Alpine skiing the bumps at Lutsen Mountain ski area

By: Andrew Putz, Minnesota Monthly

Skiing Lutsen: Can a Ski Snob Be Satisfied in Minnesota?

Minnesota Monthly

It was somewhere around Duluth, on my way to a ski weekend at Lutsen Mountains, when I realized what a pompous twerp I had become. Though I'd grown up skiing the icy expanse of Afton Alps, I'd also spent a good chunk of my life out West. I had carved through powder in Utah, bounced over bumps in Colorado, even soaked up some sun in Sun Valley. I knew Rossignols from rope tows, après-ski from off piste. All of which had made me, I now realized, a passable skier and a world-class snob. And as I drove up the North Shore, I suddenly feared that I'd become that guy: the sort of person who talks about skiing in the Midwest the same way most people talk about root canals or toe fungus.

But something happened over the next two days. Lutsen won me over—or, at least, made me a little less insufferable. It started the morning after I arrived, when I took a lift up Lutsen's Ullr Mountain. To the east was the endless blue sheen of Lake Superior. Just as impressive was what I noticed when I looked south, where the resort's vast terrain spread out before me, promising the sort of experience you don't expect to find in the Midwest: 1,000 skiable acres, 90 runs, a gondola, and enough snow to make a Yeti yelp with joy.

Indeed, due to its proximity to the lake, Lutsen averages 10 feet of snowfall each year. The variety of the terrain is equally impressive. Expert runs are steep and demanding, while intermediate trails are varied and velvety, difficult enough to challenge experienced skiers, and easy enough to entice inexperienced ones. There is, truly, something for everyone—no matter how big a snob you are.

Any good resort is more than the sum of its skiable acres, though, and the folks who run Lutsen understand visitors are there as much for an experience as they are for activity. This is why the resort built a chalet atop Moose Mountain a few years ago. It's positioned to provide jaw-dropping views of Lake Superior—the vistas from the deck alone may be worth the price of a lift ticket. It's also why there are plenty of things to do at Lutsen besides ski. Depending on the day, you can take a sleigh ride, snowshoe, go dogsledding, sing karaoke, or listen to some jazz.

This insight—that a successful ski outing often has little to do with, well, skiing—also explains why no Lutsen trip is complete without visiting two places: Papa Charlie's and the Lockport Market & Deli. The former, a pub at the base of the resort, is the perfect place to have a beer after a day on the hill, and a great place to catch live music on weekends; it regularly hosts acts that any Minneapolis club promoter would covet. The kitschy Lockport, meanwhile, offers some of the best food in the area: from beef pasties to hearty breakfasts with Bunyan-sized helpings of ham.

Papa Charlie's and the Lockport are each, in their own ways, quintessentially Minnesotan, in that both are apt reminders that quality can reveal itself in many places, and many ways—whether it's sourdough pancakes or ski weekends.

Where to Stay

Caribou Highlands
Arguably the area's poshest ski-in/ski-out facility, offering everything from hotel-style rooms to multi-bedroom houses and three spa areas. 800-642-6036. www.caribouhighlands.com

Eagle Ridge at Lutsen Mountains
This slope-side resort offers suites and condos, and features the area's only indoor/outdoor pool, which is heated year round. 800-360-7666. www.eagleridgeatlutsen.com

Where to Eat

Lockport Marketplace & Deli
This cozy eatery offers everything from beef pasties to homemade pies. Lutsen. 218-663-7548

Coho Cafe & Bakery
Serves sophisticated casual fare: a great place to pick up a salad, sandwich, or a pizza. Tofte. 218-663-8032

What to do

Outdoors
The Lutsen Mountains Nordic Center offers 27 kilometers of groomed, trails for cross-country skiing. The resort also has an extensive trail system for snowshoeing, and offers sleigh rides on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday evenings and dog-sled rides every weekend. 218-663-7281. www.lutsen.com

Indoors
Lutsen's apres-ski pub, Papa Charlie's, features live music every Saturday night. 218-663-7281, www.lutsen.com