After flood, Mont du Lac ski hill comes back better than everHeavy June rains and an ensuing flood did a number on Mont du Lac this summer, leaving the Douglas County ski area to contend with about $2 million in damage, said Cherie LeTourneau, the ski hill’s program director.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
Heavy June rains and an ensuing flood did a number on Mont du Lac this summer, leaving the Douglas County ski area to contend with about $2 million in damage, said Cherie LeTourneau, the ski hill’s program director.
More than 50 mudslides occurred on the hill, with one of them taking out a racing shack and starting gates. For several days, the property was inaccessible because of floodwater.
But the mom-and-pop operation has proven its resilience, and staff members expect to welcome their first skiers on Thanksgiving weekend to a new and expanded trail network.
“The hill, itself, will offer better skiing than ever,” said Larry Pulkrabek, who owns Mont du Lac with his wife, Donna. The Pulkrabeks also own Field Logic, a Superior-based manufacturer/marketer of hunting products, and purchased the more-than-430-acre property across the St. Louis River from Duluth’s Fond du Lac neighborhood in 2008.
The couple seized the opportunity after the June 19-20 rains to rethink the hill, as a bulldozer re-contoured damaged slopes.
Pulkrabek praised Mont du Lac’s general manager, Mike Cameron, for his “herculean efforts” to open up new terrain for skiers.
“We created a huge bowl-shaped area,” Pulkrabek said. “There’s really nothing else like it in the Midwest. It’s probably 10-plus acres.
“We’ve added a lot of variety to the hill. We’ve increased its openness. And we now probably have some of the steepest runs in the region."
Pulkrabek said the improvements were made mostly in-house but still cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and insurance didn’t kick in to help with the work. He did say the Northland Foundation provided some assistance, but for the most part, the Pulkrabek family has been left to its own devices.
“It was a huge financial setback,” Pulkrabek said of the storm, although he’s pleased with the results of the work that followed on the ski hill.
“We worked through October to get everything stabilized and seeded,” LeTourneau said, noting that grass already has taken hold in many of these areas.
Original plans to open a hilltop lodge this winter have been delayed by other recovery work, and LeTourneau said it’s likely the building won’t be ready for public use until next year.
“Work is still progressing, but it became a timing issue after the storm,” Pulkrabek said, describing the 18,500-square-foot timber and stone building as a structure that will rival the lodge at Yellowstone Park. The Pulkrabeks plan to make their home in a portion of the new lodge building and open the rest of it for public use.
“This is a project of the heart,” Pulkrabek said. “We’re trying to build something to be here for generations to come.”
Pulkrabek said the extensive work that’s been under way at Mont du Lac has created a lot of positive local buzz.
“We’re entering this new season with tremendous energy,” he said. “Our sales of season passes are probably already tenfold what they were last year.”
Mont du Lac has its snowguns positioned, and LeTourneau said it probably will take a solid two days of good snowmaking weather to put enough snow on the ground for operations to begin.
The ski hill will open on a limited basis initially, with its terrain park, high-speed rope tow and beginners slope ready for skiers and snowboarders. Additional runs will open as snowmaking conditions permit.
Since taking ownership of Mont du Lac, the Pulkrabeks have made numerous improvements to the existing chalet at the base of the ski hill in addition to starting work on a new lodge up on top. They’ve repaired the structure, made it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and upgraded utilities.
The Pulkrabeks also have added a tubing hill to the operation, developed a popular network of mountain bike trails, installed two 18-hole disc golf courses and carved out 17 rustic camping sites. The family aims to make Mont du Lac a recreational destination for all seasons.