Welcome Back: A Homecoming for Detroit Mountain

Filed in Construction, Destinations by on October 1, 2014

It’s bPhoto Sep 09, 8 42 39 AMack to the future for Detroit Mountain. With a touch of nostalgia mixed with new technology and an eye on the future, the four-season, 200-acre Detroit Mountain Recreation Area (DMRA) near Detroit Lakes, Minn., returns bigger, better and classier than ever.


An inspired community, volunteers, management team and contractors paved the way with a nine million dollar fund raising effort. Opening on Thanksgiving weekend 2014, DMRA is committed to environmentally sound recreation, education and the development of health and wellness for children, families and communities.


The idea began percolating in 2004 right after the ski/recreation area closed. Detroit Mountain had been operating for 50 years and hundreds had learned to ski there. The thought of closing for good nagged at people who said, “I skied there; my kids skied there; I want my grandkids to ski there. What can we do to bring it back?”


In 2010, a group of friends launched the official comeback idea with an email and Facebook campaign gathering about 1,500 supporters within a week. This led to positive public forums, applying for non-profit status, and aggressive grant writing. Becker County owns the land and the DMRA provides the management team. The area features downhill and cross country skiing and tubing in the winter and camping, hiking and bike trails in the warmer seasons.


The lodge      

Dana Tomlinson, from Tomlinson and Sons in Detroit Lakes, served as general contractor for the new 10,000 square foot lodge. He calculates about 120-150 different workers helped on the project, many donating generous “in-kind” products and time.


Photo Sep 09, 8 39 24 AM“It was plenty of hard work and challenges,” Tomlinson says about getting the project finished in one year. “The long winter, rainy fall and long spring didn’t help. Our staff has really worked as a complete team.”


The lodge features rugged stone and salvaged corrugated metal, along with roughhewn native white pine lumber to give an alpine timber frame look. In the central hall, two 22 foot white pine trees greet customers as they buy tickets and move to the equipment rental area.


“These trees are 136 years old and were harvested near Itasca after a windstorm, “Tomlinson says. “We tried to repurpose wood and use local products when we could.”


Energy efficient windows throughout provide a knockout view of the downhill ski runs and bunny hill.  Wall art features the original map of the recreation area, salvaged signs from the old lodge and an original 1970’s painting of the Norwegian birkebeiner cross country ski race. The Horses Neck Saloon comes complete with a beer and wine bar, specialized stools fitted with old saddles, and elegant iron work from local blacksmith.


Photo Sep 09, 8 40 42 AM

ShePhoto Sep 09, 8 36 19 AMlly Photo Aug 23, 1 34 44 AMStowman, DMRA director of marketing, events and snowsports, will also market the lodge as a wedding venue, as the lodge seats about 200 people.


“Nothing like taking a ski lift to the top of the mountain on your wedding day,” Stowman says. “We are after the total experience for our customers. We have what is called ‘terrain-based’ learning in the ski industry. We built beginner hills to make learning fun so our clients will return. From the moment people arrive at the parking lot and enter the front door, we want them to feel happy to be here. We are also working to provide accessible/adaptive skiing.”


Stowman adds that the café will carry healthier food choices including wraps, salads and soups in comb ination with a traditional menu. She estimates 50-75 seasonal workers, as well as an all-volunteer ski patrol team, will provide welcoming hospitality and safety for customers.     


Recreation at its best

Mark Fritz, chairman of the DMRA board of directors, reports that the new bunny hill for beginners has two sections. The steeper one has a tow rope and the other, a gently sloping hill, has a “magic carpet” conveyor which is easier for little skiers. More than 20 feet of dirt has been added to the top of the mountain to enhance multiple ski runs.


For snowboarders and trick skiers, the terrain park, has a long “quarter-pipe” berm and large permanent mounds of dirt, not snow, which should allow them to open earlier in the season.


General manager, Jeff Staley, says that two newly designed triple chair lifts are also designed to carry mountain bikers in the summer thanks to bike racks bolted to the chairs. The plan calls for ten to twelve miles of trails for three biking levels,” Staley says, “Including mountain bike trails, gravity flow trails, cross-country flow trails and a skills park.”


Staley says that Detroit Lakes native, Dave Sontag, who has 20 years in facilities management experience, will oversee lift maintenance, snow-making operations and construction of the ski trails and terrain parks.


“I’ve been moved to tears many times during this project,” Tomlinson concludes. “To see the generous support of the community and how it has all come together is so exciting.”




By Merrie Sue Holtan, Photography Courtesy Detroit Mountain Recreation Area



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