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DL could be mecca for downhill winter sports

Terrain parks are a big part of the mix, in this photo from the Detroit Mountain organization. SUBMITTED PHOTO1 / 2
This preliminary map is subject to change, but it gives a rough idea of what organizers are planning for the Detroit Mountain area. SUBMITTED GRAPHIC2 / 2

Whether your passion is skiing, tubing or snowboarding, Detroit Mountain will be the place to be in the wintertime.

Downhill sports on the mountain will be essentially divided into zones, with appropriate lift systems and snowmaking capabilities for each area.

“There will be a triple chair lift on Chipmunk, where the old triple was,” said Jeff Staley, president of the Detroit Mountain Recreation Area Board.

“There will be an identical lift on West run, so that will be another triple (chairlift)” he added.

“Those will be the two overhead lifts — each has the capacity of 1,000 skiers per hour, which is pretty good. So there shouldn’t be any problem moving people up the mountain.”

Friendly for beginners

The bunny slope will be reconfigured so that parents can watch their children from the new lodge.

The beginner area will move skiers up the slope via a “Magic Carpet,” which works like a moving concourse in an airport.

“It’s very friendly for beginners and little kids,” Staley said. It helps beginners keep their skis parallel and straight ahead so they don’t wipe out when they ski off the end of the moving sidewalk.

A handle tow rope will serve higher areas of the bunny slope.

“We will have a large learning area, and we want to give them a positive initial experience,” added Mark Fritz, the DMRA board member who leads the fundraising effort.

Some of the ski areas will be reconfigured with site grading and earthwork to best suit the needs of each area.

Terrain park for tricks

The terrain park will be served by a rope tow, so people can easily access whatever point they like.

The terrain park will look sort of like a wintery skate park, with “different things you can ride over, ride on, jump over — steps, railings, all sorts of things,” Staley said.

“A lot of times, repetition is what they like,” he added. “They try over and over to nail a jump or whatever trick they’re trying to do … the benefit of a rope tow with a terrain park is you can get off at different points.”

The goal is to “make it easy to change and upgrade every few weeks — change the snow around,” added Tony Schmitz, another board member.

With a tow rope, unlike a chair lift, snowboarders don’t have to take a foot out of the bindings. They can go right up to the tow rope, ride it to their chosen point, let go and keep moving.

Tow ropes also take pressure off the chair lifts, Staley said.

Family tubing area

The tubing area will be served by a special conveyor belt lift that is similar to the Magic Carpet.

“You just lay on the tubes and ride up,” said Schmitz.

“They’re real simple and easy to use,” Staley added.

“That’s the big draw Detroit Mountain will be able to offer — facilities for non-skiers, too,” he added. “Families will be able to come out for a couple hours and do something together.”

The winter recreation area will also be designed to allow users to build skills at their own speed.

“We want it to be a progression,” Schmitz said. “From novice skier up to expert.”

“You want to build up their skills before they start hitting the harder elements,” Staley added. “Instead of a little kid sitting next to a big jump and wishing he could do that, there’ll be something for every skill level.”

Making lots of snow

Since you can’t attract winter customers without snow, the budget pays a lot of attention to snowmaking capabilities.

Snowmaking equipment will be fed by a pressurized irrigation system, which in turn will draw from an outdoor water storage pond designed to provide very cold water to the system.

It’s part of making the system efficient, along with additives like Snowmax that allow snow to be created at temperatures up to 32 degrees, Fritz said.

“Six of seven metro ski areas were open for Thanksgiving because of Snowmax,” he said. “Once you have the ability to make snow and get a few runs open, people are excited to get out and get skiing — and the better your business is. You don’t want to wait until late December, you want to be open when people already have the itch.”

Cross-country skiing

Cross country skiers will be able to enjoy a trail around the base of the mountain, and also be able to connect to trails on state land to the west.

“Long-term, we’d love to have an easement or access to the Mountain View Recreation Area,” which is located about a half-mile away and now has 5 kilometers of trail  on 135 acres, Staley said.

Advice from an expert

Dave Sontag thinks the Detroit Mountain plans are on the right track.

And he should know. He grew up skiing Detroit Mountain, and worked there before moving on to work at Lutsen Mountain near Duluth.

He is now on-site operations manager at Giants Ridge near Virginia, Minn., which has 35 downhill runs, two terrain parks and seven lifts.

“That’s kind of the trend these days — terrain parks, fun boxes, rails — that’s kind of what the younger generation is into these days,” he said.

“The terrain park is up and coming, but skiing and snowboarding as a whole is still strong,” he added.

With innovations like twin tipped skis that allow the user to go forward or backward, skiing is making a comeback after being overshadowed by snowboarding for a lot of years, Sontag said.

“Snowboarding actually kind of revived skiing — they kind of worked hand-in-hand, one helped the other.”

Considering its size, Detroit Mountain produced a surprising number of skiers in its day, he said. That shows its potential, and he’s a big supporter of plans to reopen the ski area.

“I think they’re on the right track,” he said. “Terrain parks are the big thing right now, but tubing’s also big — there are some real big tubing parks at some of these areas (in Minnesota and Wisconsin) where they’re selling just as many tubing passes as alpine ski passes.”

Sontag said Fargo-Moorhead is easily close enough to draw customers.

“I think it will do very well,”’ he said. “You’ve got to be open and you gotta have snow.”

Donations needed

Organizers are in the final phase of a fundraising effort to bring back Detroit Mountain. They need to raise a final $1 million to make the $7 million project a go.

A $200,000 matching grant from the Otto Bremer Foundation means donations will count double.

Those donations to the project are tax deductible and can be made through the website,, or the Bring Back Detroit Mountain page on Facebook.

Links can also be found through Detroit Lakes Newspapers at and the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce at