Welch Village keeps growing while others sputter

If you ski and live in Rochester, you already know about Welch Village Ski and Snowboard Area.

Snowboarders wait to use a chair lift at Welch Village Ski and Snowboard Resort in southeastern Minnesota.

If you ski and live in Rochester, you already know about Welch Village Ski and Snowboard Area.

Through the years, while other nearby resorts rose and fell, Welch's lifts kept turning, and the reach of its terrain expanded. This season, the hill celebrated its 48th anniversary and shows no signs of slowing down.

The drive to Welch from Rochester is roughly an hour. You can take U.S. 52 to Welch Village Road, which is a picturesque, occasionally curvy, occasionally straight route, or continue north to Cannon Falls, then follow Highway 19. The Cannon Falls route is preferable during nasty driving conditions.

Welch is broken up into three "sides": the West slopes, East slopes, and the new "Back Bowl."

If you stand at the chalet of the West slopes and look all the way to the right, there is a newer quad chairlift that services a host of intermediate and beginner runs. Some of those runs funnel out into the bunny hill, which is served by its own chairlift farther to the right, while others pop back down to the quad.


Looking left, Welch's signature trio of steeps is visible. Lookout, Bakkelyka and Chicken are among the best steep runs in the state; Lookout ranks as one of my all-time favorite runs, anywhere.


The backside of the hill features a similar mix of beginner, intermediate, and expert trails, but with more terrain variety than in the front. One of my favorite routes to take is from the corner of Ski Bob, across Harley's Hollow, through the woods and down Dud's Dream or Dan's Dive.

There is a decent amount of terrain to play on along the edges of the trails, though it is frequently roped off.

The main chairlift servicing the backside is a quad, and one of the most lively places on the hill. A field of moguls is entrenched in the hill directly underneath the chair, and it is not unusual to see one of Welch's more talented riders ripping a zipper line to cheers from above.

The groom at Welch is always on-point. If you find yourself in the position to sample some corduroy, do not waste the opportunity. Some of my best runs this season came after I caught a fresh, mid-day groom on Lookout after a race finished.

This season, the sky treated us to a handful of 'powder' days. A lot of hills in the Midwest do their best to groom away the uneven mounds of a new snowfall, but this year, Welch, in its effort to provide a more Western experience, made sure to leave its steepest and best runs half-groomed, half natural.

Many of Welch's 60 runs are interconnecting slices of snow that take the skier from one side of the hill to another. For a family or beginner skier, the feeling of choosing one's own adventure is strong.


More adventure

Adventure options were broadened last year when Welch opened its "Back Bowl," a series of short, steep runs on newly cleared terrain.

Welch owns more property, which it may expand into in the coming years. Investments in chairlifts have resulted in years of short lift-lines. On a typicalweekday ski at Welch, coming to a full stop is rare.

With all the attention given to other areas of the hill, Welch's terrain park feels neglected. The features are limited to rails and boxes (including a silky-smooth 40-foot round-rail), laid out in an uncreative series of tiers.

Welch makes no secret about its level of commitment to the park: this year the resort unveiled its terrain park plan online, which stated that the park would focus on only beginner and intermediate level features, no jumps. I asked Peter Zotalis, vice president of mountain services at Welch Village, about the resort's choice to not offer park options like other areas in the state.

"It fits our business plan," Zotalis said. "We made the decision not to expand into advanced features. We have challenges with not only litigation in this state, but also challenges of terrain at Welch Village. A lot of our runs are intermediate to advanced slopes; the beginner terrain to intermediate terrain that you typically need for terrain park features is in shorter supply here at Welch."

Family style

A large portion of Welch's visitors are young families and beginners. "We don't feel that we can satisfy their needs by taking up one of those runs to turn into a terrain park," Zotalis said.


There are two places to get food and drink at the hill. The services inside the main chalet include a beer and wine bar with a stellar view of Lookout and a cafeteria-style place to grab a bite to eat.

On the backside of the hill is Madd Jaxx's, a bar with a smaller menu of food. The staff here is mostly pleasant, with a penchant for mixing very stiff drinks. On weekends, the bar is packed with people of all ages. Occasionally someone lights a bonfire outside once the sun sets.

To celebrate its coming 50th anniversary, Welch is currently offering a "Golden Pass" — a season pass good for two years, for only $299 ($250 if you're renewing your pass). March 31 is the deadline for buying.

Welch is open for one more week and will close this Sunday.

Welch Village Ski and Snowboard Area

26685 County 7 Blvd.

Welch, MN 55089




Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Friday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Sunday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Daily pass rates:

All day flex: Ages 11-61, $49; youth (5 and up) and seniors, $44


Afternoon flex (after 1 p.m.): Ages 11-61, $43; youth and seniors, $38

Night (after 4 p.m.): Ages 11-61, $37; youth and seniors, $32


Adult recreational ski package, $30

Child (8 and younger) recreational ski package, $15

High performance ski package, $40

Snowboard package, $30

Helmets, $8

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