More skiing in the forest? Lutsen ski area seeks to expand on public land

Skiing in “glade” terrain at Lutsen Mountains. (Courtesy U.S. Forest Service/Lutsen Mountains)

The Superior National Forest has released a draft environmental impact statement for a proposed expansion by Lutsen Mountains, the largest ski area in the Midwest. The agency is accepting comments on the document until October 25.

The project would expand the ski area on 495 acres of neighboring public land. The new area would provide both new groomed terrain and “glade” ski runs, where the understory vegetation would be thinned while leaving many trees.

Lutsen’s current ski area is located entirely on private lands. The expansion onto public land would be in line with many ski areas in the western United States. The company that owns the resort says expansion is necessary for the ski area to survive financially. It points to the impact of consolidation in the industry, with 60 percent of the industry now owned by two conglomerates. It says more and different types of terrain and amenities are necessary to compete as a destination ski area.

New skiing options

The proposed option in the environmental review would include 36 acres area on the south side of Eagle Mountain and 459 acres on the southwest side of Moose Mountain. There would be 174.5 acres of traditional groomed ski runs and 149 acres of “glade” terrain.

Serving the new ski runs would be new base areas at the foot of both mountains with services for skiers, a new chalet near the summit of Moose Mountain, seven new chairlifts and one surface lift, new roads to provide access, and snow-making equipment for all new acres. It would also require a short reroute of the Superior Hiking Trail/North Country National Scenic Trail and a snowmobile trail spur.

“In December 2017, Lutsen Mountains applied for a for a special use permit that would allow the resort to construct, operate and maintain a ski area on Forest Service lands,” the Forest Service says. “The proposal is an allowable use of Forest Service land per the National Forest Ski Area Permit Act of 1986, which allows National Forest System lands to be used as ski areas with the appropriate special use permit.”

Fragile forests

Environmental review is part of the permit process, and the draft released last week analyzes a wide range of impacts if the project goes forward.

One of the most significant effects could be the loss of old-growth trees. While forests across much of the North Shore have been stressed and degraded in the past few decades by climate change, invasive species, and other forces, areas included in Lutsen’s proposed project offer healthy, intact forests.

“The forests on Moose Mountain specifically contain undisturbed remnant examples of northern white cedar-dominated forests and mesic hardwood forests dominated by sugar maple,” the environmental review reports. Botanists who examined the site said some of the white cedar trees are more than 140 years old. They also found several rare lichens in the area.

The forest type that will be most disturbed is also the most imperiled. The project area includes 158 acres of the North Shore spruce-fir woodland type on Moose Mountain. This plant community is listed as “critically imperiled” by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Room for more skiers

The environmental review also covers impacts on several other resources and activities. It includes recreation, scenery, socioeconomic factors, vehicle traffic, tribal resources, air and climate, wildlife, water, soils, and wetlands.

The proposed project would also reroute 1.7 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail/North Country National Scenic Trail on Moose Mountain. It would avoid parts of the project and decrease the trail’s steepness.

The expansion would more than double the “comfortable carrying capacity” of Lutsen Mountains, from 2,850 visitors currently to 6,300 in the future. It would mean creating more than 1,200 new parking spaces and about five miles of new roads.

How to comment

Visit the Forest Service’s environmental review website to review the proposal, under the “Analysis” tab. Comments must be submitted by October 25.

Written Comments:
Ellen Bogardus-Szymaniak, District Ranger: Lutsen DEIS Project
Tofte Ranger District, 7355 West Highway 61, PO BOX 2159, Tofte, MN 55615

Email Comments:
Include “Lutsen Mountains Ski Area Expansion Project” in the subject line.

More information:

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