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Uplifting news from popular Minn. ski spots

  • December 14, 2013 - 2:00 PM

In Minnesota this year, skiing could be better than ever, and not just because snow already blankets the ground. Ski destinations in the state have made major upgrades. If you can’t make it to one of the West’s big ski resorts, be happy exploring home territory.

You could even say that the West has come to us. Vail Resorts — which operates resorts in Colorado, Utah and the Lake Tahoe area — purchased Afton Alps last winter. Once last winter’s snow melted, bulldozers and cranes replaced skiers at the popular spot just outside of Hastings. The company’s $10 million in improvements include a new terrain park with a village at its base; a streamlined electronic lift ticketing and scanning system; added snow-making capabilities; and a new ticketing area and ski school. Another bonus: buy an “Epic” season pass at Afton Alps, and you can hit the slopes at the company’s other resorts, too. More info at www.aftonalps.com.

Lutsen Mountains, in the Sawtooth Mountains, also has new energy-efficient snow-making technology ­— part of its $25 million of investments during the past decade. But with a recent 30-inch dump of natural white stuff, there’s no need for that. The big news at this North Shore destination resort is a high-speed, six-passenger lift, the Caribou Express. It conveys skiers to the mountaintop in fewer than four minutes, landing them in a spot that accesses 90 percent of the runs on Moose Mountain. Among those runs are two new double-black diamond slopes. Info at www.lutsen.com.

At Giants Ridge, in Biwabik, there’s an ice bar, a learning park for youngsters just starting out, expanded alpine runs and glade runs among the trees (www.giantsridge.com).

Send your questions or tips to travel editor Kerri Westenberg at travel@startribune.com, and follow her on twitter @kerriwestenberg.

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