts. You can even ski in Japan on an Epic Pass now!
Pros: family-friendly, almost endless options in terms of runs and lifts, ease of getting there, plenty of parking, varied terrainCons: Back road and parking lots were mud and ice, several flat areas that needed traversing
All in all, this is a great place to ski, almost anywhere, but definitely for the Midwest, and a fantastic place to visit. Friendly employees add to the good feelings. This should be a definite stop on any trip you might have to Minneapolis.
Disclaimer: A media lift pass and ski rentals were provided for review purposes. </.>
Other Midwest ski areas: