[R2R, Afton Alps], located just minutes from the Twin Cities overlooking the scenic St. Croix River valley, has been turning Minnesotans on to snow sports for the last 45 years. It has one of the finest ski schools in the Heartland. For not being a full-service resort - it does not have lodging on property - Afton offers as many learn-to-ski/ride programs as I've seen at any Midwest facility. There are programs to fit every life, time commitment, and pocket book available.

"We have an excellent bunch of instructors, and our ski school directors' work on making sure everyone is certified," said Afton's Tom Atherton. "We've been at this a long time, and it shows in the quality of our program."

One of the best programs that I found for beginners and intermediates was Ski & Ride Simplified, which is for anyone 16 and older. The cost was $89.85, which covers three lift tickets, three rentals and three lessons. You come out three separate evenings after 4:30 p.m., and the lessons are given at 5 and 6:30 p.m. You choose the evenings and the time for the lesson.

The rest of the evening can be spent skiing or riding. You could do the evenings all at one time or spread them out over three weeks; whatever fits your schedule. You receive a card or coupon book upon completion of your three sessions that entitles you to various discounts throughout the ski area, including lift tickets.

There are teaching programs available for children as young as four and up, and arguably one of the finest lineup of racing teaching programs that I've seen in the Midwest. They cover every aspect and type of racing that you could conceivably have on snow.