Our History

3 skiers on a mountain

For 75 years, Lutsen has been a family-run ski area, the first 32 years by the Nelson Family and the last 43 years (and three generations) by the Skinner Family. The ski area has always had the topography to lay claim to the largest ski area in the Midwest. But becoming and maintaining leadership as the premier destination ski area in the Midwest means constant improvements and continual transformation.

It all started with George Nelson's great idea...

Lutsen was founded in the 1880s when C.A.A. Nelson arrived from Sweden, built a home, and rented rooms to other pioneers. A family inn-keeping tradition was born. Decades later, C.A.A.'s grandson, George, a member of the famed 10th Mountain Division, returned from World War II with a new vision: a year-round resort that capitalized on our abundant natural resources, and the Midwest's tallest mountains, plentiful snow, and a gorgeous Lake Superior backdrop. In 1948, George brought skiing to Lutsen with one lift and two runs. During the '60s, chairlifts and snowmaking hit the scene. And in the '70s, George's daughter, National and Olympic ski champion Cindy Nelson, trained here and put us on the ski map.

A great idea grows with Charlie Skinner...

In 1980, Charlie Skinner bought the resort from the Nelson family. Charlie founded Sugar Hills (Grand Rapids, MN) in 1960 and was a ski industry pioneer, the inventor of several snow guns and advisor to many Western ski areas on early snowmaking technology. In the 1970's, Charlie was also President of Sugarloaf, USA, one of the largest Eastern ski areas. As a ski area operator, Charlie realized the vast potential of Lutsen as the largest ski mountain in Mid-America, more than doubling the skiable terrain in his tenure and installing the Midwest's only gondola.

A new generation of the Skinner/Rider Family takes the lead...

Charlie's son, Charles, and son-in-law, Tom Rider, joined Lutsen Mountains in the 1990's and purchased the ski area from Charlie. Attorneys by background, skiing was in their blood as both decided to forgo established East Coast law careers for the passion of operating a family-run Midwest ski area. With a sensibility to the complete resort experience, Charles and Tom embarked on a modernization and expansion plan that covered all aspects of the resort including new runs and ski lifts and expanded snowmaking and grooming capabilities; Papa Charlie's - the renowned music and dining venue; the Summit Chalet - an opulent skier services (and summer wedding) facility at the summit of Moose Mountain; and Eagle Ridge - 74 ski-in/ski-out studios and condominiums at the heart of the ski area. Behind the scenes, millions of dollars have been invested on the less glamorous but equally essential side of wastewater and storm water management, engineering, and a streetscape project with sidewalks, lighting, and courtyards to improve the guest experience and public safety.

And the vision continues to adapt to new challenges...

Over the three decades of ownership by the Skinner/Rider Family, the ski area business in the U.S. has changed dramatically. Three hundred ski areas, many of them destination ski areas like Lutsen, have gone out of business because they were too small and failed to modernize, including iconic destinations like Telemark, Wisconsin. Over this same period, Western destinations have grown, and their expansions and upgrades have continuously raised the bar for Midwest destinations like Lutsen.

Charting a course for the future of Midwestern skiing...

Lutsen is meeting these challenges head on. Since 2010, Charles and Tom have borrowed and reinvested more than $15 million in the ski area. In 2011, the snowmaking system was modernized with a fleet of powerful, energy-efficient snow machines. In 2012, a new $5 million high-speed chairlift was added in the center of the ski area's largest mountain, Moose Mountain. In December 2014, Charles and Tom announced the replacement of its existing gondola with a new $6 million gondola. The new gondola is a major upgrade from the existing 4-passenger icon of Lutsen, with a modern 8-passenger cabin and heated seats. With up to 8 times the capacity of the gondola it replaces, lines to ride the gondola to or from Moose Mountains will be a thing of the past. The new gondola, to be manufactured and installed by the world's largest lift company, Doppelmayr, will be ready for the 2015-16 ski season.

Lutsen Mountains has also proposed a ski area expansion onto National Forest System lands adjacent to existing runs.* The new ski runs would add the novice and easier intermediate runs that are so vital to the ski area's core family customer. Lutsen's drive-to location, and lower costs, relative to Western ski areas, make Lutsen an ideal location for families to enjoy. We believe this additional land is essential for the ski area to maintain and increase visitation from family customers, and will lead to an increase in skier visitation from 100,000 to 200,000, and level that will enable the ski area to survive and prosper for future generations.

Lutsen Mountains is committed to continuing to improve the ski vacation experience for its customers and the economy of our county. Tourism is the primary economic driver in Cook County, accounting for 80% of the $150 million economy. Lutsen Mountains currently generates $29 million of the $150 million economy and 250 jobs of the workforce of 2,000. The expansion is estimated to increase the ski area's economic contribution to $53 million and jobs to 450, concentrated during the winter when jobs and sales are needed most. The expansion will make the entire economy more year around. Of course, these improvements will take a number of years to complete. Along the way, we will continue to listen to our guests and analyze industry trends and adjust our plans. As a small family business, each step will be prioritized to be implemented sustainable, both financially and environmentally, to ensure the experience and aesthetic of a Lutsen vacation is available for generations to come.

The future of Lutsen will continue to be to offer the most diverse skiing in the Midwest, on four sprawling mountains, with plenty of easier trails for families and learning skiers and being able to enjoy endless activities and choose from an exceptional collection of lodging. Yet the spectacularly beautiful setting will remain, hardly changed since C.A.A. Nelson landed here over a century ago. Lutsen will continue to stand alone as the best, the biggest, and by far the most exciting and diverse skiing anywhere in Mid-America, giving you the experience of a Western ski resort, for a mere fraction of the price.

*The proposed land lies outside the Poplar River watershed and is designated for Recreational Use in a Scenic Landscape in the Superior National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan. The proposal is still in the early proposal process; no decisions have been made by the Forest Service. Once a full, detailed application is submitted, the Forest Service will begin the analysis, tribal and public involvement and the documentation process prescribed in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Lutsen will pay for the cost of the NEPA process. The analysis will cover a wide range of environmental and social concerns; the NEPA process is anticipated to take 12 to 24 months. Meanwhile, Lutsen is exploring alternate proposals for expansion including a shorter term permit and/or land exchange. The expansion is proposed to provide skiers and riders a high-quality recreation experience for a wide spectrum of ability levels and is part of Lutsen Mountain's long-term development plans. Lutsen's proposed expansion area would include approximately 400 acres