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49 years of success: Hastings family founded Afton Alps on hard work

Just over 49 years ago, three farmers from Hastings took a risk. They built a ski area on a hill near Afton, opening with just a couple rope tows and 37 skiers on their first day, Dec. 21, 1963.

Today, Afton Alps is a successful business that's grown beyond a simple ski hill. There are 18 chair lifts now, 48 trails, four base areas, night skiing and riding, snow tubing and an 18-hole golf course, said Amy Reents, Afton's communications manager and former owner of the resort. The area also hosts special events such as weddings and receptions, mountain biking and the annual Warrior Dash event.

The original ski area was the product of brothers Paul and Robert Augustine and Thomas Furlong, all Hastings farmers, and it's their hard work that made the resort so successful.

"(They) worked their tails off and risked everything to build the place," Reents said.

As they grew older, a good team of employees worked to keep Afton Alps successful, as did a lot of loyal customers. The resort developed a reputation for providing a high level of service and a variety of activities that attracted people from all over the Midwest.

"We're a very good source of tourism," Reents said.

Furlong sold his share of the business to the Augustine brothers in the 1990s, and they continued to run the resort until Paul Augustine, Reents' father, died in 2011. At that time, Reents and her two brothers, John and David Augustine, took over the business. All three grew up here in Hastings and have spent more than 25 years - their entire adult lives - in the business.

On Dec. 13, 2012, Afton Alps was acquired by Vail Resorts.

"The family looked at it as an opportunity we really couldn't pass up," Reents said.

The new ownership will allow skiers here to get season passes that are good for Afton Alps and the other eight Vail Resort locations - which are located in Colorado and Lake Tahoe. Another factor in the sale was that Vail can make a substantial capital investment to improve the ski area.

"I think it's going to be a real good thing for the community," Reents said.

Vail has budgeted about $10 million for work to be done this summer. There will be improvements to the terrain park, high speed rope tows, enhancements to the race facility, technology upgrades, building upgrades, road and drainage work, 80 new snow guns to get the resort open earlier in the season with better snow and new grooming equipment to give the ski area a better, longer season.

"We will have one of the best snow making systems around," Reents said.

Vail has a three-year master plan for improvements to Afton Alps, but details have only been released for this year's work. So far, it doesn't look like much will change in terms of activities available.

"By and large, the things that we have offered in the past will continue to be offered," Reents said.

While Vail has taken over the ownership of Afton Alps, the family is still involved. Reents and her brothers are still employed there, and they hope to be able to continue along with their same staff into the future.

"We're excited about watching a lot of the new changes," she said.

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