Great For Boarders, Decent Chalets
Little for advanced skiers, Roving packs of unatended kids/kid dump
Afton, Afton, Afton...
To be fair, I have only been to Afton about five times, but they were all "good condition" days. The reason I titled the review "Afton... The tail of Two Hills" is because it really has two faces. Each face either helps to reassure a different winter sport that this is the go to hill in the 'cities, or that they need to stay away.
First, the good side.
Afton has the Boarders figured out. Varied and challenging parks, dedicated lift areas that serve the "air magicians" as I like to call them, and a Board friendly staff. I can see why my boarder friends like to go there. I have sat for as long as I can in the snow watching the aerial acrobatics of talented "single plankers" fly through the air for each other's amusement.
Also, it is the go to place for Soccer Mom's to Stop-and-Drop their kids and allow lifties to play babysitter for them. (more on this in the Cons section). The separate lodges help keep the older, drinking crowds from the younger, non-drinking crowds. Also, the vast amount of VERY beginner trails help ensure a variety for these young winter adventurers.
The equipment appears to be in good condition as well, which is key when you are as busy as they are.
Now the Dr. Hyde side.
Afton, a victim of its own geography, is Always PACKED. although lift lines are not a mile long, the runs are overcrowded. It is very hard to have a run where you can get a good turn cadence going and be able to finish the run without having to avoid a bomber, or out of control skier/boarder.
The busy nature of the hill also lends to the issue with conditions. While Afton may have decent groomers, the conditions get shredded early in the day. One issue with the large quantity of inexperienced boarders is the plow effect. They push the good snow to the bottom of runs and expose the base. This is an issue isolated to beginner runs at most hills, but is wide spread throughout Afton.
Back to the Soccer Mom issue. With the influx of kids, comes an influx of issues. A fair amount of unsupervised youngsters can cause issues. I've been cut in front of more times than I can count at Afton and have been run over on runs by packs of out of control tweens. I am all for all ages enjoying the sport, but follow the code. And no, I am not a slow roller. Also, the reports of “lost” equipment seem to have been on the rise. (http://www.kare11.com/news/news_article.aspx?storyid=493891)
So, what do you do?
Well, My recommendation is:
1. If you are a boarder in search of the friendly skies, GO to Afton! Their terrain park is the best I have seen in the cities. You will find many fellow flyers to compliment your style and offer advice.
2. If you are a boarder or skier in search of riding challenging trails and turn friendly runs, stay away. You would be better served driving up to Duluth or beyond to Lutsen, or take a more local option like Welch.
3. If you are a beginner in search of more space on your first few runs, good luck. Short of Week Nights at off-the-beaten-path hills, you don’t' have many options. I do not have experience with the instructors at Afton, so I would encourage you to look for reviews of the lessons. My guess is that they have a good set of instructors that are busy people.
4. If you are in search of long runs with a balance of terrain difficulty...
...Fly to the Rockies. Remember, we live in the Midwest. We are hardy skiers and ice is just a fact of life. Until the next ice age comes, it won't change, no matter which hill you go to.
Personally, I will drive the extra 15 minutes from Shakopee to go to Welch... In fact, I purchased a season pass there.
Cheers and see you on the slopes,