The longest early-season runs in the Midwest
Old lifts, congested lift lines, Papa Charlie's has random hours
Lutsen is the best resort in the Midwest. Though they have their downfalls, they are slowly trying to adapt to the new school ski and snowboard world. What they lack in experience in this area is covered up by terrific terrain, superb snow-making, and a very attentive staff.
Sunday, the 18th of November, was Lutsen's opening day. They had one run open (but I think they could of had one more open if they ran the groomers on time!), and that was OK--it was the same situation they had last year. The one run was three times longer than the run I had skied the day before at Wild Mountain in Southern Minnesota, so that was a plus. Then, the snow conditions were fantastic! Firm snow, groomed so well that it was like a dream to make turns again (as much of a dream as making turns on man-made snow can be). They made so much snow, in fact, that there were even snow banks on the side of the runs, which made it feel just like it was in the dead of winter.
Although we got there at 10am, the lift didn't get running until 11am. This was due to the snow crew accidentally putting a gun under a lift tower and freezing up the cable and fly wheels. When the lift finally started running, there were only 20-25 other people there, so we could ski right up to the lift without any waiting.
We had lunch at Rosie's Cafe (or Grill?) in the Main Chalet since Papa Charlie's was closed. Rosie herself talked to us and apologized for not having very much food or drink available. She said she had just found out the night before that Lutsen was going to open, so she didn't have time to get too much stuff started up. Either way, we had a delicious burger and fries each, and we weren't disappointed. She even gave us a discount on it as well (burgers are $5.95 and fries are $3.95, but our totals were only $6.56, so thanks Rosie!)
After a filling lunch, we hit the slopes again. The liftys were terrific and friendly on the center-bar double that scooped us up to the top of the Blue run (Ullr). We made our turns on our carver skis and then switched up to some fatter twin tips to play around on some of the natural features that were created by the snow-making guns (such as a 3-foot snow bank we were sliding up and jumping off). The weather stayed a beautiful, ambient 36 and make for a terrific day on top of the awesome conditions.
The only problem was that there was no bar open. Papa Charlie's isn't open on Sundays for some strange reason, so we couldn't get an apres drink. This was the only downfall of the whole day, but it's certainly not enough to ruin the day as a whole.
If you want to make early-season turns, Lutsen is the place to do it. They were making snow on 10 runs there, so hopefully by the Thanksgiving weekend they will have some more terrain open for the skiing. The minimal crowds, great liftys who manage lines really well, and awesome man-made conditions make Lutsen my favorite ski resort in the Midwest (except for Mount Bohemia, but they aren't OnTheSnow!) It's this combination of awesome snow-making abilities, terrific terrain, beautiful surroundings and reasonable management of their crowds that made me by a season pass for Lutsen, and why I will be seeing you next weekend there.
P.S., One other compliant: Lutsen does a horrible job updating their snow report online. Always call ahead before relying on their snow report if you have to travel too far.