Gondolas & North Shore Connections

The North Shore of Minnesota is a feast for the spirit.  When I look out on the thick pine forests, rugged cliffs, and never ending water, all is well within me.  In a way, the beauty reminds me of who I am.

When I published my post “Thoughts From a Cold Boulder” last month, I thought that was my last time I’d get to see the place that is so dear to me.  Thankfully, I have a mom with connections.  She’s a lobbyist by trade and she represents several communities around the state.  Her job is to use the legislative process to get money to help benefit the well being of her clients.  Often times, this involves boosting tourism.

One of Mom’s biggest clients is Lutsen Mountains, the largest ski hill in the state.  Because of her connections, we were able to take a free two-day ski trip during my Spring Break last March.  Which was AWESOME.

Over the past year, Lutsen has put a lot of money into installing a new gondola.  This investment will (hopefully) bring in more people.  As the largest business in the county, this benefits the entire community.

Yesterday morning, there was a big opening ceremony for the event.  Mom decided to attend and, like the little mooch that I am, I tagged along.

We arrived Thursday night.  Mom was invited to dinner with the owners and the local senator (who is also the Senate Minority Leader and the third most powerful politician in the state).  I ate separately and enjoyed a relaxing evening watching Sleepless in Seattle in our room while she rubbed shoulders with the powerful, influential people of Cook County.

My original goal for tagging along was to go skiing.  I mean, what’s the point of going to the largest ski hill in Minnesota without hitting the slopes?  Sadly, due to an unnaturally warm December, most of Lutsen’s runs were closed.  They were making snow like crazy to be fully open by the weekend… but not in time for us.  No skiing for me.  😦

When the time for the ceremony came yesterday morning, Mom and I made our way to the shiny new gondola platform.  We were stopped and informed that it didn’t open for the general public for half an hour.  Mom quirked her head and goes, “Did Charles and Tom go up already?  We’re with them?”  That’s my mom–name dropping like a pro.

The ride from the platform to top of Moose Mountain was stunning.  They’ve been hard at work making snow and the trees were all coated in a thick layer of white.  The gondola cars have wide windows and we could see for miles and miles.  We were riding through the sky above the winter wonderland all the Christmas songs talk about.

The ceremony itself went very well.  Speeches were made, the ribbon was cut, and everyone moved inside to the chalet for coffee and cookies.  I met Lutsen’s owner and his wife invited us to come up and ski with them.  (Too bad I’m leaving the country in a few weeks…)  I met the important senator.  His wife, Laura, was VERY sweet and spent a long time talking with me.  I also met many of my mom’s Grand Marais work contacts–various business owners and such.

I’ve been attending these kind of events–press releases, grand openings, legislative hearings, etc.–since I was a kid.  I’ve learned to be a fly on the wall, following two steps behind Mom while she talks and makes connections.  I speak if spoken to, but usually stay pretty quiet.

After everything was done, we rode the gondola back down the mountain and headed to Grand Marais for lunch.  We had soup at the town’s coffee shop, then stopped by the home of one of Mom’s friends.  He’s the director of the Cook County Chamber of Commerce and his wife is from England!  We stayed for a long time.  The adults talked while I made friends with one of their huskies–a retired sled dog from Scotland.

It was a long four-hours home, but the drive along Lake Superior was beautiful as always.  We went to Gooseberry Falls State Park to see if the waterfalls were still running (they were!) and made a stop in Duluth for coffee.

I love the North Shore.  When I visit, I’m reminded of who I am.  It’s almost like coming home.  From a young age, the beauty has put roots in my heart and become part of me.  I’m thankful to have had so many opportunities to visit throughout my life.  I don’t know when I’ll be back, which makes me really sad.  But no matter where I go, no matter how much life changes, it’s always there waiting to remind me of where I’m from.

Ski Hills, Spring, and Saunas

I CAN SKI!

My entire body is in pain, but oh boy, my soul is happy.  It turns out, downhill skiing does come back to you.  It took a couple hours of practice on the easier mountain for my muscles to remember the movements.  But, after that, I was skiing like a pro.

There’s something about being able to ski that builds confidence.  I mean, it’s kind of a scary sport.  You strap two metal strips to your feet and go down terrifyingly tall, steep hills.  Once you get the hang of it, flying down the slopes feels amazing.

It’s just so classic, you know?  Cruising down the slopes.  Taking the gondola to the other mountains.  Riding up the ski lifts.  Breaking for lunch in the chalet.

And then, when the day is done, the hot tub and sauna beckon.  Oh boy, they feel good.  All the physical strain washes away and you’re so relaxed that it becomes impossible to worry about anything.  I honestly don’t remember the last time I felt so at ease.

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We’ve been skiing at the largest hill in Minnesota.  I say hill, but I should actually say hills.  Lutsen is made of four mountains.  It’s up on the North Shore, right on Lake Superior.  Because my mom has connections, we were able to go on the trip at little to no expense.  The high-ups that Mom knows covered our rental gear, lift tickets, and even our accommodations.  our mini-condo is right on the hill.  In the morning, we wake up, strap on our skis, and go.

It’s absolutely gorgeous up here.  When you go down the runs, it’s hard to pay attention to not dying because the view is so spectacular.  Lake Superior stretches out before you as far as the eye can see.  In the afternoon, part of the lake is golden because it reflects the sun.  Every time I went down, all I could do was offer up praise to God for his glorious creation.

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Seriously, I cannot get enough of this view!

 

My one complaint is that it’s been overly warm.  The thermometer reached fifty degrees today.  I’m all for spring–Minnesota winter began in November this year, which was brutal.  But fifty degree days means that snow melts.  Melting snow means it’s harder to maintain control on the slopes.  As this afternoon wore on, the hills got more and more icy.  My mom gave up an hour before I did on account of a hurt knee.

Okay, so you know the part where I said I was skiing like a pro?  That’s kind of lie.  I’m nowhere near Olympic level.  In fact, I fell quite a bit.  It took most of the first day to make it down a run without slipping over.  On the second day, I only fell a handful of times.  Mind you, most of these falls were pretty derpy.  One minute, I’d be doing fine, and the next, my ski caught some loose snow and–plop–down I go.  My favorite occurred on a really steep hill–nearly a straight drop.  Within thirty seconds, I tipped over. Normally, when this happens, I’m able to push myself up and keep going.  This time, though, the hill was so steep that I slid backwards, skis over my head, down to the bottom.

Thankfully, I only suffered two major wipe-outs.  You know, the kind where you fall head first into the snow, flip over, and both skis come flying off.  Although I was a bit battered, I was able to pick myself up and keep going.

It’s my last Spring Break and, oh boy, I’ve been making it count.  The past few days have been amazing.  I love the North Shore.  When you live on the prairie, there’s nothing better than forests, cliffs, and Lake Superior.  I don’t want to go back to Morris, where my senior seminar paper waits to be written.  I only just discovered the joys of skiing and don’t want to stop!  I’m almost sad that winter is almost over, because it means I can’t hit the slopes again until November.

Now that I know how, I don’t want to wait another ten years before I go skiing again.  So, here’s to a great trip and I’ll keep my fingers crossed for going again next year!

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Me in the gondola after a long day of skiing!

For more photos of my trip, check out my Instagram page on the right sidebar!