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Duluth XC Ski Club revives old Lester-Amity chalet

The Lester-Amity Chalet doesn't smell like an old basement any more, and the sun comes shining in through 16 new clear, glass windows where plexiglass and bars had blocked the view.

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People visit the 52-year-old, 3,200-square-foot Lester-Amity Chalet during Sunday’s open house. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

The Lester-Amity Chalet doesn't smell like an old basement any more, and the sun comes shining in through 16 new clear, glass windows where plexiglass and bars had blocked the view.

Those are probably the most obvious changes a year into efforts to repurpose the old hockey warming house into a thriving community center - a chalet for cross-country skiers in winter; a room for mountain bikers and hikers to rest; and a bright space for birthday parties and other community events all year.

Friends of Lester-Amity Chalet, or FLAC, a subgroup of the Duluth XC Ski Club, has been organizing work on the half-century-old concrete block building along Seven Bridges Road, about a mile up from Superior Street.

"We've come a long way. We still have more to do," said Beth Foudriat, one of the group's volunteers. "The windows were the biggest change, I think, and we have some water now. The bathrooms are useable. And the new furnaces are in. We're just about ready for winter."

The revitalized chalet will be open weekends during the upcoming cross-country ski season, whenever snow arrives "and maybe some weeknights, too," Foudriat added.

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On Sunday supporters, donors, ski fans and others gathered at an open house to celebrate progress toward reviving the old building into something new and vital.

Efforts began in 2013 but really got going in late in 2014. The ski club signed a 10-year lease agreement with the city for use of the 3,200-square-foot chalet. Duluth's cross-country ski enthusiasts were pushed to the Lester-Amity chalet by the potential loss of Snowflake Nordic Center, at least part of which may be developed into a new school in coming years.

With mostly volunteer labor, Lester-Amity Chalet supporters have already upgraded the electrical system to code, fixed plumbing in the bathrooms, installed a new well pump, received county approval for the septic system, repaired a gas fireplace and added new tables and seating for 80 or more people, thanks to a donation by Duluth's Loll Designs.

"It's a team effort," said Annalisa Peterson, another volunteer in the effort. "But it's already so much nicer."

In coming months the group is working to add a high efficiency water heater and air exchanger and add a wider, handicapped accessible front entry as well as making restrooms handicapped accessible. There are plans for a ski-waxing room, gear kiosk, new paint, a refurbished kitchen and more.

"We still have work to do in the bathrooms. We need to fix up the kitchen. And our big project we hope to get a city grant for by next spring is a deck out the main door," Foudriat said.

Plans are for that big deck to overlook not just the main parking lot, where hockey rinks once stood, but also a new starting and finishing area for Nordic ski races.

The chalet has a long history of housing youth sports. A neighborhood group that called itself Lakeview Winter Sports Inc. spearheaded construction that was completed in 1963. Then called the Lakeview Chalet, the facility at various times saw downhill skiing, ski jumps and tubing just across the street. Most recently the chalet served two youth hockey rinks. But it was shuttered when hockey ended about six years ago and the vacated building fell into disrepair.

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The city at one point considered demolishing the chalet. Now, the building seems poised to become a busy gathering spot for Duluth's eastern neighborhoods.

Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory is using the building as its rainy-day classroom. Some parties already have been booked. And Duluth's Tosasty's restaurant has agreed to cater food for the snack bar on ski season weekends.

"It's still a functional building," Foudriat said. "But there are lots of little things that need to be done. We're getting there as quick as we can."

For more information go to duluthxc.com/lester-amity-chalet/ or email lesteramitychalet@gmail.com .

Related Topics: SKIING
John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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