Giants Ridge is about to tackle its aging lifts problem with a huge grant from Minnesota’s state economic development agency. Last Tuesday, the Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) approved $5.7 million to buy new detachable and fixed-grip quad chairlifts for the 200-acre mountain resort it owns. Giants Ridge’s fleet of five Riblet chairlifts and a Borvig J-Bar date back to 1984, 1987 and 1997. As with hundreds of other small American ski areas, Giants Ridge’s lifts are orphaned, meaning the original manufacturer is no longer in business. Tram Support, Inc. still supplies parts for Riblet lifts but the fact remains that many of these lifts have exceeded their useful life. Giants Ridge Executive Director Linda Johnson told the board, “the company that made our lifts is no longer in business. We can be down for hours and skiers are longing for a high-speed lift experience.”
The IRRRB’s mission is “to promote and invest in business, community and workforce development for the betterment of northeastern Minnesota, providing vital funding, including low or no interest loans and grants for businesses relocating or expanding in the region.” The board bought Giants Ridge outright in 1984 to enhance the quality of life and create jobs for the people of the Iron Range. This news is a win-win for a ski operation that generates an estimated $43 million in community economic impact each year. Of course, not everyone is happy about the government owning a ski area that’s lost more than $40 million. There is a middle ground, however, between government ownership of ski areas and private mountains going out of business. The National Ski Areas Association is currently at work on an initiative urging governments to provide low- or no-interest loans to ski areas investing in infrastructure such as the replacement of older lifts. It’s really no different than state governments providing economic incentives for manufacturing plants or call centers.
The new Calgary Express high speed quad at Giants Ridge will reduce a 5.6 minute ride to 2.3 minutes. A fixed-grip quad will replace a second lift but it’s unclear which one (educated guess is the Helsinki double.) Both new lifts will be completed by November 2017 and there’s no word yet who will build them.
Based on the financial troubles the ski area has incurred, have skier visits increased since the state took over? $40 million is a lot of have lost, although no period was given so has the ski area always lost money or is that simply the loss in the last 20 years?
My understanding is the state basically created Giants Ridge out of a small ski area called Aurora that opened in 1963 with a Constam T-Bar. Everything else was built under public ownership including a recently finished $12 million lodge. Minnesota runs Giants Ridge like other public recreation facilities such as water parks and zoos with no expectation of making a profit.
The $40 million loss is since 1984 and the ski area is budgeted to lose $4.3 million this year. That doesn’t tell the whole story though because the more profitable golf, ski school, retail and rental businesses are contracted to private companies. No one wanted the ski operation so the state has continued to run it at a loss. Now they are going to bring everything back under public management. This is the opposite direction other states are taking privatizing management of ski resorts like Mt. Sunapee and Winter Park.
Their two competitors are running detaches, so I can see marketings wants …..but they are in the middle of nowhereville