Best Metro Downhill Terrain, Good mix of runs, NO BUSSES FULL OF KIDS!
Somewhat Inconsistent Grooming, Weekends in the Main Chalet can be crowded.
Having lived elsewhere in the Midwest, including Wausau, WI (home of Granite Peak/Rib Mountain), Welch was a welcome discovery. This will be my second year purchasing a season pass for the mid-continent bump. I have skied Afton and almost always got either run over by, or run over a "moving bump", a.k.a. out of control kid. The mob scenes there on the weekends drive me nuts. This is what motivates me to drive over an hour to Welch. I appreciate a number of things about the hill.
1. Varied terrain.
Welch offers a variety of terrain for all skiers and snow boarders. There are a NUMBER of runs for each level as well. The steeps are steeper and the rollers are longer than other area hills. Most runs are reasonable in width allowing for easy turns and technical skiing, but there are some narrower runs for a different ride.
2. Friendly Staff.
I know Minnesota likes to talk about "Minnesota Nice", but not all hills have the nicest people working there. I have been impressed with the staff at Welch. The Ticket folks are welcoming, the office staff is friendly, and the bar tenders at Madd Jax actually remembers your drinks after you have come in a few times during the season! Lifties also know how to position the chair so that it doesn't smack you in the calves like the Afton chairs do.
This is the only hill that I am aware of that is continuing to invest heavily in its operations. Last summer they doubled snow making capacity. This was evident when they opened earlier than I can remember a Midwest hill opening in years. This summer, they added an entirely new area to the hill. They are calling it the "Back Bowl". I am calling it "No loitering!". This area only has <> runs and opens in December to season pass holders. If you look at new trail maps, you will see a third lodge planned for the flats at the top of the East side of the hill. Welch may not have the most lavish lodge right now (although it does not feel nearly as dated as others in the twin cities), but that's not the main reason any serious skier selects a hill.
Yes, it is one of the farthest hills from the city. I consider this a good thing and a bad thing. Great because it keeps the "Let's load up a bus of kids and send them to the ski hill" crowd away. It also keeps the "Drop the kids off and let the lifties baby sit for the day" crowd away. Those are the kids that usually trash a lodge, cut lines, ride out of control, and generally make a bad day of things for others. The location has other benefits as well. The area around Welch is beautiful. Views are always scenic and you aren't skiing on an open faced hill. Also, Red Wing has some great shops if you want to make a weekend out of it and the Casino is only 20 minutes away. It is a great way to take a weekend away, but only on a few gallons of gas.
5. Boarders Welcome...
...But not at the expense of everyone else. I enjoy watching snow boarders in terrain parks. I can't do what they do, nor can I do what the trick skiers do. I also like to ski all areas of the mountain. A comment posted earlier states that carving is banned. I don't remember reading that anywhere, seeing it posted anywhere, or hearing it from anyone. My guess is that the person making that comment was skiing either out of control or disrespectfully of others. I would prefer boarders who carve. They tend to keep the snow on the hill as opposed to those who just "push" the snow to the bottom like a tiny little snow plow. The park is one area I think there may be improvement. I don't use the jumps, but I know what a good park looks like. Last season though, there were some decent sized jumps that were well spaced out, my guess was to ensure a proper landing zone below. I do hope the terrain park is more substantial this year! I enjoy taking a break and watching the people fly.
I have been reading the other reviews of Welch and have to ask if they visited more than one day. Every hill has its good and bad days. I've skied Afton on the worst days with crapy conditions as well, but my review won't be based on that one ride. It will be based on having been there numerous times over a few years. Likewise, my review of Welch is based on three years of regular visits, talking to people who drive up from Iowa just to ski Welch, and critiques from Mountain Veterans who rank the hill high in its class.
To anyone who has never been there, TRY IT OUT! Make sure you go knowing what conditions to expect based on recent weather, and try to get first tracks after they do a night grooming. I would bet you will have the same quality experience I did. Hope to see you all on the hill!
P.S. Insider tip, if you have your own skis and like to gear up at your car, park by Madd Jax and buy your ticket there.