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Bigger gondolas, more ski runs in Lutsen's expansion plan

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Minnesota's biggest ski area has big expansion plans. And owners of Lutsen Mountains say roomier gondolas will help get them where they want to be.

The 45-year-old gondola now used at the resort on Lake Superior's north shore will be replaced by a new model next year, WDIO reports. Co-owners Charles Skinner and Tom Rider tell the station the new $7 million gondola represents the largest single investment in upgrading Lutsen.

According to Business North, the owners say today's four-person gondolas will give way to new ones holding eight people, and the new system will bump capacity from 300 visitors per hour to 2,400 an hour.

The new gondolas should be ready for the start of next year's ski season, reports say.

Lutsen's owners also plan to add ski runs. Business North says Skinner and Rider are budgeting $30 million for an expansion that could take several years. The expansion involves acreage that's part of Superior National Forest, so the Forest Service would need to approve a special use permit.

The supervisor of Superior National Forest tells the Duluth News Tribune it's common for forests to provide those permits to ski areas. But Brenda Halter says approval is not automatic, and the process will likely involve an environmental assessment.

The News Tribune says its 95 runs make Lutsen Mountains the biggest ski area in the Upper Midwest. But co-owner Charles Skinner tells the paper expanding is essential to keeping up with competitors. Skinner says more than 300 U.S. ski areas closed in the last 30 years, in most cases because they were too small or failed to keep up their facilities.

In a statement, Lutsen says it has spent $25 million on improvements over the last decade and adds that replacement of the gondolas has been the most-requested change among visitors.

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