Thunder Bay

Lutsen Mountains looks to major expansion, doubling ski area

A large destination resort in Minnesota, just a few hours south of Thunder Bay, Ont., has some big expansion plans.

Expansion plan calls for 7 new ski lifts, two new base areas

Jim Vick, the marketing director at Lutsen Mountains, says the hill's expansion plans could more than double the area's skiable terrain. (Supplied)

A destination ski resort just a few hours south of Thunder Bay, Ont., has some big expansion plans.

Lutsen Mountains, in Lutsen, Minnesota, is the largest ski resort in the midwestern United States, but is within easy driving distance of Thunder Bay.

The resort, with about 81 hectares of terrain, hopes to more than double in size, adding 200 hectares to its ski and snowboard areas.

The proposed expansion includes seven new chairlifts, and two new base areas at Eagle and Moose Mountains.

"Presently, we are on all private land, but if we want to expand, that will go into the National Forest," said Jim Vick, the marketing director for Lutsen Mountains.

He said many ski areas south of the border lease land from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and it is a common practice with large resorts in western parts of the country.

Planning for the expansion has taken three or four years to this point, he said, and "now, it's in that state where they've accepted everything that we've brought in, and they're doing their evaluation."

Vick said some expansion, such as new trail cutting to fit existing infrastructure could happen quite quickly, but, "It's really kind of a long-range plan, maybe as much as 20 years or more."

"Some of it can happen almost immediately once the permit is approved."

He said while the comments will go to the USFS, Vick said Canadian customers play a large role in supporting the ski operation, as well as the economy in Cook County.

"They're looking for support all around, or just comment all around on what people think on it. Clearly, if there was a strong contingent of Canadian skiers who supported this, I mean that still has economic activity here." 

"We have a very loyal Canadian customer base. Some who come down nearly every weekend, a number of our season pass holders are from there, a number of others will do the family trips for the school breaks and March break."

Vick said while the expansion at Lutsen would be good for his own operation, the Minnesota resort still needs the two hills in Thunder Bay, Loch Lomond and Mount Baldy, to be successful.

Mount Baldy has a reciprocal program with Lutsen, offering its pass holders discounts at the Minnesota resort.

"The success and survival of the local hills is important, it's what keeps people in the market, and skiing regularly and having this as part of their identity of what they do."

Vick said the expansion will be phased, and take millions of dollars of capital to complete. 

"Depending on the type and style of lift, they can run five, six, seven million dollars a piece."

People interested in commenting on the plan, or viewing it, can do so here.


Jeff Walters

Former CBC reporter

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Jeff worked in his hometown, as well as throughout northwestern Ontario.