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Warm winter compounds funding challenges for Mount Itasca

Skiiers enjoy a run at Mount Itasca in Coleraine
Mt. Itasca Facebook page
Skiiers enjoy a run at Mount Itasca in Coleraine.

Leaders are asking for input on raising $100,000 annually to support operations at the Coleraine ski hill with a storied Olympic history and deep community roots.

COLERAINE — Kurt Mangseth remembers skiing at Mount Itasca in the late ‘50s.

“We had a rope tow and a V-8 engine that we started and that’s how we hauled the kids up,” he said.

A lot has changed since Mangseth first started skiing in Coleraine, and he helped lead much of that change as a longtime board member and former president. Now the sports center has snow machines, a chair lift, a large chalet — and more expenses than it can manage.

A Mount Itasca Facebook post from Wednesday, Jan. 24, asked for the community’s thoughts on raising $100,000 each year to help support its operating costs.

“This year is not a good winter for winter sports,” said Bob Conzemius, treasurer of the Mount Itasca Board of Directors. It’s warm, and we lost a lot of days over Christmas break because of all that rain we got.”

While many ski hills may be able to grin and bear a bad winter, Mount Itasca’s nonprofit model makes things more challenging. Not enough revenue in the winter could mean not enough money to start things up again next year.

“It’s had other years like that, too, in the past, where it just kind of halts for a bit. [We] run out funds or run out of volunteer energy,” Conzemius said. “It may happen again unless something changes.”

On top of the dry winter, the organization has also struggled to find volunteers. Mangseth said that’s another change for Mount Itasca.

The sun shines over the ski hill at Mount Itasca in Coleraine on a January 2024 day.
Mt. Itasca Facebook Page
The sun shines over the ski hill at Mount Itasca in Coleraine on a January 2024 day.

“Back when I was younger, if we needed a work party, all we had to do was make a few phone calls, we’d have 15-20 people out there,” he said.

“When we were young, if we wanted to ski, we had to get the hill ready.”

Finding grants that will pay for operating funds is also a challenge, Conzemius said, adding the large number of nonprofits in Itasca County puts a strain on already limited resources. The organization is working out what it will do about its current challenges, but fundraising is the next best option. But raising $100,000 every year is no small task.

Mt. Itasca Winter Sports Center is located off Itasca County Highway 6
Mt. Itasca Winter Sports Center is located off Itasca County Highway 61 in Coleraine.

Mount Itasca is the nearest downhill ski facility to Grand Rapids, the next closest being Giant’s Ridge in Biwabik and Spirit Mountain in Duluth. The winter sports center has a long history in Coleraine, starting with its ski jump in 1906.

“It generated, I don’t know how many national champions. But that’s all history. We don’t have that now,” Mangseth said. “We had Olympian Jim Maki, two of my uncles were national champions, my granddad was a world record holder. And they all came out of Coleraine.”

Megan Buffington joined the KAXE newsroom in 2024 after graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Originally from Pequot Lakes, she is passionate about educating and empowering communities through local reporting.