Snow, cold give ski areas an early lift

November 20, 2018


Minnesota skiers had a short offseason.

Rentian Wu, of Rochester, made his last run at Welch Village Ski and Snowboard area the last weekend of April last season.

He was back there with his wife, Vicky Chen, and son, Allen Wu, on Sunday.

“You have to find something to do and stay active here in Minnesota for the winter time,” Wu said.

Wu was on the slopes nearly every weekend last winter. He bought his season pass Sunday.

“It’s fun,” Wu said. “It just feels so good to slide down the hill and feel the speed.”

Weather allowed Welch Village to remain open through April 28 last season. On Friday, Welch Village opened four of its 60 runs and three lifts to skiers.

“With as cold as it got, we had to jump on it,” said Peter Zotalis, president and general manager of Welch Village Ski and Snowboard area.

There were some long lines midday Sunday as sunshine covered the slopes.

Afton Alps opened 13 of its 48 trails and five lifts Friday.

“It’s been nice and cold, said Chris Sorensen, Afton Alps general manager. “Anything below 27 degrees is kind of the magic number.”

Zotalis said he can’t recall the last time slopes opened the week before Thanksgiving Day.

A cold snap allowed crews there to not only fire up the snow machines but also condition the artificial snow before grooming it onto the runs. Crews worked overnights to make sure there was a thick base on each of the runs that opened during the weekend.

“Our crews did an outstanding job jumping on the opportunity,” Zotalis said. “When you start making snow, you have to look a ways out at the forecast.”

The base is thick enough to hold good ski and snowboard conditions even through a forecasted warm-up later this week. A weekend dusting of snow helped a bit too — though not necessarily with the run conditions.

“We call it marketing snow,” Zotalis said. “We need snow in people’s backyards to get them in a winter mood.”

Farther south, the weekend snow contributed a bit more. Enough measurable snow fell at Afton Alps during the weekend to contribute to the trails there, Sorensen said.

“It added to the base,” he said.

This is Sorensen’s first year as general manager. He said staff and guests can’t recall the last time the facility opened so early. The 13 trails opened Friday makes this weekend the biggest opening in the resort’s history, Sorensen said.

Coffee Mill Ski Area near Wabasha is planning a Dec. 1 opening. Crews there have also been making snow.

Welch Village expects to at least double the number of runs open when they open to the public again Friday. The area will be closed through Thanksgiving to give crews a chance to prepare the trails and spend time with family for the holiday. Afton Alps will be open Monday through Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. and again Friday from 9:30 a.m. until 8 p.m.

“We’re expecting to expand our terrain this Friday,” Sorensen said.

Wu said he plans to bring his family back every weekend again this season.

“We will try,” he said. “But if the weather is too harsh, I will probably be here on my own.”

The lines are shorter when it’s cold, he added.

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