Skiing 'ambassador' built Afton AlpsA patient business acumen and a desire to share a winter sport with others helped Paul Augustine make the unusual – and successful – ascent from small family farmer to Midwest ski mogul. Augustine died Saturday at age 79.
By: Scott Wente, South Washington County Bulletin
A patient business acumen and a desire to share a winter sport with others helped Paul Augustine make the unusual – and successful – ascent from small family farmer to Midwest ski mogul.
In the early 1960s, Augustine and two partners turned a plot of picturesque land into what is now Afton Alps Recreation Area, a year-round outdoor activities business with downhill skiing at its core.
“He was an entrepreneur and adventurer and generally an ambassador to the sport of skiing,” John Augustine said of his father, who died Jan. 1. He was 79.
Paul Augustine was a co-founder of Afton Alps, in south Washington County, and oversaw its growth over four decades, but he did not begin his working life with designs on developing a downhill ski area.
He was raised on a farm with no electricity in Nininger Township west of Hastings. It was a family effort, with brothers and sisters pitching in. Paul Augustine and his brother, Robert, went on to build a successful large-scale farm operation with land in Dakota and Goodhue counties.
In the winter when farm chores gave way to some free time, Paul and Robert Augustine and Tom Furlong, a neighbor and fellow farmer, went downhill skiing. They traveled to slopes around the Midwest and in Canada before deciding to scout land closer to home to start their own ski operation. They settled on the St. Croix River Valley.
The move from farmer to ski area owner was logical in at least one way: Plowing fields and grooming slopes is similar work, his son said.
“It's not vastly different than plowing,” John Augustine said. “You try to make it pretty smooth.”
Opened in 1963, Afton Alps ski area started with a few runs, one lift, a couple of tow ropes and a chalet.
“It was a modest beginning,” John Augustine said of his father's business. “They gradually built it, year by year. They didn't try to build the place that it is now at the time they started. They just bit off what they could chew, and it just grew.”
Afton Alps ski area would grow to include 48 trails, 18 chairlifts and five chalets. It employs over 1,000 people during the peak season.
In addition to his stake in Afton Alps, Augustine was principal owner and developer of Mount Kato ski area in Mankato and Titus Mountain in New York. He was involved in regional and national ski area associations.
In the early years of Afton Alps, when he employed a small staff, Augustine worked in every area of the business, from food service to chair lift operation, ski rental to slope grooming.
His greatest pleasure came in creating the ski runs.
“He enjoyed the adventure,” his son said. “He was definitely not a short-term, watch-all-the-numbers … type of guy. He was much more of a builder and developer.”
Augustine was actively involved in the ski operation until his health started to deteriorate around 2004. He had glaucoma, was legally blind and suffered from Parkinson's disease or a similar condition, his son said. He died after a couple of bouts of pneumonia in recent months. He had been living at the Afton Care Senior Homes for six years.
Augustine is survived by his wife of 45 years, Rose; sons John Augustine of West Lakeland Township and David Augustine of Woodbury, and daughter Amy Reents, who lives on the Afton Alps property; one brother and two sisters; and three grandchildren.
Afton Alps fans turned to the ski area’s Facebook page to express their condolences.
“Paul gave my first job in 1962,” one man wrote. “He taught me many lessons that are still correct. I will always admire him.”
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