Goodhue board clears ramp for ski jump facility to fly

April 6, 2017 GMT

RED WING — In the home of ski jumping in the United States, the Goodhue County Board of Commissioners unanimously paved the way for an Olympic-level ski-jumping facility to be built at Mount Frontenac just south of Red Wing.

The land, owned by the Prairie Island Indian Community, is currently home to Mount Frontenac Golf Course, and previously was home to the Mount Frontenac Ski Area.

“When in your lifetime will an opportunity like this present itself again to make an impact,” said Megan Tsui, executive director of Red Wing Downtown Main Street. “This is a very special time, and Downtown Main Street is excited about this opportunity.”

Tsui was one of several people who spoke in favor of the planned ski jump that would include in its phase one plans the ski jump topped by a dining venue for up to 150 people a viewing area, zip lines, tubing runs, and a cross country ski course. She said the ski jump project would represent the kind of destination venue that would change the area.

Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Patty Brown said her board, made up of representatives from 13 local businesses, unanimously supported the project. “The attendees, the athletes, the jobs; this is a year around facility that makes another destination for the Red Wing area.”

Dennis Egan, a Red Wing resident who is working with the developer, said the plan is to build an Olympic-caliber ski jump facility that would consist of a tower rising about 160 feet in the air with the dining space and viewing area on top of that, the ski jump run, parking, and other outdoor activities. Because of new technologies, the facility could be used — especially for training ski jumpers — all year.

The developers estimate the venue would draw about 60,000 visitors a year, not just locally but from around the country and around the world, Egan said.

“This is a destination location,” he said, adding that the project should cost about $18 million to build. “This is not just a Red Wing project or a Frontenac project. We have received support from Wabasha, Lake City and Rochester.”

Additionally, the U.S. and international governing bodies for ski jumping have given their support for the project, with the promise of international competitions being held at the site.

Three neighbors to the project, while not asking that it be stopped, did have some concerns about the project, especially the traffic generated by visitors, the noise, and the height of the tower and what it would mean for their rural view.

Amy Olson, who lives near the site, said the structure would be “looming over us for the rest of our lives. You need to do this thoughtfully and with respect to the people who live nearby.”

Egan said the developers plan to do tests with a balloon to show neighbors what they will see when the tower is built.

“It’d be nice to see that balloon test,” Olson said.

Former Olympic ski jumper Bryan Sanders, a native of Stillwater, said the venue is important for the sport. “It’s critical,” he said. “The last Olympic-size jump was built in 1998 for the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake.”

That jump is at a higher elevation with thin air. Getting a ski jump facility at a lower altitude would help with training, said Sanders, who is also the executive director for the Friends of American Ski Jumping. Plus, he added, more than half the Olympic-caliber ski jumpers are from Minnesota, Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

“One of our main missions of our organization is to introduce youth to the sport, so we plan to return that to Red Wing,” Sanders said. “It’s an opportunity for boys and girls to learn to ski for free, not always free, but initially.”

Egan also said one of the goals of developers was to be as minimally invasive on the bluff as possible, keeping existing trees on the hill.

Edward Buck, a member of the Prairie Island Indian Community Tribal Council said the tribe, which owns the land, is behind the project.

“The tribe is very excited about the opportunity and supportive of the project,” he said.