Great terrain, terriffic grooming
Management won't spend money on improvements
I know this is my second Lutsen resort review (well, third...the one from "anonymous" below was me, too), but this weekend, Lutsen just rubbed me the wrong way. And I wanted to share what I thought was wrong with everyone, and you can make your own decision.
My previous review of Lutsen (below) stated that Lutsen's management is pretty narrow-minded and closed-off from the realities of where downhill sports are going. While this remains true (the looks I got from lifties when steeped in to my 100mm underfoot boards was that of pure dismay!), another problem with Lutsen's management has appeared to me:
THEY ARE CHEAP.
The Saturday before New Year's Eve, we drove up for the 9am opening to get some skiing in, before we stayed the weekend at Caribou Highlands (see my review for them under "Lodging" to see what kind of place *that* was). The place was packed! We were forced to park in the lower lodge, and then hopped on a shuttle to the ticket office. My friend and I struggled to put our fat skis in the holders. Even separating the skis into singles and trying to stick each one in a ski slot didn't work. Eventually, we had to poach a snowboard slot for our skis. This actually lends credence to my previous statement--that Lutsen's management is a tad bit out-of-touch with the industry--because there were only 4 snowboard slots on the whole rack. The rest were narrow ski slots that only fit skis that, by my estimate, could fit skis up to 70mm in width. Additionally, they would not accept twin tips. Smaller, skinnier twin tips could be broken apart into single and each maybe stuck into a ski slot, but why not update the 2x4 construction on the side of the old bus to accept some wider skis...or at least add a few more snowboard slots?! My friend and I felt bad that snowboards had to carry their boards on with them because we had taken up one of the two of the 4 snowboard slots. If Lutsen was in touch with the rest of the industry, they'd simply know that in the past few years, fatter skis (called "mid fats") and twin tips are overtaking the market. It's time to realize this and embrace it...at the very least, make your shuttle bus capable of holding mid-fat and twin tips. It's the least you can do. (Note: at one point, on the return shuttle, I had to carry my fat skis onto the bus with me since all the snowboard slots were used up. People were none to happy with me).
Returning to the original thread of "Lutsen's management is cheap," I present to you the Mountain Top chalet. An exquisite building that was long overdue for Lutsen. Finally, a large enough place to house the Holiday rush that was descending on Lutsen. Or was it? As it turns out, the Mountain Top chalet was utterly incapacitated by the Holiday rush. The tables were crammed, the line for food service wrapping ridiculously far into the seating area, and slow, SLOW lines for food. The exact problems were simple: the layout of the seating area next to the food service area is just goofy. Where the line normally forms for ordering food is at an angle to the bulk of the seating. When the line for ordering food backs up more than 10-15 people, it's pushing itself out into the seating area. And since none of the staff is smart enough to put up ropes to wrap the line around a few times safely out of the way of patrons who are seated, we all were constantly bumped into by the growing line.
The other problem with the Mountain Top chalet is actually shared among the ticket office. When paying the exorbitant prices for food, myself and two others that I noticed paid with credit cards. The credit card machines constantly reported "line is busy" and could not get through to authorize our purchases. This slowed down the line exponentially. After the third "line is busy" error, I finally could take my food and leave. I asked the friendly lady taking my card what the deal with the "line is busy" error, and she stated that the Mountain Top chalet and ticket office share the same phone lines. I could only scoff at how stupid this was. I scoffed because earlier that morning, I had to wait 20 minutes for a ticket and had the same problem with the credit card machine saying "line is busy." It only took twice to pay for my lift tickets, however. But the line was at least 15 people deep by 30 people wide, and all the lift ticket windows were running. One gentlemen in front of me had been standing there for 30 minutes waiting to get his tickets, and had already PRE-PAID for them online. He asked why there wasn't an "e-Ticket window" (similar to what airlines do), so he could skip the crowd and get his tickets. A great idea, I thought, since he had already paid for them.
Switching gears from the Mountain Top chalet, but still sticking with the "Lutsen's management is cheap" thread, I now present exhibit A: ridiculously long lift lines during busy weekends. The cause for this is very simple: there are no quad chairs, and the gondola is completely useless. No where on Lutsen will you find a quad; only antiquated double chairs. This slows down lift lines to a crawl...literally. While the Moose Access cat track was now open for people to use to get over to the Moose Mountain lifts, few people knew of this and assumed the only wait to access the best mountain at the resort was with the slow gondola. A note: the gondola on a non-busy, non-weekend day is a fine way to get to Moose Mountain. But even then, the return trip at 4pm can be slow. This is because the gondola is old and antiquated and can't support the modern amount of skiers and boarders that now exist. The gondola has degraded down to a whimsy: a flash-in-the-pan, hey-look-what-I-rode-in, gimmick. It should either be replaced or augmented.
Now for the closing argument. All of these problems above can be simply solved, but it'll cost--GASP!--a little bit of money on behalf of Lutsen's management. To curb the flip side of my argument immediately, let me say...I know Lutsen resort makes money. I saw how many people were there this weekend. I saw how many tickets were purchased for a ridiculous amount. I saw how many tons of people payed through the nose for sub-standard food. I KNOW THAT LUTSEN MAKES MONEY.
Now, let's hear the solution: it's called an "investment." An investment is where you take risk at trying to improve something to later make more money for it.
Here's the skinny on your investments: one, upgrade the phone services to the Mountain Top chalet so everyone's credit card gets authorized immediately, instead of having to wait and backing up the line to pay for food. Or, invest in an internet-based charging method. The current configuration does not function if it's fairly busy, let alone completely insane-busy as it was this weekend.
Investment number two: augment your gee-whiz gondola with some high speed quads. Upgrade even one of them (the Bridge lift, probably) with a quad, and watch everyone's patience grow with the lift lines...because they go down quicker! The Bridge lift is the most widely used, perhaps, because it accesses another mountain, and provides access to Moose Access, where people can go to bypass the gondola for skiing Moose Mountain. Likewise, it's where people (like myself) go on Moose Return to get back to the chalet, and bypass the gondola. This weekend, the Bridge lift was choked to death. Even with the parallel River (I believe) lift running, both still suffered immensely from backlogs, especially towards the end of the day. Please note, your gondola is spiffy and functional when the resort is functioning during the week, but otherwise is a problem. Your logistical nightmare resides in your antiquated two-person lifts. Upgrade the Bridge lift to a quad, and maybe the one of the doubles on Moose, and watch the lift lines shrink...and patrons' patience go.
Invest and grow. And oh yeah, stop treating my fat-ski and twin-tip skiing brothers and sisters like outcasts. That'd be nice too.