Snowmaking Fires Up, Lots of New Chairlifts for 23/24, & Indy Continues to Grow in The Midwest
Well, folks, it's officially fall, which now means it's time to think winter… so let's get you caught up on everything that has happened across the Midwest ski scene over the past few months.
Preseason Events Underway
Preseason ski and snowboard events are now in full swing, so if you're looking for a new pair of ski or just want to drink beers and get stoked for the season, be sure to check out our calendar at midwestskiers.com/events or check in with your local hill as a lot is going on.
Big Snow to Snowriver Mountain
In case you missed it, Charles Skinner Jr announced earlier this summer that he had a purchase agreement to acquire Big Snow which includes Indianhead and Blackjack in Michigan's UP - well, that deal has officially closed. As a result of the acquisition, Big Snow will transition to Snowriver Mountain Resort.
The Indianhead area will be called Jackson Creek Summit, and Blackjack will be Black River Basin. Charles Skinner also owns Lutsen Mountains in Minnesota and Granite Peak in Wisconsin. This new group of four ski areas will be called Midwest Family Ski Resorts. And the new group will offer products that will span all of their ski areas.
During the announcement, they also hinted at a new connecting lift between the two ski areas in the long term. But in a recent article posted by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Greg Fisher hinted at a newer high-speed chairlift that could be coming much sooner than that.
But it wasn't all good news for the newly named resort as they were bombarded with frustrated commentary from local Yoopers in response to the resort's decision to close the snowmobile labeled "Trail 2" that runs through their property. This change now means snowmobilers must take a significant detour through Wisconsin, which many locals are concerned will significantly impact the local economy.
Snowriver released a statement regarding the closure stating, "Unfortunately, the snowmobile trail system, as it exists today, goes directly through the heart of our ski area's base areas, and this is not safe. The trail in question came to be when other landowners revoked access to their land back in the mid-2010s. After this, a trail was built across the resort without a written use agreement or adequate liability plan."
The ski area is actively working with the local organizational leaders on alternative options, and Snowriver did post an update last week that they are very optimistic that a happy conclusion will be found! It is an unfortunate situation for both parties, but I am confident they will find a solution.
On top of all this, I expect more information about the new resort's branding, logos, and products to be released in the coming weeks, so I'll be sure to update you on that when it is released.
Indy Pass Dominates Midwest Region With More to Come
Another big announcement surrounding those newly named ski areas was that they would join the Indy Pass, which has had quite the off-season in the Midwest. The multi-pass added several Midwest ski areas this off-season, including, Nub's nob, Mount Kato, Marquette Mountain, Treetops, Chestnut Mountain, and Snowriver.
These additions bring Indy's total full-partnered resorts in the Midwest to 26 or 27 if you count Snowriver as two and one allied resort across the Midwest. This means that the Indy Pass has captured nearly 24% of the total Midwest market. But they aren't done yet, as next week, they are planning on announcing several new resorts, including a few in the Midwest region. That is pretty dang impressive for a pass that has only been on the market for a few seasons.
2022 Chairlift Install Update
Something else that is dang impressive is how fast Caberfae has been able to get their new triple up this off-season. They offically competed for their new triple, marking the first of the seven lifts to be fully installed across the Midwest this off-season.
The other lift six lift installs across the Midwest are progressing nicely and are all still on schedule to be up and running around the start of the ski season, despite some supply chain and labor shortage issues. So if you're concerned that your local lift hasn't been installed yet, don't be; just give it some time.
Lutsen's New Logo/Branding
Last month, Lutsen Mountains released a new logo and branding across their social media pages. The new logo has a classic look that highlights the gondola - the only one of its kind across the Midwest.
The tagline "Start your Lutsen Tradition" also debuted, and Given Lutsen's deep history of being family owned through multiple generations, I thought this was a great update. I'm sure we will see more changes to their marketing materials in the coming months, but overall some fantastic updates are going on over at Lutsen Mountains.
Perfect North Adds New Trail
And speaking of fantastic updates, Perfect North released some details on what they have been working on this off-season, including a brand new run. This new run will branch off of Backstage, and more details are planned to be released as we edge closer to the season.
This run will mark the hill's first expansion of its skiable terrain since the West hills were developed back in the late 1990s. Perfect North also relocated large pine trees to create an improved gladed area for skiers and snowboarders on Special Effects, which will now be labeled a Black Diamond. And on top of this, they have added more snowmaking guns, LED lights, rental equipment, and much more.
Paul Bunyan Adds New Trails
Another hill expanding its run count is the Paul Bunyan ski area in Lakewood, Wisconsin. After reopening in 2020 following a 25-year hiatus, the ski area is continuing to improve its hill as they are working on cutting six new runs and adding some precious vertical feet to their hill. Always great to see small community hills continuing to thrive.
10+ Chairlifts Coming to the Midwest 23/24
And thriving is precisely what the Midwest ski scene seems to be doing over the past couple of years. There have been several new chairlift install announcements for the 2023/24 ski season - marking what will likely be the largest capital improvement year the Midwest has seen in decades.
-The Highlands, MI - HS 6 Pack With Bubble
-Nub's Nob, MI - Fixed Quad
-Mt. Holly, MI - HS Quad
-Wild Mtn, MN - Fixed Quad
-Trollhaugen, WI - Fixed Triple
-Lutsen Mountains, MN - HS 6 Pack
-Snowriver (Jackson Creek,) MI - HS 6 Pack
That's seven new lifts slated for next season, but what if I told you there are at least three more to be announced? Because there are. Now I won't tell you where those are going in, because what fun would that be. Hint: They are going in across three different Midwestern states.
Once all the chairlifts are announced, I'll post a breakdown video highlighting the new alignments and other details about the upcoming lifts. For now, though, you'll have to use your imagination.
Snowmaking Season Offically Starts
One thing you won't have to use your imagination for is snowmaking season because it's here. Earlier this week, Copper Mountain fired up their guns - marking the official start of the race to open.
Closer to home In the Midwest, temps broke freezing in parts of upper Wisconsin and Minnesota last week, and Trollhaugen even fired up their guns for a test, and even though they didn't make any snow, it's a reminder that we are just a few weeks away from the Midwest's first snowmaking push.
And I know what you're thinking, when can we expect to be skiing and riding in the Midwest this season? Well, the truth is, nobody but Mother Nature knows for sure, but early November is always a decent time to tentacle circle.
As always, we will keep you updated as cooler weather starts to move in, and I'm planning on making a few videos surrounding the race to open and snowmaking in the coming weeks, so subscribe if you haven't already.
Labor Shortages Will Continue to be a Struggle this Season
It's no secret that last season, labor shortages were a massive challenge for ski areas across the nation. Unfortunately, that challenge will likely continue into this season…, and we may have seen our first glimpse of it in the Midwest.
Last week, Spirit Mountain released a statement, saying they anticipate having enough staff to open five days a week –Wednesdays through Sundays, once the season is entirely underway. They plan to open seven days a week for the holidays and on Mondays for MLK and Presidents day. They continued by stating that they will continue our ramped-up recruitment efforts to reach our goal of hiring enough employees to open six days a week. And this is a good reminder that if you or someone you know is looking for a job this winter, please check in with your local resort.
In Pursuit of Soul II - Midwest Independence
And I want to wrap up with an update regarding In Pursuit of Soul 2: Midwest Independence, a film produced by TGR highlighting eight of our Midwestern hills. I was lucky enough to be an associate producer on this film, and I have to say, I'm excited for all of you to see it. The official trailer will drop on October 18th, with the full video launching on October 25th.
There is also a Twin-Cities premiere planned for Saturday, October 22nd, which we should have more details on in the coming week or so. We'll also be doing some giveaways leading up to the launch on our Facebook and Instagram pages. That said, head over and follow those pages if you haven't already.
But there you have it, your fix of Midwest ski news from the past few weeks. We will drop a link below if you want to check out our last episode. But until next time, I hope all of you have a great week, pray for snow, and I'll see you guys out there!