Owners of Minnesota's Lutsen Mountains have announced a plan to add a new gondola, replacing the 45-year-old existing four-seat gondola with a $7 million dollar, eight passenger unit that will be ready for the 2015/16 ski season. They’re also asking the National Forest Service for permission to expand onto 400 acres of the adjacent Superior National Forest.
The new gondola will increase capacity from 300 visitors per hour to 2,400 per hour ensuring travel to and from Moose Mountain without lines created on busy days.
This all comes on the heels of a recent announcement for a $50 million dollar expansion at Granite Peak, which includes a new high-speed lift, terrain expansion into Rib Mountain State Park and plans for slopeside lodging. Granite Peak, owner Charles Skinner, Jr., along with Lutsen family co-owner Tom Rider, made the announcement about Lutsen Mountains.
The gondola project includes an expansion of the Summit Chalet, additional observation decks and hiking trails. Future plans may call for a local history museum to be housed in an existing 2,000-square-foot building on top of Moose Mountain. Canopy tours, rope courses and zip lines are also planned in future years.
The new terrain is expected to provide more novice and intermediate runs, reduce crowding on busy weekends and holidays, and include new skier service buildings and more parking.
“The purpose of the expansion is to provide more recreational opportunities and visitor services for families,” said Skinner. “This is a vital part of our master plan for the resort.”
Lutsen Mountains has been a family destination ski area on Lake Superior’s North Shore for more than 60 years. They consider themselves as a destination ski area in competition with western ski areas. Annual skier visits are around 100,000 now, and Skinner estimates that number needs to be at least doubled over the next few years to survive long-term.
Skinner noted that national trends suggest that Lutsen will need to double skier visits to keep pace with other U. S. destination ski areas and gain the critical mass needed to remain viable. The expansion onto Superior National Forest land will allow them to more than double the size of its ski operations, which is a common practice in both western and eastern national forests. Full development will take 7 to 15 years, but up to six acres could be added as soon as the permit is obtained.
They’ve also obtained $829,000 in grant funds from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources to improve the health of the Poplar River that runs through the middle of the ski area
“The grant funds for the Poplar River will help get us to our goal of removing the Poplar River as an impaired river,” added Rider, who serves as President of the Poplar River Management Board.
Photos: Top -- Lutsen Mountains with Moose Mountain and Lake Superior in background; Bottom: The view of Lake Superior from Lutsen Mountains. (Lutsen Mountains)