Financial future of Spirit Mountain in Duluth causes concern among some city leaders

By KBJR News 1

August 13, 2014 Updated Aug 13, 2014 at 9:20 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- Some Duluth city leaders are saying Spirit Mountain needs to be more financially self-sufficient.

The year-round destination currently owes the city more than six figures.

For many years, Duluth has provided an annual line of credit for the Spirit Mountain, with the agreement that the ski hill will eventually pay that money back.

"The summer months are usually the toughest months and they need to be able to make payroll, and so it takes... that line of credit helps them get through," said Duluth city councilor Linda Krug.

The line of credit has kept the skill hill afloat during the brutal winter, when the customer base was down.

"I do not want to have to reach out to the city in the future and ask for an extension on that line of credit," said Brandy Ream, newly appointed executive director at Spirit Mountain.

But for two years the city hasn't been paid back, causing some city councilors to worry about how long the city will have to support the ski hill.

"It is taxpayer dollars and... so that's worrisome. And at some point you want them to be an entity that can... what's to use the image, 'float on it's own bottom.' It needs to be able to take care of itself," said Krug.

The recreation area currently owes more than $1,000,000, an amount some councilors say is unhealthy and unsustainable.

But Ream says she plans to address the financial situation immediately.

"First off we need to take a very detailed look at our operations, meaning what hours we're open, if we're having certain aspects, meaning Grand Avenue Chalet, Adventure Park, if we're going to be open seven days a week, but just looking at what makes sense not only from a revenue standpoint but from a control and expenses as well," said Ream.

Ream says she plans to look at all aspects of the ski hill to see where unnecessary costs can be cut.

"We're looking at efficiency, we're looking at safety, and we're looking at the overall operation and experience that one has at Spirit Mountain," she said.

Officials at Spirit Mountain say they hope to cut the unnecessary costs while keeping three main ideas in the forefront: safety, customer service, and efficiency.

One cost saving measure to come at the start of the 2015 skiing season is a change in the water supply used in snow making.

The ski hill will be completely removed from the city water supply for snow making, and will instead use water drawn from the St. Louis Bay.

Elsa Robins