Granite Peak/Lutsen Ownership Group to Acquire Blackjack and Indianhead, Michigan; New Six-Pack Coming to Lutsen’s Eagle Mountain
The Midwest’s most aggressive ski area developer aim to transform UP time machines
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Charles Skinner, the owner of Granite Peak, Wisconsin and Lutsen Mountains, Minnesota today announced that he has entered into a definitive purchase agreement to acquire Big Snow Resort, made up of the side-by-side Indianhead and Blackjack ski areas in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP).
“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,” stated Charles Skinner. “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 soon.”
Skinner also announced a new Leitner Poma high-speed six-pack that will replace the Bridge Lift, a 1972 Riblet double, on Eagle mountain in summer 2023.
The acquisition will instantly transform the group into one of the largest ski area operators in the Midwest, with the biggest ski areas in Wisconsin (Granite Peak) and Minnesota (Lutsen), and two of the largest ski areas in Michigan. Only Michigan-based Wisconsin resorts will own more ski areas in the region* (Boyne Resorts, also based in Michigan, operates two ski areas in Michigan and 10^ total across the continent).
Big Snow and Indianhead are UP icons, snowy throwbacks that together form a sprawling, never-crowded playground. While there is no lift connection between the two resorts, less than a mile separates them, and they are closer together than the Eagle and Moose Mountain stations of the Lutsen gondola.
Both Big Snow ski areas are functioning antiques, sharing nine Riblet lifts, which are no longer manufactured, between them. The vast majority of them were built in 1977 or earlier. When the previous owner, Art Dumke, combined the ski areas in 2014, his focus was less on the skiing and more on transforming the properties into a true resort, with ambitions to build an onsite hotel and casino. Those plans never materialized, and the ski areas have continued to plod along in an Upper Peninsula landscape increasingly dominated by the gargantuan, gnarly, never-groomed Mount Bohemia and its ubiquitous $99 season pass.
Indianhead and Blackjack skiers should brace themselves for transformational change. While the initial announcement did not provide any details on expansion or modernization ambitions, Charles Skinner, who has owned Granite Peak for more than two decades and recently took full ownership of Lutsen after operating the ski areas since the 1990s, is a true skier’s owner. A proselytizer of high-speed lifts and a visionary who favors bold, decades-long masterplans, Skinner has relentlessly upgraded his existing ski areas’ trail networks, lift systems, and snowmaking plants. Granite Peak, once a forlorn, decrepit ski area, now has one of the most-advanced lift systems in the country, with two high-speed quads and a high-speed six-pack. Lutsen hosts the Midwest’s only gondola and sprawls over four distinct peaks on 825 vertical feet. Both ski areas constantly thin more glades, and both are in the midst of mammoth transformations that would double the amount of skiable terrain. The possibilities for the Big Snow complex are limitless, and lift upgrades, massive snowmaking enhancements, and a mountain-to-mountain interconnect will all likely be considered within the coming years. Terrain expansions could also be forthcoming: the two ski areas combined are 400 acres, and the purchase came with more than 1,000 acres of land.
“We are planning major investments at Big Snow that we know everyone will be very excited about when details are announced later this summer,” said Charlotte Skinner, VP of finance and resource management for Lutsen and Granite Peak. One thing that won’t change: the Skinners intend to retain all current Big Snow employees.
This could be a transcendent deal, one that will likely transform Upper Midwest skiing, nibbling at Bohemia’s brazen dominance in the UP and drawing skiers to a remote and overlooked region. The combination of four large Upper Midwest ski areas offers tantalizing multi-pass possibilities, and could significantly strengthen Indy Pass’ already dominant position among national passes operating in the region. Let’s take a closer look at the Big Snow ski areas and what this deal means for Midwest skiers, the rapidly changing multi-pass landscape, and the ski industry in general.