Paul Augustine, longtime patriarch of Afton Alps, died New Year's Day. He was 79. It was the second passing of a Midwest ski area founder over the holidays. George Petriz, founder of Crystal Mountain, passed away just before Christmas.

Augustine started Afton Alps near the Twin Cities in 1963, which is still one of the Heartland's busiest ski areas. In the late 1970s he bought Ski Haven in Mankato, Minn., expanded and renamed it Mount Kato, which continues to provide skiing and snowboarding for southern Minnesotans. He bought Moon Valley Ski Area in Malone, N.Y., in the 1980s, renamed it Titus Mountain, expanded the area, and added night skiing and tubing.

He served two terms on the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) board in the 1980s, was president of the Midwest Ski Areas Association for three years, and one of the founders of the Twin Cities Independent Ski Areas Association.

Recognizing all of his efforts to expand the Heartland skiing industry and across the nation, NSAA awarded Augustine its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.   He's but a handful of recipients in the Midwest.

At one time - for 10 straight years running - Afton Alps had more chairlifts than Vail, and they still have the most mid-continent.

"My father (Paul Augustine) was an avid skier in his younger days," daughter Amy Reents, part of the management team at the Alps, told OnTheSnow. "It was his dream to make skiing affordable for as many people as possible when he opened the first ski area in the early 1960s, and it's still our philosophy today and always will be. It was his dream."

Even after he retired years ago and turned the reigns over to family members he would still come by almost daily, as long as health permitted, just to be near the sport he loved so much, according to his daughter.

He was one of the giants of the Midwest ski industry and will be missed.  His ski areas have introduced thousands of Heartlanders to the sport he loved so much.