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Forest Service opens public comment period on Lutsen Mountains expansion proposal

Lutsen Mountains ski area. Photo by Jaye White
Lutsen Mountains ski area. Photo by Jaye White

As WTIP has been reporting for several years, Lutsen Mountains would like to expand by adding more skiing opportunities to the recreation area. To grow, however, would mean use of U.S. Forest Service land. Lutsen Mountains is asking the Forest Service to consider a special use permit for the ski hill to allow it to expand.

On Sept. 10, the U.S. Forest Service published a draft environmental impact statement. This action opens a 45-day public comment period. After the public comment period, the Forest Service will revise the draft version of the environmental impact statement into a final version. The final document will be issued with the selection to allow an expansion of the ski resort or not, specifically Superior National Forest Supervisor Connie Cummins’s decision about whether or not to grant the special use permit.

The development of the proposed lifts, terrain, and guest services at Lutsen Mountains would require the authorization of an approximately 495-acre special use permit on Superior National Forest lands.  If approved, the expansion would nearly double the size of the skiable area at the North Shore skiing destination.

Among the specifics in the request from Lutsen Mountain are:

• Construction of seven new chairlifts and one surface lift;

• Development of 324 acres of additional ski terrain, including approximately 175 acres of developed ski trails and 149 acres of gladed terrain;

• Expansion of guest services including two new base facilities, maintenance facilities, a mountaintop chalet, and all associated infrastructure;

• Expansion of ski patrol operations, including construction of an interim ski patrol duty station located in a similar location to the mountain-top chalet;

• Development of approximately 1,260 additional parking spaces (630 at Moose Mountain and 630 at Eagle Mountain), construction of approximately five miles of permanent access roads, and construction of approximately 0.9 miles of temporary access roads; and

• Installation of snowmaking coverage on all 175 acres of developed ski trails and construction of  two snowmaking reservoirs with a combined capacity of 13 million gallons.

Click here to review the draft environmental impact statement.

While drafting the environmental impact statement, the Forest Service developed a list of concerns associated with the request from Lutsen Mountains. Included among the concern areas is that issuing the permit to Lutsen Mountains could decrease, inhibit, or remove tribal access to resources reserved under the 1854 Treaty. The document reads that “construction of the proposed projects may reduce the extent and productivity of mature maple stands (sugar bush stands), wild rice waters, and hunting/fishing resources.”

Other concerns listed by the Forest Service include climate change impacts, including short-term construction-related activity, burning, and transportation related to timber removal. The Forest Service also notes that increases in visitation could result in localized impacts to air quality as well as greenhouse gas emissions.

WTIP spoke with Lutsen Mountains co-owner Charles Skinner in late 2019 about the proposal and he explained the project and the review process.

Lutsen Mountains was established in 1948. It is home to 95 runs across four mountains.

Past improvements at the ski hill include installation of a high-speed, six-passenger chairlift in 2013 and an eight-passenger gondola in 2015.