Lutsen Mountains moving closer to major ski expansion
Lutsen Mountains is getting a little closer to a long-planned expansion of the North Shore downhill ski resort.
The U.S. Forest Service has accepted Lutsen's plan to expand ski runs onto Superior National Forest land.
Lutsen wants to expand onto 400 acres of Superior National Forest land, allowing the ski area to nearly double the size of its downhill operations.
The plan, which requires a special use permit from the Forest Service, appears to be "viable," said Kris Reichenbach, spokeswoman for the Superior National Forest. The agency will now begin the environmental review process which is expected to take months, if not years.
Lutsen would pay a fee to lease the land for the expanded ski hill, Jim Vick, marketing director for Lutsen Mountains, told the News Tribune.
The company plans to first expand east on Eagle Mountain and then move further west on Moose Mountain, both on National Forest land.
It's unclear at this point whether a less-extensive environmental assessment worksheet will be required or a full-fledged environmental impact statement. Several alternatives will be developed as part of the review, Reichenbach said.
Federal officials will at some point hold "scoping'' meetings to determine what issues should be covered by the environmental review, with more public meetings after a draft plan is developed.
In the meantime, Lutsen officials are holding two public informational meetings on their expansion plans, both set for June 1. The first is set from 10 a.m. to noon at the Summit Chalet at Lutsen. The second is from 4 to 6 p.m. at Pier B Resort in Duluth.
The existing Lutsen Mountains complex of four hills, multiple lifts and 95 runs — along with ski shops, chalets, taverns, restaurants, condos and hotels — now sprawls across 1,000 acres. The expansion would increase the skiable area from 180 to 320 acres, the company notes, and include an expanded base area, additional skier services and more parking on both Eagle Mountain and Moose Mountain. The expansion also would "add opportunities for cross-country skiing and provide an improved route for the Superior Hiking Trail,'' the company says.
In recent years the resort ownership has spent millions on a new enclosed gondola, a high-speed chairlift and new snowmaking equipment (they now have 75 snow guns) and have bolstered erosion control efforts to keep sediment out of the Poplar River during heavy rains and snowmelt.
They also have, with help from state taxpayers and the Legislature's bonding authority, converted to a new water supply, taking water for snowmaking from nearby Lake Superior instead of the Poplar River.
The expansion project could boost employment at peak ski season from about 250 to about 450 people. The company says the "proposed expansion and application for a special use permit is consistent with the Forest Service mission for this land and is similar to permits issued to other ski areas across the nation'' that operate on National Forest lands.