Lutsen ski area expansion could include 400 acres of public hills

Downhill skiing at Lutsen Mountains (Photo by John Warren via Flickr)

The Superior National Forest is beginning environmental review of a major expansion at Lutsen Mountains on Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior. The agency recently announced the beginning of the process to examine a proposal by the popular ski resort to add runs, lifts, buildings, parking lots and more, on Moose and Eagle Mountains.

While the resort currently occupies privately-owned land, offering 187.3 acres of skiable terrain, the new project would primarily take place on Forest Service land. Ski areas in the western United States often operate with special use permits on public land. Lutsen would use about 400 acres of federal land on Moose Mountain and under 100 acres on Eagle Mountain. The expansion would almost double the amount of skiable terrain to 362 acres.

It would also restrict access to parts of the hills that have become increasingly popular with a community of backcountry skiers. And it would require re-routing 1.7 miles of the current Superior Hiking Trail route, constructing several switchbacks to improve hiking, and adding 0.2 miles to the trail’s total mileage.

Lutsen Mountains currently operates eight lifts and provides access to a trail network of approximately 210 acres, almost entirely traditionally cleared and groomed trails.

New types of terrain

By expanding the amount and type of terrain, and adding seven lifts, the resort hopes to broaden its appeal and ability to handle larger crowds. Much of the new terrain would be ungroomed “glades,” which means clearing underbrush but leaving most trees.

The scoping letter notes that the ski runs too often feel crowded to skiers, affecting their experience, as well as degrading snow quality. The existing mountain base area is also too small, negatively affecting parking, ski school, and rental abilities. The existing base area is constrained by topography and land ownership, so the resort proposes a new area with parking, skier services, and hill access at the base of Moose Mountain.

It would also construct new snowmaking infrastructure, including two large ponds to hold water for creating snow.

Click to view full-size map of proposed project. (Courtesy US Forest Service)

Resort officials say it may take 20 years to complete their vision for the project, but is necessary to keep up with consumer demand — and demands. The scoping document released recently April 28 notes that today’s skiers want a wide variety of terrain types, for the full spectrum of skill levels, and that Lutsen isn’t meeting the need.

“The implication of the importance of terrain variety is that a resort must have a diverse, interesting, and well-designed developed trail system, but also must have a wide variety of alternate-style undeveloped terrain, such as gladed terrain,” the letter reads.

About 170 acres of the new terrain would be “glades.” Lusten’s only current undeveloped terrain is limited to small “islands” of trees between developed trails.

Whose hills?

The question of who should be allowed to ski the glades is leading to opposition from backcountry skiers. A group who have spent the past several years exploring terrain along this part of the Sawtooth Mountains, where some of the highest and steepest elevation along the North Shore is found, say the expansion would essentially “privatize” some of the region’s best out-of-bounds terrain.

Superior Highland Backcountry has been scouting runs and trying to promote backcountry skiing on the North Shore. The skiers were featured in a Duluth News-Tribune article last year.

“The proposed Lutsen Mountains Ski Area Expansion Project threatens the future of backcountry skiing opportunities on the North Shore,” the organization writes in a comment letter to the Forest Service. “Moose Mountain holds the most unbroken ski-able vertical feet in Northern Minnesota and is a valuable resource for backcountry skiers. Vertical feet of skiable pitch is a finite resource in our region, and needs to be shared.”

The group asks the Forest Service to work with them to develop a true backcountry skiing destination on the hills instead. They have already worked with the Lake County Forestry Department on nearby lands to perform selective thinning of underbrush to create “glades” that allow skiing. They also want to develop a series of backcountry overnight shelters to allow skiers to spend multiple days skiing and trekking between glades.


Complete information and documentation is below. The scoping period is open through May 28, 2020.

Comments can be submitted online; by email to comments-eastern-superior@usda.gov (please include “Lutsen Mountains Ski Area Expansion Project” in the subject line);
or by mail to Constance Cummins, Forest Supervisor, c/o Michael Jimenez, Project Leader, Superior National Forest, 8901 Grand Avenue Place, Duluth, MN 55808.

More information:

Get Quetico Superior Wilderness News straight to your inbox

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap