GeneralMarathonsNewsRacingTelemark’s Future in Flux, Birkie Looks to Buy Land, CXC Backs Training Center Idea

Avatar Alex KochonNovember 1, 20134
Telemark Lodge, which closed for supposed spring cleaning earlier this year and never reopened. Newco, LLC., bought the nearly 1,000-acre property at a sheriff's sale in mid-October and does not plan on reopening.
Telemark Lodge, which closed for supposed spring cleaning earlier this year and never reopened. Newco, LLC., now Mount Telemark Partners, bought the nearly 1,000-acre property at a sheriff’s sale in mid-October and does not plan on reopening.

For anyone looking for a 215-bedroom property in northern Wisconsin, there’s one heck of an opportunity in Cable just 21 miles north of the American Birkebeiner’s home in Hayward, according to American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation (ABSF) Executive Director Ben Popp.

In mid-October, a Colorado-based company with local ties, Newco, LLC., purchased Telemark Resort and its nearly 1,000 acres of wooded bliss (including a once-operational ski hill) for $926,000 dollars. Closed since the end of last season, its former owners fled town and locked the doors, leaving a note on the door stating they’d reopen after “spring cleaning” in May.

Telemark Lodge's grandiose fireplace, centrally located in its lobby. The lodge reportedly needs some major renovation and has been closed since last winter. (Photo: TripAdvisor)
Telemark Lodge’s grandiose fireplace, centrally located in its lobby. The lodge reportedly needs some major renovation and has been closed since last winter. (Photo: TripAdvisor)

The spring and summer passed, and still no sign of Steve Kaufmann or Ric Ahern of the Minnesota-based Telemark Partners. The lien holder, Great Southern Bank of Missouri, filed for foreclosure in August. A Bayfield County judge ruled in favor of its sale, while also granting the American Birkebeiner – North America’s largest ski marathon, which has used Telemark as its start since its inception 41 years ago – a two-year easement to use the land.

On Oct. 15 at a Bayfield County sheriff’s sale, the historic resort (founded by Tony Wise in 1947 and home to famous chef Emeril Lagasse from 1978 to 1980) went to the highest of two bidders, Newco, which wanted it more than Great Southern Bank.

The next week, representatives from the Cable Area Chamber of Commerce and other concerned groups met with Newco, now known as Mount Telemark Partners. The new owners announced they had no intention of reopening the storied property, which has bounced between foreclosures in each of the last three decades (starting with Wise in 1984, faltering again in 1998 and once more in 2010).

But the owners were open to proposals, including those who wanted to buy or lease the lodge.

That’s where Popp thinks the deal is – if one can make it viable. He estimated an interested party could buy the lodge (with an indoor and outdoor pool) for $300,000 or $400,000 dollars, but it would take “four to eight million” dollars to get the lodge up and running again. Those figures are based on transforming Telemark into an elite training center, which Central Cross Country (CXC) Executive Director Yuriy Gusev confirmed is in the speculation stages.

“I am aware of a group that is looking at working towards an agreement with the new owner so that the lodge can re-open, but it is preliminary,” Gusev wrote in an email. “Should something like that happen, CXC is standing by to get involved in making Telemark a training center for CXC with facilities, trail system and community around it. If CXC is in a position to have a partnership with Telemark owners, CXC would be very interested to apply towards U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Site status.”

CXC has used Telemark as its training base for the last two years and brought two Paralympic World Cups to the venue in that time. Gusev explained that the local community is on board with their idea, and U.S. Olympic Committee is interested in reviewing their application should it happen.

According to the Wisconsin Public Radio News, CXC is interested in leasing the land, not running it, and met with the owners last week.

“They were receptive of what we would like to do and they were looking for more specific proposals from us,” Gusev said. “That’s why I hope we will have an opportunity to meet again and talk about more specifics.”

Telemark Resort and the Cable Union Airport, where the American Birkebeiner Ski Marathon starts each year. (Photo: TripAdvisor)
Telemark Resort and the Cable Union Airport, where the American Birkebeiner Ski Marathon starts each year. (Photo: TripAdvisor)

From the Birkie’s standpoint, Popp said they would be fully supportive of a training center or at the very least, the lodge’s reopening.

“It would be a fantastic training center,” Popp said. “It’s great terrain, the trails are homologated, it’s great rollerskiing and the trails are right there. It’s not that far from an international airport, and there’s a small regional airport [adjacent to the property].”

Even so, the Birkie isn’t interested in taking over. Popp said his foundation is in the business of citizen skiers rather than hospitality or running a high-performance training center. He conferred with several housing developers in the area, and they told him they couldn’t justify buying the property.

“They just couldn’t figure out a way to make it work,” he said. “I trust their judgment. They’ve been successful and they understand that business.”

Both others are interested, Popp explained, and Telemark’s new owners are hearing them out.

As far as the Birkie is concerned, they need to secure their start for more than two years out as well as several trails on the property, which make up half the Kortelopet. Between the two races, more than 10,000 skiers start on the local airport’s grass runway every year, but Popp would prefer to get them off that. It’s a bit of a pain with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), he explained.

“They don’t really like it, but they’ll give us one day to be out there and have the race,” Popp said.

Start of the American Birkebeiner back in the "day" around the 1980s, when some participants tried the newly created skating technique
Start of the American Birkebeiner around the 1980s.

The ABSF’s solution is to buy approximately 70 acres of Telemark and make a permanent place for the start and first several kilometers, eventually erecting a building of its own at the start line. For the time being, they’ll have to bring in tents and portable toilets for the Feb. 22 race unless the lodge is reopened over the winter.

Popp said temperatures were already below freezing at night, so if the owners didn’t make a decision soon, they risked some major plumbing problems.

“They’re going to have to put some money into to make sure the pipes don’t blow up and freeze over the winter,” he said. “That could force their hand.”

The ABSF was hoping to present their proposal by Nov. 1, but the exact parameters of the land they’re interested in needed to be worked out. Mostly, the Birkie wants to secure a start for all of its events – winter and summer – along with its own trails bordering Telemark and private landowners, which have demanded compensation to use their land in the past.

Three or four years ago, Popp said Telemark’s former owners wanted somewhere around $100,000 dollars to hold the race. Through careful diplomacy, the ABSF weathered that storm. Now they’re looking to see if they can first negotiate a deal with Telemark’s new owners, and then encourage the community to pitch in.

“It’s not as easy as buying that 70 acres,” Popp said. “Looking at the funding mechanism, my guess is it would be a $250,000 to $300,000 dollar project. It’s not a big open field, it’s densely wooded, but I think it would be very worth it. … It would take some time to do it; we’d want to be able to hit the ground running before the snow melted this spring.”

The good news is, he’s confident Mount Telemark Partners will consider it. Between all of its skiing, running and biking events, the Birkie brings in an estimated $70 million dollars each year to the local economy, Popp said.

“These folks said, ‘OK, we realize how important this is to the region, give us some proposals and what you need to hold this event for the next 50 years,’ ” he added.

While the rebuilding process is beginning, there are several pieces to be picked up. Popp estimated that most of the 215 rooms were sold out for the 2014 Birkie almost as soon as the 2013 event ended. The former owners essentially took the money and ran, leaving those who paid a deposit out of luck. The Birkie has been fielding several calls as a result.

“My guess is those people will unfortunately lose their deposit,” he said, advising those who booked with a credit card to contact their companies to fight the charge. “It’s a really, really unfortunate situation. I’m guessing there’s no way to reprimand them [the former owners].”

In the meantime, the ABSF has compiled a housing directory with hotel and rental availability within 60 miles of Hayward for people who call their office. The intermediate school in Hayward will also open its doors for affordable sleeping arrangements around $20-25 dollars a night and provide a bus to the start line.

“You can crash there, and it’s pretty cheap,” Popp said.

For more information on the American Birkebeiner or to contact their office, click here.

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Alex Kochon

Alex Kochon (alex@fasterskier.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.

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4 comments

  • Avatar
    Eric123

    November 1, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Having been in the hotel franchise development business for 10 years, I believe Telemark reached its functional obsolescence many years ago and would simply cost more to operate than it could ever generate in revenue. The country is full of old full service hotels that are either closed down or barely paying the bills. It simply costs more for maintenance, utilities and staff than any potential room revenue in most of these older properties. In fact the only larger, full service properties built anymore are primarily in major metropolitan markets. Never mind what price one of these obsolete properties can be bought for, since even if one is free and has no loan payment it will usually lose money. That is why today’s hotels are typically small and efficient limited service properties. For example, Holidays Inns are now Holiday Inn Expresses in most markets. It doesn’t make sense to invest millions of dollars into Telemark’s rooms since one could actually build a new, smaller property for less money; a new 60 room property could be built for 3-4 million dollars. Often a small modern property that does 500k per year in revenue will be more profitable than an old larger property that does 1 million per year. 215 rooms never made sense in this location; it is simply too many rooms for the market. I believe the lobby should be saved along with whatever public space needed to create a training facility if that is the direction they decide to go. Most or all of the rooms should be demolished. They are modular construction, probably full of asbestos and have obsolete mechanical systems. If the plan is to house athletes as a training center, then a small number of rooms could be saved and renovated for that purpose but I don’t believe it makes sense to operate this property as a typical open to the public hotel. I believe it could potentially be a successful training center/ ski touring and outdoor center with limited housing for athletes but the idea of a large full service hotel never made sense in this location in the first place.

  • Avatar
    Tim Kelley

    November 1, 2013 at 11:02 pm

    I agree with Eric123, obsolescence does not make good business sense. But surprisingly, often you see obsolescent, white elephant buildings saved by churches. When an organization that qualifies as a church owns a property, they usually escape paying property taxes. And as a non-profit, revenue coming in is tax-advantageous to donors and not taxed as profit. It usually costs less to own real estate if you are a “church”.

    We all know that the Birkie is a religion. So why not make the Birkie an official religion. If the Birkie Foundation became the Church of Birkebeiner and purchased Telemark Lodge, then it would be able to operate the lodge at a much lower cost than a private enterprise could. 10,000 skiers paying a $50 annual tithe (500K total) to the Church of Birkie could likely keep the Telemark Lodge alive. Long live the Church of Birkie and the Temple of Telemark!

  • Avatar
    billhowell

    November 2, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    AMEN NORDIC VIKING BREHTEREN !!!

  • Avatar
    T.Eastman

    November 3, 2013 at 8:33 am

    … Tammy Fay???

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