LUTSEN -- Sue Hansen, a ski instructor at Lutsen Mountains on the North Shore from 1965 to 2003, got her first ride on the ski area's new gondola Friday. It didn't disappoint.

"What a plush, wonderful ride," she said after ascending to the Summit Chalet on Moose Mountain. "With the beautiful views, particularly now with the snow on the trees, I mean it is just a winter wonderland up here."

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Lutsen Mountains officially opened its new $7 million Doppelmayr gondola on Friday, with dignitaries and skiers gathering for the dedication ceremony amid a fresh coating of snow.

"It's going to transform the skiing at Lutsen because it has so much more capacity and it is so much more comfortable than the old gondola," said Charles Skinner, co-owner and co-president of Lutsen Mountains. "Gone will be the days of lift lines up here or on both ends. It's really going to change things."

The new gondola carries eight people in each car, and up to 1,000 people per hour, to the top of Moose Mountain. That's twice as many people per car as the old gondola, and more than three times the 300 people per hour the old gondola carried.

The new cars feature panoramic windows and barrier-free access.

The old gondola had been in use for a quarter-century at Lutsen; it had previously been used at a New Hampshire resort and was nearing 50 years old.

The new gondola features a nod to its predecessor.

"We wanted to keep the signature red," Skinner said. "It had become kind of an iconic symbol of Lutsen's size and beauty. And we wanted to honor that tradition. So we kept the red and I think it's a fitting tribute to the old gondola, which served us so well."

Unseasonably-mild conditions through the first part of December put a damper on skiing in the Northland, but Skinner said Lutsen has received more than a foot of new snow in the past week, along with colder conditions that are better for making snow. Some runs are open and additional terrain should open up in the next couple of days, in time for Christmas-week skiing.

Spirit Mountain in Duluth and Giants Ridge near Biwabik both reported online that they will have downhill runs open this weekend. Mont du Lac Recreation near Superior reported that snowmaking is underway with a targeted opening of sometime next week.