Vibram designs Afton Alps disc golf course

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Ryan Forsman of Woodbury and his 10-year-old son, Mitchell, told Scott Trenda of Brooklyn Center about Afton Alps' new disc golf course last Saturday, and the three met at the course during a break in the downpour on the course's grand-opening day.

The championship-caliber course opened in July, with Vibram as a partner.

This is Vibram's first whack at designing a disc golf course—and it couldn't have picked a place with a prettier view, or more hills. The disc golf course crisscrosses the golf course and makes use of ski hills, with the St. Croix Valley is the skyscape. This is not your play-in-the-city-park, easy-to-speed-walk disc golf course.

"This is like extreme disc golfing," Forsman said of the multiple climbs on the course. "This is an extreme workout."

The disc golf course consists of two 9-hole loops that lead back to the Highlands Chalet and the Crest Mtn Grill, where burgers sell for $4 on Mondays and burgers are coupled with a tap beer for $8 on weekends. It costs $10 for an all-day pass to play the disc golf course and $49 for a remainder-of-the-season pass—putting Afton Alps among the highest-priced disc golf courses in the Twin Cities metro area.

But the vertical and rugged terrain is a welcome challenge for veteran disc golfers, general manager Joe Yasis said. "Plus, the view makes for a great backdrop."

The front 9 features a 618-foot uphill hole No. 7, followed by an 864-foot hole No. 8 from the ski lift at the peak of Dawn's, Monica's and Hazel's Highlands ski runs. Disc golfers get their long tosses out of the way early in a round, as seven of the nine longest holes are up front.

The course design is simple, with the use of existing trails and minimal clear cutting of trees. The landscape was left rustic, with tallish grass along the fairways and dense woods for rough alongside them.

But there's no need for rationing water, Trenda said, since the front 9 ends at the chalet and grill for a refill—one of the unique features of the course. Just try to name another Minnesota disc golf course that has an adjacent event center—good for hosting birthday parties, weddings and corporate events—and restaurant with a full bar.

Afton Alps' foray into the disc golf world isn't the only move the business has made to boost its profile in recent years.

Since Vail Resorts acquired Afton Alps in December 2012, Olympic medal-contending skier Lindsey Vonn has visited at least twice, children as young as age 3 can learn to ski or snowboard in the safe confines of the new Children's Learning Center at the base of the resort, many other golf, skiing and snowboarding improvements have been made, and more sports can be played on the grounds during the summertime than ever before. Footgolf and disc golf are the most recent additions.

Vibram met Afton Alps due to the rubber company's recent partnership with Vail, said Jeff Laney, Rocky Mountain brand representative who was in town from Colorado for the grand opening of the course.

Laney, a disc golf fanatic, said that as far as the popularity of the sport goes, Minnesota only trails Colorado and Illinois.

"This is a great place to beta test," Laney said. "The whole challenge (in designing the course) is the topography. There are no flat shots."

Laney said the designers are hoping that, while most courses are known for two or four "signature holes" (remembered for their tree tunnels or bent corners), the Afton Alps course might have 10 or 12 worth nicknaming.

"It's exciting to create such high-caliber course in one of the sport's top markets," added Steve Dodge, Vibram Disc Golf business manager and designer of the course.

Vibram tried to make the course unique, Laney said. "As long as you're having fun, that's all that matters. Anybody can go and play."

Vibram, already the official footwear of Vail Resorts, will be selling discs in the chalet's pro shop. The company—recognized worldwide as the leader in high performance soles for outdoor, recreational, work and fashion footwear and the maker of the minimalist Five Finger shoe line—began producing discs a few years ago.

"It was then that Vibram introduced the X-Link, the first cross linked material to be used for disc golf, which is now changing the sport," Dodge said.

Afton Alps is forever changed, as well. It's first tournament, albeit unsanctioned, is scheduled for Oct. 15-16.

The ski resort has a new focus: "It's summer recreation as a whole," Yasis said.

For more information or tee times, call 651-436-1320 or go to aftonalps.com.