Charles Skinner to Acquire Michigan’s Big Snow

The owner of the largest ski resorts in Minnesota and Wisconsin will expand his portfolio to include one of the biggest ski areas in Michigan. Located in the Upper Peninsula, Big Snow Resort’s Blackjack and Indianhead mountains together feature more than a dozen lifts across 1,000 acres of land. Wisconsin developer Art Dumke has owned the mountains since 2014.

There’s no word yet whether Lutsen Mountains, Granite Peak and Big Snow will be combined onto a single pass product but that seems likely. “We are thrilled that these two historical, Upper Michigan ski areas, known for their prodigious powder snow, will be joining our legendary family of resorts in Minnesota and Wisconsin,” said Charles Skinner in a press release. “The current owner and his excellent staff have done a terrific job honoring the legacy of Indianhead and Blackjack and combining them into the largest ski area in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We intend to build upon this work by investing in new lifts, snowmaking, and base area infrastructure at Big Snow.” Specific plans for investments at Big Snow will be announced later this summer. The two mountains currently feel like museums with most lifts and buildings dating back to the 1960s and ’70s.

Skinner also announced construction of a Leitner-Poma six place chairlift at Lutsen Mountains for the 2023-24 season. The second such lift there will run alongside Bridge chair, a 1972 Riblet double on Eagle Mountain.

The Big Snow sale is expected to close by the end of July, subject to financing and due diligence completion.

29 thoughts on “Charles Skinner to Acquire Michigan’s Big Snow

  1. lutz1140lutz1140 May 25, 2022 / 1:47 pm

    This is exciting news all around, but I’m most happy to see the LONG overdue replacement of Bridge at Lutsen. I’ve been patiently awaiting a status update from the USFS for its major expansion proposal. Does anyone have any intel?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lutsen_skier May 25, 2022 / 2:01 pm

    Is the new bridge lift going in this off season, or do we have to endure another season with the piece of junk lift

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  3. Charlie May 25, 2022 / 2:02 pm

    YES!!! I’m so excited for the new six pack!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Andrew F. May 25, 2022 / 2:30 pm

    This is great news. For Big Snow, to have an owner come in with a solid track record of operating similar-sized resorts and bringing growth and investment, without being a national corporate chain, is really the best possible outcome. The Skinner family obviously sees potential in Big Snow, and I can’t wait to see where they take it. Great news for the resort and the Bessemer/Ironwood area.

    Also very glad to hear about the Bridge Lift replacement! The existing lift has been a glaring weak point in the skier experience at Lutsen for a long time, and this is overdue. It will be interesting to see if the expenditure for this new lift will delay the implementation of the first phase of their expansion plan… they’ve previously said that they planned to begin work on the Eagle Mountain portion of the expansion plan as soon as the regulatory process was complete. Even if this does mean a delay with the expansion, I think it is the right call and am very glad to see them moving forward with it.

    It’s a good day for skiers in the Upper Midwest!

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  5. Charlie May 25, 2022 / 2:56 pm

    Does anyone have a link to the press release?

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  6. Bill Swan May 25, 2022 / 4:01 pm

    This is GREAT news. I skied Indianhead in mid-March and had a fantastic day with really nice snow but also was constantly reminded of the aging infrastructure. The T-bars on the west side and east side were not running which meant the lift served area was reduced even though the runs were listed as open. But I also know that lift ticket prices will no doubt take an uptick. Hopefully these 2 resorts will also be added to the Indy Pass as GP and Lutsen both are on the IP resort list.

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  7. Charlie May 25, 2022 / 4:26 pm

    Alright prediction time:

    1. “Base to base” gondola from top of Indianhead to base of Blackjack MGD-8

    2. A/B CLD-4 at Blackjack

    3. C/D CLF-4 at Blackjack

    4. Winnebago/Tomahawk CLD-4

    5. Voyagers/Chippewa CLD-6

    6. Hiawatha CLF-3

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    • Nathan May 25, 2022 / 6:11 pm

      That’s pretty big spending. I’d expect much lower. Lutsen still runs 5 old Riblets so as long as the Big Snow lifts were well maintained, most will likely persist for a many years. A high speed lift at Indianhead could be a game changer and seems likely in the next few years. Connecting the two ski areas would also be a game changer but could probably be done with one or two chairlift much more cost effectively. A terrain expansion is certainly possible but I suspect that would only come if visit volume increased significantly.

      Whitecap and Big Powderhorn are likely to lose customers which could put one of them out of business but I hope not. I also worry about the lack of competition in the region.

      Liked by 1 person

    • New England Chairlifts & Skiing May 25, 2022 / 6:32 pm

      A six pack and a detachable quad within relatively close vicinity seems overkill to me. But I’ve never skied there, so maybe they really do need all that capacity, but I personally doubt it.

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    • skitheeast May 25, 2022 / 7:01 pm

      I am sure some sort of mountain-to-mountain connection is coming, but I am curious about what they decide to do. A base-to-base gondola would be the most straightforward way to go, but an interesting alternative would be a gondola from the base of Blackjack to the bottom of Bear Creek at Indianhead, with Bear Creek then being upgraded to a detachable lift. Or, this could just be one two-stage lift with an angle station. Doing the first option would cut the connector lift length in half and not require it to cross any lift or power lines, while doing the second option kills two birds with one stone by upgrading Bear Creek (even if that is not one of the highest priority upgrades).

      I do agree that a fair bit of lift consolidation is likely going to occur. How many of them consolidate into fixed-grip quad instead of detachables is debatable, but they would likely need more annual skier visits to get as many as you are proposing.

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    • Andrew F. May 25, 2022 / 8:12 pm

      The Skinners are strategic about where they spend money. They’ve shown commitment to major expenditures where needed, but if an old lift is doing they job, they’re not going to replace it just because it’s old.

      They’ll probably focus on getting operations in order first, but I would expect to see a detach quad on the Indianhead side in order to have the draw of the only detach in the UP. A connection between the Indianhead and Blackjack sides would be great and I have to imagine is in their long term plans, but seems like it would be a huge expense relative to the amount of business that they’re doing.

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  8. I ride Lutsen 1-2 days a season (most of the rest of my 25+ days are in CO in a typical year). I enjoy it, it’s sweet and the Moose six was a big bump up in ski vs. lift time. But I go mostly for time with friends who ski once year and want a decent weekend in driving distance.

    I’m kind of stunned at the announcement of a detachable 6! The current Bridge lift is definitely not up to the task, but that is a lot of uphill capacity (depending on chair count/spacing, of course). Ride time could be as little as 2.5 minutes, which will be great for lapping those runs, but it’s kind of a small pod, functionally, on the lower 1/3rd of the mountain at least. If they use the same alignment, fitting it between condo buildings will be interesting.

    I noticed the old fixed triple out of base was having issues the day I visited this year. Honestly a ride time as short as a detach will give on Eagle bottom-to-top, the triple could probably then be a peak-day only lift. (Or removed and retired. Or relocated to Big Snow?)

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  9. Peter Landsman May 26, 2022 / 4:54 pm

    From Lutsen: “The current Bridge chair will stay in the same location and be in operation during the summer months for the alpine slide. The new chair will be located between Bridge and 10th Mountain.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jack Lake May 26, 2022 / 5:20 pm

      Does that mean that 10th Mountain is staying or going? I was expecting the new lift to completely replace Bridge, although the alpine slide (which I have been on in the summertime) was an open question.

      Like

      • Bskier23 May 26, 2022 / 9:27 pm

        10th Mountain is Staying for now it was installed used around 2009 I believe. Looks like the new lift could follow closer to the old Eagle Chair line which was removed when the New gondola was installed. Wonder if they will shorten Bridge to the Summer midstation if it will only be used for the slide?

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    • Andrew F. May 26, 2022 / 11:25 pm

      Interesting. This makes a lot of sense. The northermost runs on Eagle are a bit of a pain to get to from Bridge. They probably won’t use the old Eagle Chair alignment either, as the loading station was on the other side of the creek, and that alignment also has to cross under the gondola.

      I wonder if they will remove 10th Mountain. The new lift should be able to handle all of the traffic for Eagle on nearly all days, but 10th Mountain would be helpful on race days and potentially early season and holidays. Keeping Bridge around should be helpful as an option for a breakdown assuming they choose to keep it in operating condition for the winter season vs. letting it sit dormant and totally buried.

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  10. Jack Lake May 26, 2022 / 5:16 pm

    OK, so Skinner isn’t cashing out of the tech industry with unlimited funds, but is a savvy strategic regional ski area consolidator and operator. While I like Charlie’s lift fleet ideas for Big Snow, that looks like an aspirational wish list more than what I would expect to see Skinner do. At least we now know that Indianhead isn’t going to become another Sugar Loaf or even Norway – it has a future. Also, let’s save some cash for “base area infrastructure and snowmaking” (per the press release).

    I think we could see two fixed-grip quads at Blackjack. After having spent some time thinking about Indianhead, I could see a high-speed quad w/ angle station connecting the base of Blackjack and top of Indianhead, servicing Bear Creek as an added bonus. The reminder of the main part of Indianhead could likely be served by two high-speed quads, although the new owner has been installing six-packs in Wisconsin and Minnesota and might have rosier skier visit projections than my historical experience with Big Snow.

    I think my above sketch keeps the handle tow in place at Blackjack and the Hiawatha t-bar at Indianhead. How old is the Bear Creek double – it was installed as a relocation in 1987, correct? If it has useful life left, I’d take that vault drive bail chair Riblet and replace the Hiawatha t-bar. Otherwise, all the legacy Big Snow lifts are goners (we can put up as many plaques as you would like to honor the vault drive Riblet heritage).

    Would anyone like to predict what will happen to replace the Mystery and Ullr lifts at Lutsen?

    Like

    • Charlie May 26, 2022 / 6:48 pm

      I don’t think that Mystery gets enough traffic to warrant a upgrade, but a high speed quad would be nice there. I can see Ullr getting replaced with a fixed grip quad. If the expansion is approved Timberwolf should become a high speed quad as well.

      Like

  11. BSkier23 May 26, 2022 / 8:58 pm

    Besides the almost definite idea of a connection lift. Looking at what they’ve done with Granite Peak and Lutsen Im sure they will consolidate the current lift system drastically. I would guess the first lift replacement would land either the line of Chippewa Double or a realignment of Lelinaw Triple. I once heard the idea of Detachable landing near where the top of the Platter lift currently unloads with some regrading on in front of the upper lodge would access the most of the main terrain. After the center is covered Probably some new lifts to replace and realign the Winnebago and Both Tbar lifts. I would assume the chair lifts at Blackjack will be around for a few seasons yet as they are much shorter and also newer vintage Riblets than Indianheads lifts. Also looks that the quad has already been decommissioned after little usage for many years.

    Like

    • Spartyski May 27, 2022 / 7:56 am

      There is a way that Voyager, Chippewa, Leelinaw, Winnebago and Tomahawk can all be replaced with 2 lifts. It requires some regrading at the top and the bottom. Many Midwest resorts have recontoured the top and bottoms of their hills for the sake of having efficient lift alignments. When Indianhead was primarily built and expanded buying and installing lifts was a lot cheaper than it is today. Adding another lift made more sense than doing massive earth moving. Today it is a different story. I think the Bear Creek lift should be realigned so that it lands near Leelinaw and allows easier access between the 2 sections of hill at Indianhead. New runs would need to be cut to splice the existing runs back into the mix but it would make for a more seamless transition.

      Big Snow just doesn’t get that busy and reducing the number of lifts from 9 to 5 or 6 would save money and require less staffing. I don’t expect to see huge things here. I expect to see money spent to make for a better business. Caberfae only exists today because they scaled things back and spent money to make a better overall facility rather than continue spending to try to keep things the same which was never going to work. This is what Indianhead needs more than anything. Get rid of inefficient snowmaking, redundant lifts and create a better brand. The resort looks tired and outdated. Just fixing that will make a difference and reduce operating costs.

      I bet we never see a lift connecting the 2 resorts. It would be over a mile long, would likely cross into property that the resort doesn’t own and would be money that needs to be spent elsewhere. I agree that Blackjack could operate on just 2 lifts but the place isn’t open that much. Both are great ski areas but Indianhead has all the resort features. I think Indianhead will get most of the attention. If the business fails it is logical to close Blackjack. I wouldn’t invest a lot there until you can make the changes to Indianhead and see how things work out. There is a lot of skiing in that region and a real lack of people.

      I am glad to see a future for Indianhead. I hope there is one for Big Powderhorn. Both are different in the way they are set up and I don’t want to lose either one of them. We don’t need another Sugarloaf. Over 20 years later and it is still a disaster.

      Like

  12. Raidy (Raidify) May 28, 2022 / 5:27 pm

    hah interesting news. i think they are def going to remodel the lodge and hopefully the hotels/condos as they are outdated. i think they should OBVIOUSLY restore voyagers. realign the Chippewa double to Sundance and bring back the park. then replace Chippewa with the Chippewa express. and get rid of tomahawk.

    Like

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