Tons of terrain, terrific snow, great old-school vibe
Management won't spend money on improvements
Lutsen Mountains is one of the larger ski resorts in the Midwest. Compared to all other resorts in Minnesota, at least, it's the largest for certain. Lutsen prides itself on claiming it's the "cheaper alternative" to taking the family out West for a ski trip. While this might be true for the price, it's not true for the terrain, atmosphere, or snow. But again, compared to the rest of the region, it might be tops for at least terrain.
Lutsen Mountains' terrain is the most varied among the Midwest region. It boasts plenty of groomers for every skill level, bumps for the mogul hounds, and trees for the tree skiers. While these features might not be the best in the Midwest, they do have the most "under one roof." The slopes are stretched over four "mountains," with the best mountain being Moose. Moose has long groomers, some trees, and a bit of steeps, so it's the perfect area of the resort to ski for people who want it all. Unfortunately, Moose is distanced from the rest of the resort, and is accessible by a flat cat track or a slow gondola ride. Last year, this was a problem--to get back to a cafe or bathroom that was worthwhile was a trek along the equally-flat River Run or another slow gondola ride back. Now, however, Lutsen has limped itself into the 21st century by opening a beautiful chalet on top of Moose, right off the gondola. You can sit on the deck and enjoy ultra-expensive (in price, not value or taste) burgers and beer, and find an un-crowded bathroom. The new chalet replaces the old, antiquated Mountain Top Deli that had the high prices, but none of the other luxuries.
Lutsen's outlook on ski resort management is like the old Mountain Top Deli: isolated, antiquated, and run-down. Lutsen doesn't believe in price breaks or discounts to help bolster interest in the resort. For an early season, one-day pass, you can expect to pay $37 for 5 runs, of which, only 1 or 2 is anything to write home about. The price gouging continues when you visit Rosie's Cafe--the "cheap" alternative near the main "lodge" for dining. It's continued (as mentioned above) at the Moose Mountain chalet. And lastly, it's trickled to the single Apres Ski location, and the ridiculously, structurally overbearing lodging, ala Vail. Their rental shop, at last check, only handled the most cryptic ski technologies, with small investments in newer equipment. And lastly, the staff shares a collective conscious of the most single-minded view of the industry; one that existed back in the 1980s. They lack friendliness, communication skills, and open-mindedness. If you want to feel like an outcast, ski shaped skis in anything other than a Columbia jacket and jeans and feel the gazes of lifties and Ski Patrol.
Up until this point, it appears as if this review has been negative. However, there is some plus sides to Lutsen. While they resort continues the price-gouging of many out-West resorts (which, as a side note, negates their stance that they are a "cheaper alternative" to going out West...how can they claim this if their prices mirror that of larger resorts?), the management has made attempts to better itself and bring the resort into the 21th century . First off, is the aforementioned chalet on Moose Mountain. Finally, the resort capitalizes on it's incredible view of Lake Superior and offers an on-mountain amenity that is worth stopping for, without making the trek back to the main lodge area. Secondly, Lutsen has tentatively planned on installing a feature-rich terrain park. In the Midwest, a terrain park should be a requirement. When you go to resorts out West, it's OK to not have a terrain park because you have terrain to ski. Finally, Lutsen can cover all it's bases as a "family friendly" resort: a terrain park for the kids, long groomers for mom, and bumps for dad to play in. And, amazingly enough, it might actually draw a new crowd up the North Shore to Lutsen to ski. Sadly, however, that above-mentioned closed-mindedness the staff and management at Lutsen suffer from has (and may still) push this crowd away. The new crowd you would draw with a terrain park would instantly be dissuaded from making such a commute when they knew how the staff felt about those whose pants a bit baggier and who ski backwards.
The aura of Lutsen still vibes with me a tad: it feels like an old ski resort. The terrain layout, structure styles, and degraded quailty of equipment all help make for a vintage ski feeling. This is a good vibe to put out as it helps immerse the skier in the life; but when the vintage aura of the ski resort extends to the mentality of staff and management, you can instantly be set back out of the mood.
Among most resorts in the area (meaning Minnesota, mostly), Lutsen gets the best snow. Cooler temps combined with Lake Superior help pile a bit more snow on Lutsen than anywhere else. The short tree runs can hold this snow for quite a while and make for a fun 15 seconds. Arrive early and maybe you can still ski fresh on the main runs. But given time, Lutsen's groomers will chew the fresh back into the base, offering slightly soft corduroy. Your best bet is to stick to the black diamonds on Moose or Eagle Mountains--just be aware that there's probably moguls under there. Again, the old-school mentality of skiing--straight skis are good and bumps are better--exists here. Keeping fresh snow on certain runs without turning it into cord is not an option for Lutsen's management. The clientele, the management perceives erroneously, wants their groomers.
Another thing important to skiers is the Apres ski, in which Lutsen lacks significantly. You're better off making friends on the gondola in hopes to be invited back to a semi-exciting party in the overly priced lodging in the area before you are to spend a night at Papa Charlie's--the sole Apres location at Lutsen. Papa Charlie's works with what they have--live music, an outstanding beer and liquor selection, and delicious food--to keep the clients happy, but variety is the spice of life. When you only have one bar to unwind slope-side at, this theory is null and void.
Personally, the reasons why I frequent Lutsen is simple: they are first to open and last to close (because of the weather), they have the longest and most varied runs in the area, and the drive up the North Shore is incredible. Everything else about the resort--unfriendly staff & prices, general price-gouging, and old-school resort management techniques--deter me from bothering any other time than early- and late-season. Hopefully one day Lutsen's management will fully understand these problems and start to appeal to my generation--the new and next generations of skiers and snowboarders--and tries to open itself up to the "new" school of thought. I can guarantee that this action will help boost Lutsen's sales (which, perhaps in turn may lower prices?), increase customer ownership in the resort ("Lutsen is my favorite resort, and here's why..."), and finally--FINALLY--help incorporate Lutsen into the 21st century.