Lutsen Mountains celebrates 75 years
In 1948, George Nelson returned from World War II with an idea that would impact the North Shore for generations.
“Some time while he was either in Europe fighting or training in Colorado, he thought he would just really like to have skiing in Lutsen,” said his daughter Cindy. “So when he returned from the war, he asked my granddad, ‘Can we cut some ski trails in the land we own up on the slopes of the Sawtooth?’ And his sales pitch to my granddad was that Lutsen Resort can be open for year round business because it was only a summer resort at the time. So with the creation and the start of Lutsen ski area 75 years ago, he created year-round recreation for this area.”
Lutsen Mountains began with one lift and two runs, which was plenty for Cindy and other kids growing up in the area.
“We learned to ski as soon as we could walk. Our parents taught us the correct technique, and the ski area was our playground. We came every day before we were in school, and then once we were in school, we skied on weekends, of course,” recalled Cindy. “My mom was working at the ski school and she taught skiing as well. She’s taught skiing to three generations of the same family, two separate families.”
Many staff members at Lutsen would bring their kids to ski while they worked.
“When we had our Lutsen ski team back in the late sixties, early seventies, we had a ski team that had all the children of multiple families racing. The Nelson family had five, the Benson family had four. You know, the Krueger family had three, and this is what made up the Lutsen ski team were the kids from these families whose parents worked here or came here to ski, and they brought their kids,” said Cindy. “So from a childhood and a place to learn a sport, this was fabulous.”
Many went on to become alpine ski racers, while Cindy became a four-time Olympian and medalist. In the meantime, the ownership of Lutsen Mountains changed from the Nelsons to the Skinner family in 1980.
“It’s a lot of hard work and it takes kind of a family or institutional knowledge to go from generation to generation,” said co-owner Charles Skinner.
Charles’s daughter Charlotte will be the third generation of the Skinner family to own Lutsen Mountains.
“Quite the breadth of knowledge that is required to kind of really understand how these things work, how decisions are made. But, you know, being part of this and being here is really, really meaningful,” said Charlotte. “This is a family business. We operate the resort with the family team mentality.”
The ski resort has grown over the years and now has four mountains, 95 runs, and 7 lifts spread across a thousand acres. To celebrate the 75th anniversary of skiing at Lutsen, a new chairlift opened for the 2023-2024 season. More plans are in the works for the resort.
“There’s always plans. We’re, of course, rebuilding our Papa Charlie’s restaurant, which burned this summer. So that’s occupying a lot of our time right now,” said Charles. “We have plans to put in more lodging, more modern lodging. That’s a key desire of our customers and will replace some of the older lifts and continue to improve and expand our ski train.
As the ski resort continues to grow, one thing is for certain: people will keep coming back.
“I think I was the first Olympian to come out of this area, but I’m sure I won’t be the last. Lutsen is a great place to learn, to ski, to learn to race,” said Cindy. “And you can take your skills anywhere in the world, just like I did. We don’t know who the next Olympian will be that’s coming from here, but it certainly is possible.”