Spirit Mountain Implementing Changes After Task Force Review

DULUTH, Minn. – After multiple financial bailouts, a change in leadership, and a shortened 2020 season due to the pandemic, Spirit Mountain is opening this winter to record pass sales and a renewed outlook on the future of the ski hill.

“We had a record for the last at least five years in season pass sales, so we think that people are really excited to be out on the slopes being outside and recreating and having a good time. So we are really excited about that. I think it bodes well for our season,” said  Ann Glumac, interim director of the city-owned recreation area.

In 2020 Duluth Mayor Emily Larson created the Spirit Mountain Task Force to develop recommendations for the recreation area. A major goal was to help it achieve financial stability after the city had to provide emergency funding to the ski hill twice in one year.

In March, the task force released its findings in a 250-page report which focused on business improvement strategies, adjustments to tourism tax support, strategic partnerships, and capital infrastructure right-sizing and renewal.

“The report that our consultant helped us with last year with the Task Force really made the case that if you do nothing you are just going to continue with the same result that we’ve had. And that result is not acceptable and it’s why we had a Task Force,” said Spirit Mountain Task Force Co-Chair and Duluth City Council Member Arik Forsman.

Spirit Mountain’s Interim Executive Director Ann Glumac says Spirit has already started implementing many of the recommendations made by the task force, both large and small, including repayment of a loan granted by the city in 2013.

“We are working on a number of their recommendations in terms of our financial stability so, for example, we will be starting to pay off a loan that the city granted to us in 2013 – 2014, that has been on our books and not paid for a number of years. And we are also trying to find additional ways for people to use Spirit Mountain that are what they call lower barrier to entry so they’re not as expensive,” said Glumac.

To help expand its offering this winter, a brand new community skating rink will be built at the Grand Avenue Chalet. Spirit will also start renting out snowshoes for those who might not want to downhill or cross country ski but still want to enjoy the outdoors.

For Glumac, a vital area of reinvestment at Spirit has been focused on the community and to better serve families.

“Spirit is a family resort really where people come to learn how to appreciate skiing and when you live in Duluth you get to just pop here after work if you want. But we need to invest in the resources that family’s use. So we replaced all of our kid’s skis, for example, this winter, so that as children are coming to learn how to ski and participate in this lifelong sport they have good equipment,” said Glumac.

However, for those looking to experience the adrenaline of SnoCross at Spirit Mountain this winter, they were welcomed with disappointment that the event will not be happening; something Glumac is hoping to simplify in terms of financial impact.

“The bottom line impact is not as big as you might think because we have to invest so much in advance of getting them here and making the snow and setting it all up and paying the sanction fee. All of those things add up and you have to pay for all of those before you even start to see a profit,” said Glumac.

For task force co-chair Arik Forsman, improvements already made at Spirit have been more than just what can be seen on a balance sheet, but are a testament to the culture implemented by new leadership and the workers at the hill.

“I’m really excited to see some of those intangible things that are starting to shift and I think the financials will follow that if we make really strategic balanced decisions going forward on the Spirit long term direction,” said Forsman.

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