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HASTINGS, Minn. – Vail Resorts spent $10 million dollars upgrading Afton Alps Ski Area after purchasing the iconic business earlier this year. But one of the most crucial ingredients of a successful first season, Vail Resorts got free.

Early season weather has been about as good as it can get for metro area ski hills. Unseasonable cold arrived in mid-November, allowing ski hills to make a good base of snow before Thanksgiving.

What followed was just as important: regular snowfalls to keep backyards white, reminding ski hill customers winter is here and open for business.

Amy Reents, a marketing manager for Afton Alps, called the early season weather the "best in years."

Reents' family founded the ski area 50 years ago and owned it until the sale to Vail Resorts. "When the number one company in skiing comes to you, you have to at least listen and so we weren't really looking to sell but we listened," said Reents.

Reents stayed on with Afton Alps after the sale and is now part a $10 million dollar renovation of the ski area. Among the improvements is an upgraded terrain park, new and remodeled restaurants and 77 new snow guns.

Snowmobile dealers have had something to celebrate too this winter, chiefly deep snow in northern Minnesota. "If it's white around here it at least gets people thinking, go up north and use their snowmobiles," said Mark Mondus, owner of Mondus Motorsports in Hudson, Wisconsin.

Among the potential customers who stopped by Friday was Mike Smith of Houlton. "I want a toy," he said as he climbed on a Yamaha sled in the showroom. "I haven't had a toy for a while and it snowed last year, snowed this year."

Mondus would happily take another six inches of snow, all at once if possible. "It would be nice to have a six inch snowfall at one time instead of all these one inch snowfalls, a nice six inch would really help."

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