New owner of Afton Alps ski area outlines plans for expansion, upgrades

  • Article by: JANET MOORE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 12, 2013 - 9:26 PM

Improvements should be ready for the upcoming ski season.

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"Landing Zone", New Terrain Park Village: At the base of the terrain park overlooking all of the new features, Afton Alps will create a new terrain park village with inviting indoor and outdoor spaces to relax or warm up, enjoy new food options, warm up and watch the park action. Additionally two new rope tows will be installed in the terrain park for faster and easier access to park features.

 

As summer wanes, it’s not too early to think about skiing.

At least that’s the case at Afton Alps, the 50-year-old ski resort in Washington County that is currently undergoing a $10 million renovation that will be completed by the 2013-2014 season.

Broomfield, Colo.-based Vail Resorts Inc. bought the popular family-­owned resort last year in a $20 million cash deal that also included the Mount Brighton ski area outside of Detroit. Vail Resorts is a publicly traded company that owns several high-end resorts in the West, including the famous Vail and Breckenridge ski areas.

The $1 billion firm’s Midwestern expansion involves upgrading facilities and amenities at Afton Alps, including new guest services facilities, improvements to snowmaking operations, and construction of a new terrain park and village for freestyle skiers and snowboarders. The new owner says it’s the most significant one-time cash infusion in Afton Alps’ history.

“The construction projects we’re implementing this summer are designed to re-imagine every aspect of the guest experience at Afton Alps while keeping the long-standing Midwest ski experience Afton is known for,” said Joe Yasis, general manager of Afton Alps, in a statement.

The current guest services facility will be renovated to include a new ski school and customer service center, and ticketing and pass sales office. The ticketing and scanning systems will be updated as well.

Snowmaking operations will be overhauled and expanded to provide greater base snow depth for an expanded ski season. This will be done with 72 new snowmaking guns of varying sizes, in addition to the current fleet of equipment, and a new pump house with wider pipes capable of pumping water to make snow twice as fast (weather permitting), Vail Resorts said.

A new terrain park is being designed by Snow Park Technologies, the builder and designer of Winter X Games courses, with two rope tows added. The park will be flanked by a new village area with indoor and outdoor spaces for skiers to grab a bite and enjoy the scenery.

Vail Resorts also will install its EpicMix RFID technology at Afton, which tracks skiers and snowboarders for posts and pins on social media. Another social media app will enable skiers to race against Olympic champ (and St. Paul native) Lindsey Vonn to earn gold, silver and bronze “medals.”

In an interview last year, Vail Resorts CEO Robert Katz said resorts near urban areas like Afton are popular because that’s where people learn to ski. The purchase comes as Vail Resorts contends with seasonal wiles, aging demographics of its consumer base, and increasing competition from outfits like Groupon, Living Social and Travelzoo, according to analysts who follow the industry.

The firm will be selling season passes just for Afton for $399, with discounts available for seniors, college students, families and groups of four people or more. In addition, ski passes are available for Afton plus western resorts for $529 and $689 a season, with reduced rates for children.

Vail Resorts also operates facilities at Beaver Creek and Keystone in Colorado; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in the Lake Tahoe area of California and Nevada; Grand Teton Lodge in Wyoming and Canyons in Utah.

 

Janet Moore • 612-673-7752

 

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