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Snow helping at Afton? Naturally, but in more ways than one

A skier schusses down an Afton Alps slope Jan. 7 during a snow shower. Woodbury Bulletin photo by Mike Longaecker

You don't complain about snow at ski resorts.

That's true at Afton Alps Recreation Area, though officials there say the reasons for celebration over this season's bountiful snowfall aren't necessarily tangible.

"It's been more of a boon psychologically," said Joe Yasis, base operations manager at Afton Alps. "If there's snow in your backyard, you start to think winter sports."

That theory seemed to ring true with at least one skier out on a snowy Friday, Jan. 7, at the ski area.

"Even if it's a little bit (snowy) - like today - it's like, 'It's going to be good weather for skiing, at least,'" said, Ellsworth, Wis., resident Josh Weinberg.

So far the number of lift passes issued have been proving those suspicions, Yasis said. Receipts at the ski and snowboard area have been "very good" this year compared to the 2009-10 season, Yasis said last week.

He attributes some of that increase to last month's record snowfall levels and subsequent cold snap.

"It was perfect," Yasis said of the fortuitous combination of the two weather events.

For one, the timing of the natural snow helped offset snowmaking at Afton Alps, he said. Normally, snowmaking runs all through December so the ski area can build a deep snow base that will carry it through the season. Yasis said last month's big dump allowed Afton Alps to halt snowmaking before Christmas.

That's no small accomplishment at the ski area, he said, where monthly electric bills exceed $100,000.

Last month's subzero temperatures also proved opportune, allowing snowmaking to become more efficient. Yasis said lower temperatures produce a higher quality man-made snow - and more of it.

He said the ski area's current base of 35 to 60 inches should hold without snowmaking in February or March "unless there's a catastrophe."

Yasis noted that the ski area had to pump out more artificial snow after late-December rains to add a softer layer of white stuff.

"Just to make it a better ride," Yasis said.

But in reality, the natural snow has only augmented artificial snowmaking "a little bit," Yasis said. He said Mother Nature's addition to the ski area has helped lay more snow on the edges of runs, where artificial snowmaking equipment sometimes can't reach.

Though voluminous at first, the fluffy snow's impact on the base becomes "pretty miniscule" once compacted by grooming machines.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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