One of the most iconic ski resorts in the United States is Northstar, located in Minnesota. Nicknamed the “Paris of the North,” the resort is known for its art deco architecture, winding streets, and world-class ski runs. It is also one of the original “ski cities,” having opened its doors in the 1960s and attracting a diverse crowd of skiers and snowboarders from across the country. Today, the resort’s snowboard park hosts some of the biggest competitions in the sport, and it’s the unofficial training ground for many professional snowboarders. There is even a “Ski-in/ski-out” accommodation available at the resort, which makes it convenient for snowboarding fans traveling from out of state.
The Beginnings Of A Classic
Northstar was originally built in the 1950s and is one of the first purpose-built resorts in the country. Following World War II, a group of Minneapolis businessmen decided that a new urban ski resort was what their city needed. An agreement was made with the state of Minnesota to establish a ski resort in exchange for the city funding the construction of the facility and putting up money for the upkeep. The businessmen were also given the position of honorary chairman of the resort’s board of directors.
The first season of Northstar Ski Resort opened on Monday, March 4, 1959. It consisted of the Chilcott Lodge and Restaurant, Village Lodge, and Elkhorn Lodge. Over the next few years, the original three lodges were joined by more lodges and condominiums, making it one of the first “sport-friendly” resorts in the country that is still around today. The number of visitors increased as new chairlift towers and other facilities were added, and by 1965, Northstar was hosting more than 100,000 visitors annually.
During that time, the Art Deco architectural style began to influence the look of the resort. It was originally designed by renowned Minneapolis architect Henry Mervine, who also designed the Lake Hootenanny Lodge at nearby Holiday Park, and the Midway Motel at the airport.
Famous Guests And World-Class Skiing
Some of the biggest stars in the history of skiing have skied at Northstar. Many greats from the golden era of skiing began their careers on the mountain, including Bonnie Black, who was born in Minneapolis and grew up in nearby Coon Rapids. After turning professional in 1966, she soon became known as “Queen of the Nordic Skiing World,” winning a total of seven gold medals across three separate Olympics. Black famously said that Northstar was the best training ground for her, and the facility still hosts an annual Bonnie Black Ski-in/ski-out tradition every Wednesday.
Another famous Minnesotan who frequented Northstar was Bill Gates. The founder of Microsoft and co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has a vacation home at the resort and has been a regular there ever since he and his wife moved to Kirkland, Washington, in 1971. Gates has been known to ski with colleagues from Microsoft and the foundation, and has hosted numerous ski retreats at the resort. His foundation is now based in Seattle, but still holds an annual ski event at Northstar.
The Northstar Resort Today
Northstar today is a bit of a museum piece, with only three of the original nine ski lodges being operated by the resort. The other six were demolished years ago, leaving only the Elkhorn Lodge and the Chilcott and Village Lodges. Even the slopes have largely remained the same, though a few new trails were added over the years. It is, however, the iconic buildings that draw visitors to the resort, not the snow. More than 1.5 million people visit Northstar each year, making it the sixth-largest ski resort in the country.
The main street of the resort, Upper Chairlift Road, is lined with boutiques, art galleries, and other businesses. It is a hub for skiers and snowboarders, with many cafés, bars, and restaurants lining the street and even some old-school sledging opportunities available in the winter. There is also a Saturday Night Live comedy club, the Punchline, located on the premises. In the summer, Upper Chairlift Road becomes a promenade, with people walking their dogs and enjoying the cool breeze off of the lakes surrounding the area. There are also a number of festivals that take place at the resort each year, including the popular Artichoke Music Festival in May and the St. Paul Winter Carnival in February.
One of the most interesting facets of Northstar is how the resort maintains two distinct personalities. The first is a traditional “ski town” demeanor, where the snow is more important than anything else and the wintertime is an opportunity to test your skiing skills. The other side is a “family” side that welcomes children and non-traditional skiers with open arms. Activities like Kids’ Winter Meltdown, a 10K kids’ race, and Family Day, where locals and non-locals intermingle, offer activities for parents and kids alike.
Future Of The Resort
With family day and other family-friendly events growing in popularity every year, it seems as though Northstar has found a way to accommodate all its visitors, no matter what their age. In the summer of 2019, the resort will celebrate its 50th anniversary, and to mark the milestone, several new facilities will be opening, including the North Star 50th anniversary lodge, the Northstar Sky360° observation deck, and the Northstar Kids’ Zone.
There has been talk of the resort closing its gates for good, and a couple of factors point to this as a real possibility. The first is that nearby Boyne Lake, which was featured in the films Backcountry and Twisted, is no longer open to the public, due to disease and unsafe swimming conditions caused by a rash of chikungunya virus infections in 2018. The second factor is that the original owners of the resort, the Minnequa Group, are selling off their shares in the company that operates the resort. A holding company, Northstar Realty & Investment, is purchasing the resort and has shown an interest in redeveloping it for residential and retail purposes.
However, these scenarios are still a long way off, and for now, Northstar remains open for business as usual. Its unique combination of old-school charm and modern amenities makes for an interesting mix, and it still attracts thousands of visitors from across the country and around the world each year, proving that this “city” in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” will be around for a long time to come.