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Original Issue

Homemade Mountains

In the Midwest only money and earth movers stand between people and skiing

Skiing in the Midwest, an area not noted for its high peaks, has been growing so fast in the past five years that it now ranks second to New England in its number of skiers. Typical of the growth, and of the people behind it, are the two biggest new developments in the Midwest this year.

First is Lookout, up in Minnesota's famous Mesabi Iron range north of the western end of Lake Superior. The town of Virginia simply took over a mountain ridge there and made it a grand place to ski. The ridge rises 275 vertical feet over the surrounding lake country and has been carved into a series of half-mile trails and slopes that fan out from the terminal point of the only chair lift in Minnesota. Half a mile of skiing at a time is more than enough to toughen any number of snow bunnies to the point where they become competent skiers. This is one reason why Midwest skiing has been able to enjoy so powerful an upsurge. Another is the Midwest community enthusiasm, the same sort that supports Big Ten football. With that kind of backing almost anything can—and does—grow big.

Virginia is a town that has plenty of self-generated enthusiasm. Once, when one of its hotels burned, a group which called itself "The Committee To Expedite the Building of Hotel Coates" raised the dollars to rebuild the hotel. The same committee turned itself into a continuing body and last year put up $1,000 to have Lookout surveyed for its skiing potential. From there the chamber of commerce and several platoons of citizens committees got into the act. By June a ski corporation had been set up with authorization to issue $200,000 in stock. Businessmen who didn't know a schuss from slalom suddenly got the gospel. They set up a campaign to sell stock that encompassed all known selling media, right down to doorbell ringing. The pitch was "Turn Snow Into Cash and Fun." By March 18, 1958 the corporation issue had been subscribed, in toto and with enthusiasm.

In the meantime, others had prepared applications to the U.S. Forest Service for use of the Lookout Mt. area. It was a job which included getting up exhibits, sketches, blueprints, plans for a 3,000-foot road and, among other things, outlining the financial structure. Victory was finally won. Shortly after the necessary stock had been sold the U.S. Forest Service awarded permission.

Construction got under way almost immediately and building crews ran into luck. Where everyone thought only rock existed, workmen on the road project struck gravel. Two tons of blasting powder and a few bulldozers moved 40,000 cubic yards of earth on Lookout. The pattern of trails and slopes was ready for snow by November. While one crew put in a double chair lift, another worked on the handsome two-level lodge to hold the restaurant, ski shop and warming room.

There is parking for 500 cars, a Sno-cat packer for keeping the slopes smooth and skiable, a raft of vapor mercury lights for night skiing, a ski patrol, ski school and even ski hostesses to set the newcomer on the right track.

The town has no bona fide ski inns as yet but, if the ski tourism swells to the expected volume from sources like Duluth, 65 miles south, and from Minneapolis and St. Paul, 200 miles south, the inns won't be long in coming. In the meantime there is always plenty of space in the Hotel Coates and four other hotels in Virginia.

The D.W.& P. railroad runs to Duluth, with connections to the large Midwest cities, including, of course, Minneapolis and St. Paul. Central Greyhound buses also stop in the town en route north. North Central Airlines flies in to Hibbing, 15 miles away; and Eveleth-Virginia Airport, seven miles out, can handle private planes. At both airports rental cars with ski racks are available.


Some of the 75 inches of snow that comes down on Lookout Mt. every year has already fallen on the newly cut trails. To Virginia townspeople, their place looks like St. Moritz.

The No. 2 effort, a steeper but slightly less expensive proposition, is, by contrast with Lookout Mt., a lonesome George proposition. It is called Nub's Nob and is being built outside of Harbor Springs in Michigan, not far from Petoskey on the lower peninsula. Nub is Norman Sarns, a sportsman dedicated to sailing in the summer and skiing in the winter. His wife Doris, once women's national ice boat champion, takes part in both sports with the same enthusiasm. The Sarnses' 45-foot Revelry is one of the busiest and winningest B class sailboats on the Great Lakes (class B winner, Port Huron-Mackinac race last year for the second time running). The Sarnses hope their area is going to be as successful in winter against other lower-peninsula ski developments as their boat is during the summer.

The Sarnses became ski proprietors almost by accident when they bought an all-year house on the shore of Lake Michigan. Directly in back of them was a round little mountain, formerly a sand dune, now overgrown, that looked as though it would be dandy for skiing come winter. It wasn't long before a rope tow was strung up the slope's flank and Nub and Doris Sarns and all their friends were sallying up and down almost to their hearts' content. The one drawback was a warming westerly that used to blow off the lake and wipe out the snow regularly. Sarns took to looking farther inland where the high hills still held the snow. He located one that was a regular icebox: it always had snow. He bought it, and from then on there was a Nub's Nob.


Sarns tramped his mountain for two years, laying out and rejecting tentative trail plans, studying the snow-holding qualities of the various exposures and clearing timber to make trial trails. Last spring he brought in the crews that in turn brought in Nub's Nob.

Sarns has put in a 1,900-foot Pomagalski double chair that goes up higher than any other in the Midwest (450 vertical feet). It ends on Decision Plateau, from where you can see the Straits of Mackinac, the new bridge to the upper peninsula and Mackinac Island, scene of Revelry's triumphs. From the top are laid out a series of three-quarter to over-a-mile trails. One of the latter is the longest continuous downhill run in the state. The design of all the trails has been thought out to give both easy descents for beginners and artificial mogul corridors for experts.

The Nob ought to have plenty of customers. It is 240 miles from Lansing and Grand Rapids, 275 from Detroit, with a Capital Airlines service to Pellston, 15 minutes away by car. The Sarnses' white-pine lodge beds down 48 persons, and the cocktail bar in the Sarnses' restaurant will hold twice that many. Hotels and motels of the traditional tourist country around Petoskey have more than adequate space to take care of the rest of the skiers.


LOOKOUT rope tow (D) and double chair lift (B) bring skiers to long ridge line (3), where transfer tows (C) give them choice of Gopher slope (1), Snow Bowl (2), Laurentian run (4) and Alpine Schuss (5), up to half mile in length. Rope tow (A) serves beginners' Sitzmarken (6). Area has modern ski lodge (7) at the bottom.