SlopeLab’s Review of Lutsen Mountains, MN

SlopeLab Ratings


Detailed Scores:

Beginner Terrain
Intermediate Terrain
Advanced Terrain
Expert Terrain
Tree Skiing
Bowl Skiing
Snow Rating
Ski Town

Lutsen Mountain Stats

Photo Gallery

Lutsen Mountains Overview

Lutsen Mountains Ski Resort is the biggest mountain in Minnesota.

It’s also the only mountain in Minnesota, but let’s give credit where credit is due. In a state where most ski “resorts” are very clearly… not mountains… Lutsen looms along the Lake Superior North Shore, not-so-quietly offering the biggest skiing in the Midwest.

Sure, nobody will mistake this region for the Rockies, but Minnesota’s Sawtooth Mountains definitely offer the best opportunity for a true ski resort experience of anywhere within a half-day’s drive.

Where is Lutsen Ski Resort?

Despite being Minnesota’s crown jewel ski resort, Lutsen is actually closer to Canada than the rest of the state.

Getting to Lutsen, MN

Lutsen sits 4 hours north of Minneapolis and about 1 hour south of the Canadian border. The ski resort is located along Minnesota’s Scenic Highway 61, a region is known as Minnesota’s “North Shore” because it carves along the great Lake Superior for hundreds of miles.

Most visitors weekend-trip from Minneapolis, although there’s also a decent representation from the nearest Canadian town – Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Lutsen Trail Maps

Lutsen Mountain Trail Map
Lutsen Mountains trail map (click for full size)

Lutsen Lift Info

Another bragging right for Lutsen… they recently installed one of the state’s only high speed chairlifts. (In keeping with the theme, this high speed is still noticeable slower than most express lifts out west, but it’s a Ferrari compared to the typical antiques found on most other Minnesota hills.)

Lift High Speed? Vertical Rise (ft.)
Moose Mountain Gondola
Caribou Express Chair
Timberwolf Chair
Eagle Mountain Chair
10th Mountain Chair
Bridge Chair
Mystery Mountain Chair
Ullr Chair

Lutsen Terrain Overview

How impressed you are with the terrain at Lutsen will mostly depend on your frame of reference.

Lutsen boasts 825 feet of vertical, although only about 770 feet is really skiable in one shot.

Putting that number in perspective is a tale of two stories. 800 vertical feet is about 3 times as large as most ski areas in the state, but still only about 1/3 the size of the most popular locations in Colorado, Utah, and California.

In any case, with terrain rounding closer to that magical 1K marker, the mountain offers legitimate opportunities to carve the groomers, thread the trees, and maybe most underrated… do some exploring.

The latter is thanks to Lutsen’s surprising 1,000 total acres of skiable terrain. That number is spread out over 4 different mountain peaks, and the lift infrastructure is an odd hodgepodge that traverses over roads, across parking lots, and above the mountain village itself. All this can make getting where you want to go a little confusing at first. Which, in the Midwest, is actually a breath of fresh air compared to the usual bumps so small you can see every single run from the ticket office.

Lutsen for Beginners

Lutsen is actually a great beginner mountain.

The Ullr Chair serves the primary beginner section of the mountain, and it has several advantages:

  1. It’s accessible right off the main village
  2. The runs are some of the flattest around
  3. And the overall nature of the terrain means that it’s populated almost entirely with fellow learners.

While the Bridge Chair only has one green run down, it’s a beauty. Beginners can crest a roller, soak in a jaw-dropping view of the massive and stunning Great Lake Superior, and then cruise an easy green all the way down. (Protip: Hit this one early in the morning – not only will sunrise views be the most magical, but it will help you avoid some scratched off ice later on, since this is one of the highest trafficked runs on the mountain.)

Even Moose Mountain, which is rated entirely blue, offers decent options for confident beginners, since the blue terrain here would probably be classified as green at most western resorts. (The easiest blue in this area lies underneath the Timberwolf Chair. The blues under Caribou Express are mostly gentle, but beware, they all have a steep finish just before the chair.)

Lutsen for Intermediates

Lutsen has surprisingly solid, lower-end intermediate terrain.

Moose Mountain is really the star of the show here. It has countless blue cruisers that undulate between fun rollers and mellow intermissions. Compared to most other Midwestern skiing, you can really feel the extra length and elevation… These runs offer the region’s rarest opportunity to point the skis and actually feel some leg burn!

The black diamonds are mostly the trees, and Lutsen has done an impressive amount of glading and maintenance to make these within the wheelhouse of confident intermediates.

Advanced Terrain at Lutsen

Here is where the limitations of Midwestern mountains start to rear its ugly head. Truly advanced skiing is pretty limited at Lutsen.

The steepest terrain is off Moose Mountain’s North Face. Don’t worry, hyperbolic names for double black terrain like “Adrenaline” and “Freefall” will let you know you’re in the right place, as will the inevitable clusters of vacationers peering over the edge with wonder and excitement.

As fun as it is to see some real steeps in this state, unfortunately, these runs last all of a couple turns before its time for the long, slow runout back to the chairlift.

Otherwise, the other advanced terrain is limited to a few steep moguls through the trees, but the biggest challenge here is the tendency for these runs to get tracked out and icy.

Expert Terrain at Lutsen

No way around it – true experts better bring the carving skis or otherwise book a flight out west. As nice as Lutsen is for the area, it’s entirely absent of bowls, chutes, and cliffs.

Lutsen, MN as a Ski Town

For its size, Lutsen actually has an impressive resort infrastructure. You’ll find multiple ski in / ski out accommodations, and there’s even a lively music venue – Papa Charlie’s – which offers the apres ski festivities. (At least during their popular Saturday night music events – most other times can be a bit sleepier.)

Outside the resort, the nearby town of Lutsen is pretty sleepy and limited mostly to a winery, a few local convenience stores, a single coffee shop, and lots of Lake Superior Shoreline lodging, most commonly used by day-trippers from the Minneapolis metro during summer time.

The real nearby gem would be Grand Marais, MN, located about 25 minutes north of the ski resort. Grand Marais is a funky little lighthouse-town that’s known as a summer time escape for Minnesota vacationers, so it’s built up a humble but fun collection of fish shacks, a taco shop, the world’s best donuts (that’s the shop’s actual name, and the locals agree!), and even a brewery.

How is the snow at Lutsen?

Average Inches of Annual Snowfall

Lutsen receives an average of 100+ inches of snow per year, which is enough to give the mountain decent coverage for its groomers and shorter tree runs. The resort also has an impressive collection of snowmaking which helps moves things along during the early season and in the event of any extended droughts.

While you probably won’t be skiing powder, and the bumps usually hover around the icy/scratchy description, the modest snowfall and (extremely) cold environment help keep things in decent shape.

When is the best time to visit Lutsen?

January to April (Snow vs. Climate)

This is a tricky one. Did you know Minnesota is cold? And northern Minnesota + prevailing winter lake winds is really, really cold?

While January and February routinely offer the best surface conditions, you better be prepared for whatever The Bold North throws your way. Days of negative 10 to negative 20+ degrees farenheit can and do happen at Lutsen. Mixed with a pretty windy environment, and I hope you brought your warmest clothes!

The spring obviously warms things up, so March and April are a little safer for the comfort levels, but the low snow base is susceptible to early melt.

Pick your poison!

How are the crowds at Lutsen?

Crowds aren’t bad.

Most visitors to Lutsen are weekenders coming from Minneapolis or other metro areas, so Saturday is usually the only day with crowds. But the mountain is surprisingly big, so while lift line ups can happen, once the folks are up the hill, the runs themselves stay pretty open.

Sunday also sees a significant drop-off, as most visitors head back to the cities in the morning.

And midweek completely dithes the “destination resort” vibes in favor of “local Midwestern hill.”