Lutsen Mountains ski resort on Minnesota's North Shore of Lake Superior would more than double its skier capacity, expanding onto nearly 500 acres of Superior National Forest land, under a proposal that’s now open for public review.

A 344-page environmental review of the expansion was unveiled Friday and is open for public comments for 45 days.

Superior National Forest officials have advanced three alternatives, including no expansion, the full Lutsen Mountains Corp. proposal and a slightly scaled-back proposal that offers most of the expansion with modifications.

Forest Service officials are weighing the economic and social benefits of the project against potential environmental issues, such as impacts on streams, wildlife, wetlands and forest aesthetics. The forest supervisor can pick from among the three alternatives or, based on public comments and staff input, approve a combination of the alternatives.

A final decision could come later this winter.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

RELATED:

If final approval is granted, Lutsen Mountains Corp. would be awarded a special use permit from the Forest Service to expand onto federal land, mostly west of the current ski area, including a 36-acre area on the south side of Eagle Mountain and a 459-acre portion on the southwest side of Moose Mountain. The company would in effect lease the land from the federal government.

The proposed expansion, in the works for nearly a decade, calls for the resort’s capacity to increase from 2,850 guests per day to 6,300 per day, with a new, on-mountain chalet on Moose Mountain; two new access areas at the base of the hills; 175 acres of traditional, open ski-snowboard terrain; and 149 acres of gladed terrain, with more trees left in place.

The company’s proposal includes seven new chairlifts and one surface lift, additional access roads to the new facilities and some rerouting of the Superior Hiking Trail/North Country National Scenic Trail.

Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

The two new base areas would add another 1,200 parking spaces serving two new 10,000-square-foot buildings providing a variety of guest services, including food services and seating, ski school space, rental/repair options and more.

Company officials have said the expansion would be developed over a decade and could cost nearly $60 million.

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.

It wasn’t immediately clear Friday if or how the Forest Service reviewed a rival proposal for the same Moose Mountain land that was submitted by the Superior Highland Backcountry group of backcountry skiers and snowboarders. That group had hoped to keep the National Forest portion Moose Mountain undeveloped, without lifts and mostly uncleared of trees, to accommodate the growing trend toward backcountry skiing among people who want a more physical, wild experience.

The News Tribune first detailed the Lutsen Mountains expansion in 2014.

How to comment

The Lutsen Mountains expansion draft environmental impact statement and supporting documents can be found on the Superior National Forest website at fs.usda.gov/project/?project=52440. Comments must be submitted by email or by mail until Oct. 25. Include your name, address and the title of the project: "Lutsen Mountains Expansion DEIS."

Written comments should be sent to: Ellen Bogardus-Szymaniak, District Ranger: Lutsen DEIS Project, Tofte Ranger District, 7355 West Highway 61, P.O. Box 2159, Tofte, MN 55615.

Emailed comments should be sent to comments-eastern-superior@usda.gov. Include “Lutsen Mountains Ski Area Expansion Project” in the subject line.

For more information about the project or questions about commenting, contact Michael Jimenez, project coordinator, at michael.jimenez@usda.gov.