Backcountry lite: Skiing Afton State Park

Skiing off-piste in the Midwest doesn’t totally feel like backcountry, but I don’t know how else to describe it.

Still, last Friday morning there were great backcountry turns to be had during a day spent hiking around Afton State Park in Afton, Minn.

Skiing with the puppy at Afton State Park in January 2020. (Midwest Ski Journal)

Afton Alps is right next door if the chair is more your speed, but I wanted to spend the morning with my dog walking around one of the state’s prettier parks trying to find lines to ski.

Ultimately, the day was a success. I found some soft turns and taught my puppy how to follow in my tracks down the hill.

Here’s how

We pulled into Afton State Park and geared up for the hike. I carried by boots and skis in/on my backpack for the first part, which is the most difficult part of the hike.

After hiking around for an hour scouting possible turns, I found a bench along a quiet trail and geared up. (It was more than 30 degrees and comfortable, so changing into my boots was not too challenging.)

The beginning of an initial ascent in a snowy Afton State Park. (Midwest Ski Journal)

I let the dog sniff around my skis for a while and poled a few feet here and there to show him how this was going to work. He was freaked out, but eventually resigned to the fact that they were staying on my feet.

The first run I used an existing hiking trail as a way down where the trees were already cleared. I then hiked back up and along a ridge I had scouted that was steep, but tree-cluttered. Some sparsely-wooded areas became my next line as the dog chased me down my best turns of the day.

Just 15 yard ahead of where I clicked in the slope gets steep and the trees widen on the north side of Afton State Park. (Midwest Ski Journal)

I’d figure there is 8-10 inches of snowpack in the park that is obviously all untouched.

I hiked up and down three more times in a few other areas, all on the north side of the park.

Next time, we’ll explore the south side of the park, which also appears to have some steep bluffs.

Walking out of the park after a day skiing in Afton, Minn. The St. Croix River can be seen just past the trees. (Midwest Ski Journal)

The key, of course, is finding pitch where the trees aren’t too dense. Some of the hiking trails can do that for you, but the trails tend to follow the past of least pitch, which can defeat the purpose.

I highly recommend going to do this if you can. The lifts are great, but it’s fun to take a quiet morning in our great parks, especially if you have a dog in tow.

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