Lutsen Mountains expansion denied, halting new trails, lifts and lodge

A proposed expansion by Lutsen Mountains that would have increased skiing and hiking terrain, provided new lifts and services, and added parking spaces will not have its application permit approved.

The Superior National Forest is proposing a ‘No Action’ decision based on findings through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process and Tribal consultation, according to an announcement. 

"Through input from the public and partners, consultation with our local Tribes, along with the environmental analysis, the Forest made a decision of ‘No Action’ for the Lutsen Ski Hill Proposed Expansion Area," said Tom Hall, Superior National Forest Supervisor, in a statement Friday following the decision. "The NEPA process is designed to include public engagement to ensure federal actions consider all relevant information and potential impacts of a proposed project prior to approving a project. This information and the analysis informed our decision."
The no-action requires "a continuation of existing management practices without changes, additions, or upgrades to existing conditions," as a result of this NEPA analysis

The analysis is said to have weighed several factors, including, "the potential effects to numerous natural and cultural resources, negative impacts to the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) users and backcountry skiers, impacts to the adjacent Lutsen Scientific and Natural Area, and a variety of natural resource impacts, including hydrology, water quality and quantity."

As a result, the addition of lifts, trails, or recreation facilities will not receive approval for construction on National Forest System (NFS) lands.

Expansion proposal

The proposal by the Lutsen Mountain Corporation was intended to improve "overall guest experiences" that could not be accommodated on adjacent private land already controlled by the company.

Objectives within the proposal included constructing additional ski trails, increasing skier circulation and reliable snow conditions, and improving guest parking and amenities.

Lutsen currently operates eight lifts and provides access to a trail network of approximately 210.8 acres, of which 187.3 acres are traditional alpine trails (or developed terrain), and 23.5 acres of undeveloped terrain.

Under its proposal, the developed ski terrain network – not including access trails – would increase by approximately 174.5 acres, from the current 187.3 acres to 361.8 acres, through six separate ski areas.

Of the proposed 174.5 acres of newly developed terrain, approximately 142 acres would be located on NFS land, and 32.5 acres would be on private land.

Undeveloped terrain would increase from 23.5 acres to 172.5 acres. Of the additional 149 acres, approximately 6.4 acres would be on private land and 142.6 acres on NFS land.

According to the company, an analysis of its existing terrain by ability level identified a deficiency in terrain across most skier ability levels, but particularly beginner, novice, and expert terrain. 
However, its network currently occurs on privately owned land, and is surrounded by the Superior National Forest on three sides, requiring approval for the expansion. Surrounding private property not does meet the requirements needed for additional trails, the company argued.

In its proposal, Lutsen claims it has, "a deficit of skier circulation space compared to industry norms that result in an uncomfortable or cramped feeling for guests."

As a result, the proposal included seven new chairlifts and one surface lift to provide access to the variety of proposed ski terrain.

It would also like to improve its snow-making operations, which would require additional on-mountain snowmaking water storage. 

In addition to new terrain and lifts, the company also aimed to create more space for increased guest parking, which currently offers 200 parking spaces for ticketing, ski rental and repair. On peak days, the company claims it has a deficit of 132 parking spaces.

"The small size of the ski rental and repair facility has resulted in Lutsen Mountains being unable to provide sufficient rental services, such as inventory volume and variety, to meet guest demand," the proposal said.

Currently, only the Summit Chalet located at the top of the Lutsen Gondola provides on-mountain skier services, following a fire that destroyed Papa Charlie’s in June 2023.

A proposed new base lodge on Eagle and Moose mountains would contain restrooms, food service and seating, ticketing and rental options, and ski school opportunities, encompassing two stories and 10,000 square feet. It would also have contained approximately 630 parking spots, with a shuttle drop off location in its parking area.

Approximately 5 miles of new permanent access roads would have provided access to the proposed Eagle Mountain and Moose Mountain base areas, crossing both NFS and private lands.