Skills learned on Detroit Mountain spur drive to re-open ski area
It's no secret that some people around the Detroit Lakes area are pushing the city to reopen the Detroit Mountain ski area, and add some amenities with it.
Many of those who grew up skiing the mountain have moved on to other towns, other states, other mountains, but they still support the mountain where they got their start.
"As someone who 'cut his skiing teeth,' or in skiing parlance, learned how to 'hold an edge on blue ice' on Detroit Mountain, I was thrilled to read of the plans for the Mountain," said Max Storch. Storch is now a PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) instructor at Silver Mountain Resort in Kellogg, Idaho.
And he's not the only past Detroit Mountain skier to share those sentiments.
"After all of the mountaintops I have been on, all of the insane lines I have been able to ski, and all of the powder I have indulged in, I found some of my best memories exist on the hill once called Detroit Mountain," Cal Arnold said. Arnold now lives in Bozeman, Mont.
"A piece of topographical bliss to a great number of like-minded individuals from Detroit Lakes and other surrounding communities, this little hill was a mountain in its own right," Paul Nordlund said. "It gave (people) an outlet to not just survive a Minnesota winter, but to thrive in it."
Nordlund is the general manager of Eagle Ridge Resort at Lutsen Mountains.
A group named Detroit Mountain Recreational Area Inc. formed a few years ago to help bring back the mountain. They have since -- with the support of area businesses, individuals, the city and Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation -- produced a feasibility study on what the mountain could offer.
They presented it last month to the Detroit Lakes City Council, which will be voting on taking ownership of the land and applying for grants at a special council meeting on Sept. 18 at 5 p.m.
The study included not only reopening the downhill skiing portion of the business, but also adding tubing and cross-country skiing in the wintertime, and camping and hiking and biking trails in warmer seasons.
Former Detroit Mountain user Craig Nelson said he'd like to see city council members take "more than a serious look" at the opportunity before them.
"I have learned through the years that all too frequently opportunities that are essentially once-in-a-lifetime don't get the attention, discussion and deliberation they often deserve," he said. "Detroit Mountain is an absolute gem and one such opportunity."
Storch said he has seen the "evolution" of ski resorts over the years and throughout the United States -- from single-use ski facilities to multi-use resorts like DMRA has proposed.
"The area I'm currently teaching at added tubing (no special gear required on the part of participants) several years ago and there has been strong growth in this activity," he said.
"The collateral effect is people who would never have gone near a ski resort now bring the family and friends, go tubing, stay in the motels, eat in the restaurants, etc."
The Detroit Mountain project is estimated to cost $6.2 million, and the proposal to pay for it is through a $2.9 million grant from the DNR Parks and Trails fund, $2.3 million from locally raised funds, $300,000 from the City of Detroit Lakes and $600,000 from New Market Tax Credits.
"I can still remember the smell of the locker rooms, the sweaty rental equipment or the deep fried cheese sticks that seemed to complement the smell of wax coming from the rental room," Arnold said of the old mountain facilities.
"I remember the terror of my first run down Chipmunk 2 between my dad's legs, my first ski lessons on the bunny hill, my first parallel turns, first 360, first 720, my first back flip, and my first day driving myself to the mountain."
It's those memories he hopes will be available to more kids around the Detroit Lakes and Becker County area with the reopening of Detroit Mountain.
"Had it not been for Detroit Mountain, I can almost guarantee that my life would be different than it is now, not only in terms of health and fitness, but who I am," he said.
He added that he understands not everyone in the area would utilize the mountain, but "Detroit Mountain provides the opportunity to discover. I would love to come back and see the youth, families, and friends enjoying sliding down the snow and being active."
Jack Boyd of Minneapolis agrees that it's the friendships made at Detroit Mountain that have had a lasting impact on his life -- and a business he opened.
"It usually doesn't do anyone any good to sit and think how differently their life would have been had they not met a certain somebody," he said. "But I think it's reasonable in this case because it involves a whole bunch of somebody's whose children now have the opportunity to forge the same sort of life-long friendships."
Boyd and fellow Detroit Mountain-er Ben Olson started a skateboard-snowboard retail store in Duluth, Damage Boardshop, though Boyd has since moved on from the business. Many of the friends from their Detroit Mountain days helped them get off the ground and become successful.
"I think one of the things that brought everyone so close together was the do-it-yourself spirit," Boyd said of the Detroit Mountain days.
Detroit Mountain didn't have the expensive equipment that other, wealthier resorts had, so everyone pitched in to make it the best it could be.
"So on the nights leading up to the slope-style contest, everyone would be out with shovels and rakes shaping things by hand to make sure the course was perfect. To us, the mountain's reputation was on the line," he said. "And of course it gave us the opportunity to get in plenty of practice hits to ensure we knocked the snot out of the non-locals."
Helping to form DMRA, Mark Fritz, Detroit Lakes, said the public support is clearly there for the mountain project. When DMRA formed and talked about reopening the mountain, they built a Facebook page and had 3,000 "likes" within a month. They held a public meeting about the project and about 500 people attended, he said.
Those supporters may come from near and far now, but all got their start at Detroit Mountain.
"This is the place where we got to see our friends from neighboring towns with whom we would have not likely been friends with if it weren't for Detroit Mountain -- friendships that were forged for life, cemented in the triumphs and tribulations of learning a sport that was challenging and fun," Nordlund said.
"I'm saddened at the loss of such a cherished amenity. So many people were not just a part of DM, DM was a part of them."
That's a sentiment many seem to share.
Lynnsey Wimmer, Detroit Lakes, said she built friendships on the slopes that carried through to high school sports, even creating friendly competitiveness with kids from other towns.
And besides the face-to-face friendships that formed and the love of the activity, it was about getting outside and being healthy, something lost on many youth nowadays.
"It seems that many kids today are missing what I had. They aren't as often outside doing something energizing and vibrant," she said. "Today texting, phones and computers are taking that place, and they are missing the true human contact."
"The DMRA facility would be a great addition to the lakes area, as the multi-purpose use aspect turns Detroit Mountain into a user friendly activity center -- hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, tubing, boarding, etc. -- that is just what the public is seeking," Storch said.
"That view is worth every bit of $6.2 million and this project will make it worth many multiples of that."