Saturday, March 10, 2001

Afton Alps




Last night I went skiing at Afton Alps. It was an interesting experience, different from other ski places I had been to, and a great deal of fun.

I drove less than an hour east of the Twin Cities to Afton Alps, which is right on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. The first thing that was "different" was that instead of parking and buying a lift ticket at a ticket window, I bought it at a kiosk as I drove in -- like I was entering a park. I drove around until I found a rental shop -- as it turned out I drove right by the nearest rental shop, a mistake that I would come to regret.

I went into the "Meadows" rental shop and marveled at the fact that I was the only one in there. I leisurely picked out a spot to fill out my rental form. When I was done, I looked up and noticed that about 50 middle schools students (completely unsupervised) had entered the shop, pushing, yelling and giggling like middle school students do. I quickly moved towards the front of the line with my completed rental form, but about ten kids (savvier than I) were already there, filling out their forms while waiting in line. (To be sure, it made no sense for me to do the same when I thought myself the only one in the shop. Eventually I made it to the front and went over the counter to get my boots.

I told the guy I wore size 11, and he handed me some boots which I tried on. Well, I tried to try on. My feet wouldn't even fit in the boot. Maybe he was so overwhelmed he automatically grabbed boys' 11 shoes; I don't know. So it was back into the boot line to get boots from a woman who apparently was more careful selecting boots. Then I picked out my skis -- 170s again. Upon reflection, I think I may have gotten type II skis. Oh, well. Then ended up working. I then picked up my poles and waited in line to check out. And waited and waited.

The middle school students were taking a lot of time getting out of there. I was reminded of what the world looked like through middle school eyes. "Snowboarding is better than skiing. Skiing sucks. I've never been downhill skiing a day in my life." Fortunately, that was met by a perceptive, "Then how do you know you wouldn't like skiing?" which stunned the other party into silence and, one can hope, a bit of reflection.

When I was 3 or 4 munchkins from the front, a rental shop employee took pity on me and pulled me out of the teeming masses of prepubescence to check me out. Escape! It was 5:00, and I was hitting the ski slopes.

If you look at Afton Alps' trail map, you'll see it's fairly large -- at least compared to the other places I'd been. That meant that I had to figure out how to get from where I was to other parts of the hill. I started out in the lower left in the Meadows area and skied "Susie's Meadow", "Daisy's Meadow" and "Maggie's Meadow". My confusion was amplified by the fact that "Mary's Meadow" has been replaced by a half-pipe -- a fact not reflected on the ski maps. After a few of these runs, I was ready to head somewhere else -- but how?

I overheard a father asking his kids if they wanted to ski on another part of the mountain. I listened closely to hear how they were planning to ski there. Nope -- Dad was bringing the car around. Well, that wouldn't do. I tried again; this time I skied on the other side of the half-pipe and picked up "Mickey's Meadow" -- a blue slope. Gasp. Well, I made it down by skiing fairly slowly. The worst part of it was the ice patches that had developed in the middle.

I was away from the area I started in, and a few more trips down I tried skiing over to the next lift. That brought me "Polly's Powder" and "Ruthie's Meadow" -- more green (beginner) slopes, if the names didn't give that away. Eventually I made it to "Paula's Pass" (or was that "Patti's Pass") -- a blue, which I took down to the other base lodge. I was running into trouble because I didn't have much cash in my pockets and the food courts didn't take charge cards. I'd have to head back to the Meadows to my locker -- but not before skiing down "Christina's Trail" and "Nancy's Nursery" (again, more greens). The big lift to "Lisa's Lane" went over an interesting variety of terrain. Apparently during the summer they have golf there; it was somewhat disconcerting to see a ball washer sticking out of the snow.

After a little refreshment, I headed back out and tried out most of the same slopes again. Still, I hadn't made it to the "Highlands" area, and I wanted to try more blue (intermediate) slopes before I was done. I cut across to "Renee's Ridge" and then was on "Dawn's Highlands". Uh-oh. It was late (almost 9), I was getting tired, the slopes were icing up, it was dark and this was a steeper pitch than I was used to. So I skied very slowly down to a lift at the bottom. Thankfully I made it without getting clocked by one of the skiers and boarders whizzing down "Bernadine's Highlands".

Then the question was...what would I do when I got to the top? The trail map was confusing. (At one point, I was looking at it, and a member of the ski patrol came over to give me directions. "What are you looking for?" "What's that slope there?" "Hmm; I don't know. Let me see your map.") I decided I would definitely head back to the Meadows by going left. I did so and got to the top of what I later figured out was "Britta's Run". The slope was fairly dark, the chair lift there wasn't running, and there wasn't another person around. But heck, there was no "trail closed" sign, so it was down the hill. I eventually found my way back to the top of "Renee's Ridge" and by keeping left of that made it back to the Meadows. Whew.

It was definitely exciting. I skied almost all of the green trails there and worked a handful of blues into my day. I worked on controlling my speed and started getting better at completing my turns. I definitely improved at being able to come to a stop on an incline. The size and variety of terrain whet my appetite. I'd like to go to one of the bigger ski areas. But it's getting late in the season, and my travel plans lean towards South Carolina, so we'll see...
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