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Travel Scene: Lutsen looks to grow

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Lutsen Mountains, the Duluth-area resort on the North Shore that has evolved into one of the premier ski destinations in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest, has announced plans for a significant upgrade in its operations, as well as a large expansion.

The cost will run into the millions, according to owners who intend to solidify the ski and resort area complex as a top family destination.

The major project — and the most expensive with a price tag of $7 million — will be the construction of a new eight-person gondola that will replace an aging four-person gondola built in 1989.

Construction of the new gondola will begin next summer and it is expected to be operational in time for the 2015-16 ski season. The gondola shuttles passengers between two mountains at the resort.

Another significant change will be the proposal to greatly expand Lutsen's ski area, outlined at a Duluth press conference by Charles Skinner, whose family owns the resort.

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According to various media accounts, plans call for the expansion of the ski area by more than 140 acres, to a total of 300 acres. The expansion area would be onto Superior National Forest land, which would require an extensive review by the federal government, the Duluth News-Tribune reported. Some of the National Forest land would be used to accommodate a skier services building and parking.

The new additions are vital for the survival of the family business, said Skinner.

"Almost half of the ski areas in the United States have closed because they were too small or failed to keep up," he said. "National trends suggest that Lutsen will need to about double our ski area just to keep pace with other U.S. ski destinations." Lutsen currently is the largest ski facility in the Midwest, with 95 runs and a total vertical drop of 920 feet.

In order to fulfill its future plans, Lutsen is prepared to spend $30 million more in the next several years — over and above the $7 million for the cost of the new gondola, Skinner told the media.

Lutsen makes up a large part of the $159 million tourism economy in Cook County.

Utah ski expansion

There's more skiing news out there with the announcement from Vail Resorts that it is spending $50 million for planned upgrades at its Park City Mountain Resort in Utah. The project would be one of the most ambitious capital programs in U.S. ski industry history.

The plan would establish an interconnect eight-passenger gondola that would run from an existing lift at Park City to another lift at Canyons, creating the largest single ski area in the country, with more than 7,300 acres of skiable terrain, according to an article in Global Travel Industry News.

Related Topics: SKIINGTOURISM
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