What’s going on with Spirit Mountain? Duluth approves aid, but with a warning

The financial woes of Spirit Mountain were on full display this month as the Duluth City Council debated its future. 

In the end, Duluth’s City Council approved $235,000 in financial aid to the hometown ski hill, but with a stern warning: 

Make major changes to ensure financial stability, or else. 

Snowmaking on Duluth’s Spirit Mountain. (Spirit Mountain/Facebook)

But, how did we get here in the first place? 

According to a report from the Star Tribune, Duluth Councilor Erik Forsman called the quaint ski area overlooking the St. Louis River a “cornerstone” of the community. Advocates at the City Council meeting said the hill not only holds generations of memories for Duluth residents, but it provides a place for high school alpine teams to train and compete. 

The Star Tribune says skier visits at Spirit Mountain in 2018 were one-third the visits in 2014 and that season pass sales were down 40 percent from 2009. *gulp*

Those numbers are de-Spiriting to say the least. (I’ll see myself out.)

At the meeting, Spirit Mountain officials also pointed to a cancelled event as an exacerbating factor. This year’s scheduled Amsoil Snocross Race over Thanksgiving weekend was called off after a double-digit mega blizzard ground the city to a halt. 

My first immediate thought was: “This is going to be the demise of Spirit Mountain.”

– Executive Director Brandy Ream, Spirit Mountain (Star Tribune)

Ream said Spirit Mountain would likely have to close without the approved financial aid.

Here’s my expert analysis on the situation at Spirit: It’s not great. 

I’m relieved that the Duluth City Council loves its hill enough to approve the cash infusion. That’s heartening. Duluth is a place where outdoor recreation is cherished. Other Midwest ski areas should take notice, because they aren’t all located in places where their City Council a) has the money to keep them afloat and b) has the heart dish it out. 

For Spirit, I hope it’s a wake-up call. It’s a good chance for the hill to change for the better. In the meantime, go buy a pass and spend a day at Spirit. Every dollar helps keep this Duluth institution open and, hopefully someday, thriving.  

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