Rating the restrooms of Twin Cities ski areas

The ski areas within the Twin Cities share many similarities. But that doesn’t mean they’re identical. One small way in which they distinguish themselves is the quality of their restrooms. Which ones are clean and well lit, and which ones are cramped and dingy? We reviewed them over the course of the 2012-2013 season, and published them on Examiner.com, in seven installments. All the information is assembled in this article, which is printed below. The original series included photos, which are not included here. (We may eventually post them.) As with any business, the ski areas may update their offerings from time to time, so the ratings may change over time.

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Skiers and snowboarders in the Twin Cities have six lift-served facilities to enjoy. There’s not much to set one apart from the other, at least in terms of terrain. But they do have different vibes, programs, and base facilities. Here’s a ranking of them by the quality of their restrooms. Is this a silly way of comparing ski areas? Perhaps, though restroom quality is part of the overall customer experience.

The rankings below consider a number of factors, including the quality of the lighting, the amount of usable space, the presence or absence of partitions between urinals, the materials used on the walls and floors, and quality of the sinks.

#1: Trollhaugen

Quick take: Trollhaugen stands out from the others in its pleasant use of materials, including brushed metal partitions and stone tiles for floors and walls.

Full review:

Sometimes it’s the little things that set one business apart from the others. In the case of ski areas within the Twin Cities region, one such little thing is the quality of the restrooms.

Trollhaugen, in Dresser, Wisconsin, features two restrooms in its main building. They’re on two different levels, though they have similar designs.

If a restroom at a Midwestern ski area can be considered visually pleasing, the ones at Trollhaugen can be. There is a men’s room on both the ground level and the parking lot level.

They have dividers between the urinals, which you’ll find at some though not all ski areas in the region. But what’s different is that the dividers, as well as the stalls, have a brushed-metal surface that is a step up from the standard four coat of paint that you may find elsewhere. The sinks have the same material.

In addition, the walls and the floors are stone tile more reminiscent of a decent restaurant than a day lodge. For drying your hands, there are paper towel dispensers.

Troll also earns points for not making customers who come off the slopes walk down a set of stairs to reach the restrooms.

The downstairs restroom has three urinals, three stalls, two sinks, two mirrors, two soap dispensers, and two paper-towel dispensers. The upstairs restroom is smaller, with only two urinals and two stalls.

#2: Hyland Ski & Snowboard Area

Quick take: The restrooms are on the main floor, with several urinals, stalls, and partitions. Hyland is unique among the ski areas in offering a shower. Other than that, there’s nothing exceptionally good about the men’s room. But Hyland ranks high because avoids some of the problems that plague other areas.

#3: Welch Village

Quick take: Welch Village has a very uneven approach to its restrooms. The main lodge restroom (pictured) is pleasant, with ceramic tile and adequate lighting and plenty of space. The restrooms in the ski school have an “unfinished basement in a new suburban development” feel. The restrooms in the basement of the rental shop, well, let’s just say the plumbing works. Finally, the restroom at the Madd Jaxx bar & grill, heavily used, is extremely cramped–to the point that Welch scatters portable toilets outside the building. Deer camp, anyone?

Full review:

There are many things that a ski area has no control over, such as the amount of natural snow it receives. But there are elements of the guest experience that it does have control over, such as the number and quality of its restrooms. Today it’s time to look at Welch Village, which is about 12 miles west of Red Wing, Minnesota. Welch has public restrooms in four buildings: the ski school, the rental equipment building, the main chalet, and a bar.

The SkiLink Learning Center (ski school) is a fairly new building. While it’s nice the main floor, the basement has that “unfinished basement” feel. The plumbing and heating ducts in the men’s room are exposed, and the framing of the stall for the ADA toilet, where it meets the outside wall, is shoddy. The floor is concrete, and the walls are a combination of cinder block and poured concrete. On the positive side, it’s large, and opaque windows allow in plenty of natural light. The restroom has one urinal and two toilets, two sinks, two soap dispensers, and two paper towel dispensers.

While the SkiLink men’s room has the feel of an unfinished basement in a new suburban development, the men’s room in the ski-rental building has the feel of a root cellar. It’s dark and dingy. Dingy, faded red bricks make up the floor; the walls are cinder block and poured concrete. The inadequate lighting was made moreso this day by the fact that the lights near the two urinals was flickering on and off. The urinals, by the way, have a divider between them, and auto-flushers, which helps control smells. One oddity of this room is that the urinals/toilets and sinks are back to back, so after you’ve done your business, you have to walk to a separate room to wash up. There are two sinks, each with a mirror, and two paper towel dispensers. There’s one bottle of hand soap on a shelf above the sinks. Just outside the restrooms is a long hallway lined with lockers, used by ski racers and others. If you need to put on crash pads before hitting the slopes, or simply want a warm place to put on your boots, the hallway is a decent location, as it’s close to the parking lot.

The main chalet has the nicest restrooms, one on the main floor and one on the second. They are mirrors of each other. The “civilized” touch starts with the fact that there are no outside doors, so if you’re a germophobe, rejoice. It has five urinals (with dividers between all of them) and three stalls. (One stall is ADA compliant.) There are three sinks, two soap dispensers, and two paper towel dispensers. Even better, there are two large garbage cans to receive the spent paper towels. The floor and the walls are pleasant; the floor is ceramic tile, and the wall is finished. While there is no natural light, the overhead lights are more than adequate to the task. Bonus: The main-floor restroom doesn’t require navigating any steps.Clearly, this is the “top loo” at Welch.

The men’s room at Madd Jaxx, the bar at the eastern end of the property, is not as dingy as that of the rental building, but it’s probably the worst of all the facilities at Welch, for this simple reason: The bar has a rated capacity of 150 people, but there are only two urinals (no dividers) and no stall. There are three soap dispensers and two paper towel dispensers, but oddly, only one sink for all that. Worse yet, the placement of the sink, garbage can, and stall conspire to make the entrance/exit strictly a one-person affair. That is, if one person is leaving and the other is entering, someone’s going to have to wait.

#4: Afton Alps

Quick take: Afton is, by Midwestern standards, a sprawling place, with two entrances, 18 lifts, and six chalets.

The men’s room at the Alps, the main lodge, is pleasant enough, with ceramic tiles, a shelf above the urinal to store your gloves, and bright lighting. The restroom in the Highland Chalet, is similar, though both suffer from the “gross out” factor of relying on cloth towels, which evoke the feeling of old-school gas station restrooms. In addition, the men’s rooms in the other chalets have concrete walls and floors (not always in good shape), and require lengthy trips down stairs.

Riders and skiers may wonder what Afton Alps will look like after Vail Resorts pumps $10 million into it. One result may be some spiffed-up restrooms.

Full review:

Afton has the most chalets (five) of any ski area in the Twin Cities, reflecting its status as the largest by size and customer base. The “premier” chalets are Alps, in the northeast part of the property, and the Highlands, in the southwest. In between the two are three other chalets. The tubing chalet is open only during tubing hours (more restricted that skiing hours). Near that tubing chalet is the Meadows chalet, which is by one of the two rental shops on the property, and serves the ski school. Finally, the Alpine chalet is, like the Highlands, on the top rather than the bottom of the river bluff. It’s seldom open.

The other day I visited Afton, and while there, stopped in at the Alps and Highlands chalets. Both are heavily used, with the Highland frequently used on weekends for traveling ski and snowboard schools.

Both chalets are far and away nicer facilities than the three others, which feature concrete hallways, long sets of stairs, and shabby-to-basic restrooms.

The restrooms at the Alps and Highlands chalets are easily accessible. Once you enter the Alps chalet, you do have to climb a short (three or four) set of steps to the first-floor restrooms. Better yet, at the Highlands chalet, there’s no steps at all. Skiers, especially, will cheer.

Both chalets also get credit for having modern tile on both the floors and on the walls, which gives the restrooms a pleasant appearance. On the downside, both chalets use old-school cloth towels on a roll.

The Alps restrooms (there is one upstairs near the bar, as well as on the first floor) are the nicest. They’re bigger, and both upstairs and downstairs restrooms have cushioned chairs that you can sit on to adjust your boots or even change change into your ski/ride clothes, something you won’t find elsewhere.

On the lower level, you’ll find three stalls, each with a hook for hanging up a coat or helmet. There are also seven urinals, in two banks, but no dividers. This is the practice at Afton, and it’s a slight demerit when it comes to a men’s room. On the other hand, the two banks of urinals in the lower level each have a long shelf, for placing gloves. For some reason, they’re not upstairs or (as I recall) at Highlands.

The lower level restroom has three sinks with a common countertop, three mirrors, and two soap dispensers. There are also three cloth towel dispensers.

The upstairs men’s room has a much lower capacity, with two stalls (only one with a coat hook), and only three urinals. But as with downstairs, there are three sinks, two soap dispensers, and three cloth towel dispensers.

The upstairs restroom has an outside door reminiscent of a a “nice” gas station, while the downstairs restroom uses design to avoid the need for an outside door.

The men’s room at the Highland chalet has a similar design, and no outside door. It has only two stalls and three urinals. As with the Alps chalet, it has three sinks and two soap dispensers. It has three mirrors and two cloth-towel dispensers. For some reason, the tile floor is more likely to be slippery than the floor of either restroom in the Alps chalet.

#5: Wild Mountain

Quick take: Wild Mountain is a great family place, and its restrooms on the main floor of the chalet are easy to get to. They have baskets, so you can rest your gloves while you’re going about your business. The restroom in the bar is pleasant enough, but the other set of second-floor facilities has a ceiling that will bother anyone approaching 6 foot tall.

Wild gets nicked in the rankings because the ground-floor men’s room is so basic. Too basic, in fact. It’s the only one among the six ski areas that has a urinal trough, giving the most heavily used men’s room the “drunken football fan” look.

Full review:

Wild Mountain regularly makes national news as the first ski area in the country to open for the season. It’s noteworthy for another, less glamorous fact: You never have to walk down a flight of stairs to use the restroom. And if you’re a germophobe, you’re in luck: All restrooms are configured in a way that don’t require you to open a door.

There are three public restrooms at Wild Mountain, all in the chalet. One is on the main level, and two are upstairs. Let’s start on the main level. The men’s room has one long urinal trough, and three stalls. In the stalls you’ll find wire baskets hanging on the wall above the toilet water tank. This is a nice touch; it lets you put down your gloves or mittens while doing your business. The restroom has two sinks, two soap dispensers, and two automatic paper dispensers. The floor, as it is in the other restrooms, resembles what you’d find in a Burger King or McDonalds restaurant.

Now to the upstairs. The party room has its own set of restrooms. The men’s room has three urinals (no partitions between them) and three stalls. The stalls don’t have baskets, a curious omission. If you’re on the tall side, be careful: You may knock your head on the angled ceiling.

The restroom has two sinks, two soap dispensers, and two automatic paper towel dispensers. There’s also roughly a six-inch step down into the restroom from the party room, so watch your step!

The bar has the best restroom in the building. There are two chairs near the entrance, which you can sit on to adjust your boots. Though the restroom is attached to the bar, it’s also the most child-friendly facility of the three. One of the two automatic towel dispensers is set at a lower height, as is one of the three soap dispensers. There are two sinks.

There are no partitions near the two urinals, though one is lower than the other. Both of the stalls have baskets above the toilet water tank, and the handicapped-accessible stall also has a chair and diaper-changing deck.

#6: Buck Hill

Quick take: Buck Hill has four restrooms for public use, including one in the lower level of the building that houses the ski school (pictured). But this ranking is based on the restrooms in the main lodge.

It’s not that those are the worst of the bunch–the one in the basement of Welch’s rental building holds that distinction–it’s the hassle factor of getting there. They’re down a narrow set of stairs.

Snowboarders, thanks to their soft boots, have an easier time of it than skiers, but even they can’t avoid the fact that the frequently has traffic jams.

Full review:

For members of the general public, Buck has four restrooms: One in building that houses the main lodge, and three more in the one that houses the ski school and bar.

The Main Chalet hosts the food service area, and is the obvious place to head to when you need to go. Unfortunately, its restrooms are “ski area classic,” which means they are downstairs. Snowboarders can more easily navigate the 16 steps up and down, though skiers will have a more difficult time of it. The stairway itself is narrow, so you may have to wait for it to clear before heading up or down.

The men’s room was reasonably clean on the day I visited. It’s a nice version of what you might find in an unfinished basement: Concrete walls with some sort of treatment on the floor to make it look slightly less industrial. There are four urinals (no partitions) and two stalls, with heavy, wooden doors. The washing area features two sinks and two soap dispensers, plus an automatic paper-towel dispenser.

The other three sets of restrooms are housed in a second building.

Since the ski school is the means by which Buck Hill hopes to entice people to say with the sport, it’s no surprise that it has the nicest restrooms on the property. It has one handicapped-sized stall. The partition between the two urinals shows the first step up to a “higher class” restroom.

After you’ve done your business, don’t forget to wash your hands! There are three soap dispensers. In a nice touch, one of them is closer to the counter level, to accommodate young skiers and riders.

It has two means of drying your hands: an automatic paper towel dispenser, and a hot-air machine. The room was reasonably well lit, and clean when I visited.

The party room, to the south of the ski school but in the same building, has its own set of restrooms. It has one stall (small) and one urinal. The counter showed evidence of water damage and needed to be clean. The room has an automatic towel dispenser, and one soap dispenser. The walls have the look of having been painted over and over and over, and the floor is perhaps the most unpleasant-looking one on the property.

If you’re in the mood for a brew, head upstairs to Tucker Bar, which has its own set of restrooms. They’re on par with the restrooms near the ski school, though not quite as nice. One stall, two urinals.

Obviously, nobody heads to a ski area simply to use the loo. But using the facilities is, for good or bad, part of the experience.

Trollhaugen brings zip lines to Twin Cities snow scene

Want to experience a ski area in a whole new way? Fly down it, suspended by a cable and a harness.

Joining the likes of Midwestern counterparts Boyne Mountain (Boyne Falls, Mich.) and Spirit Mountain, (Duluth, Minn.), Trollhaugen, Wis., unveiled a zipline feature on October 6. The ski and snowboard resort is roughly 50 miles from downtown St. Paul, outside the town of Dresser.

The “dual zip line” is 1,400 feet long. The ride is broken into one segment of 1,000 feet and then a shorter one of 400 feet. Between the two, you stop at a platform that is 30 feet off the air, and switch lines. The dual zip trip will cost you $18, but if you buy two rides, you get a discount, so you pay $30 for two rides, rather than $36. Tax is not included.

Another option is the guided tour, which consists of multiple trips on various lines, through the woods. This option, which will take over two hours, will let you slide in the air for about 3,000 feet, at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour. The cost for adult ride is $45.

Both options are weekend-only affairs; check the website for up-to-date information. The plan going forward, according to a representative from Trollhaugen, is for the dual zip line to be open all winter, while the guided tour will be open only for organized groups.

For ski areas, ziplines offer a chance to diversify their revenue stream. For skiers and snowboarders, a zipline offers the chance to “get some air” without having to master any tricks.

Wild Mountain, Trollhaugen, Afton, make snow

With colder temperatures descending onTwin Cities lately, snowboarders and skiers will be able to get on the snow, if only on plots about the size of a football field or two.

Today had long been scheduled as the last day that Wild Mountain offered the summer activities of alpine sliding and go-kart riding, as well as the last day of its fall festival. But in an email released early this morning, Amy Frischmon, vice president of Wild, gave the good news. “Keeping with our 35+ year tradition,” Frischmon said, “we will be the first area to open in the Midwest. In fact, this season we will be the first area to open in the Nation!”

According to the email, “we are going to make snow until we have to shut down. Once we shut down we will groom and string a rope tow. The plan is to have Front Stage & Dandy open with at least one rope, possibly two. We will get various rails and boxes out on the hill as soon as we can.”

As the email suggests, you shouldn’t plan to ride or ski all 100 acres. Only a small portion of Wild will be covered with snow, but for snow lovers, at least it will be a start. A lift ticket today is $18, but if it’s your birthday, show a photo ID and you’ll get one free of charge. Snowboarding and skiing hours today are until 5 p.m.

Today is by far the earliest that Wild Mountain has been open for winter business, says Frischmon. The previous record was October 18, set in 1992.

Just a few miles down the road, Trollhaugen ski area plans to be open for a rail jam. On its Facebook page, the area says, “compete, and/or hike Tomte for FREE!” Afton Alps laid down some snow last night, too, but is not planning to open for business today.