Published September 25, 2012, 02:23 PM

New mountain bike trail under construction at Spirit Mountain (with video)

With shovels and an excavator, a work crew is opening up a new, twisting mountain bike trail down Spirit Mountain — and in doing so, organizers hope, they’ll also open doors to a lot of new riders.

By: Andrew Krueger, Duluth News Tribune

With shovels and an excavator, a work crew is opening up a new, twisting mountain bike trail down Spirit Mountain — and in doing so, organizers hope, they’ll also open doors to a lot of new riders.

When complete, the trail will start at the mountain’s Adventure Park parking lot and end about 500 feet below and a mile later at the new chalet being built at the bottom of the hill. It is designed to accommodate beginning riders — a large group that has been underserved by existing trails, said Hansi Johnson of Thomson, Midwest regional director for the International Mountain Bicycling Association.

“In the past, a lot of times mountain bike trails have been built by more-advanced enthusiasts, (and) they tend to build trails for themselves,” Johnson said. “As a sport, we’ve sort of found that we need to start appealing to more beginners and more intermediate riders if we’re going to stay viable as a sport and grow as a sport. ... In order to do that, you need more progressive trails. You need a beginner trail, an intermediate trail and an advanced trail.”

So what’s being built at Spirit Mountain can serve as a beginner trail, where young riders and those new to the sport can take the jumps, turns and transitions at their own pace. And for those with a little more experience, picking up the pace can make the new trail more challenging.

“It’s built in a way to kill two birds with one stone,” Johnson said. “For the younger kids and beginners, they won’t even understand some of the features that they’re riding over, but they’re set up in a way that it’s safe for them to ride over it and learn. Whereas the more advanced riders, who really want to kind of push it a little bit more, they have lots of choices on how they can do that. ... It’s something for everybody.”

The trail — called a flow trail, because it essentially “flows” easily downhill with few if any uphill or flat sections — is a joint effort between the International Mountain Bicycling Association, Spirit Mountain and local biking club Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores, or COGGS. COGGS put in about $10,000 and IMBA chipped in about $8,000 to $9,000, Johnson said. Spirit Mountain contributed resources, access and, of course, the site.

Part of master plan

The new trail is part of Spirit Mountain’s master plan and will fit in with other new bike trails built by the recreation area, including a more advanced route called Smorgasbord.

When the new chalet and chair lift are completed, riders can descend on the trails, purchase a lift ticket and carry their bikes back up on the lift.

“We’ll see more kids coming and learning on (the flow trail), and then they’ll have the skill set to move on to the more advanced jumps and bigger things,” Johnson said.

To be clear, though, the trail isn’t open yet. Trail crews are still working, and Spirit Mountain sales and marketing director Briana Johnson said the recreation area also needs to complete its own work on the trail and put up proper signage before it’s ready to ride. Johnson said they hope to open the trail later this fall in conjunction with the new lift; a date for that has not yet been set.

Trail school

Construction of the yet-to-be-named flow trail is being led by IMBA Midwest trail specialist Aaron Rogers of Copper Harbor, Mich., who has guided trail building that’s made that Upper Peninsula community a mountain-biking destination.

In conjunction with building the Spirit Mountain trail, Rogers will be an instructor at a flow trail school being held this weekend. About 30 people from around the country were set to be in Duluth on Saturday and today to learn skills and techniques for building those kinds of trails.

While building knowledge, the students also will help build the trail.

“The whole idea, beyond the educational factor, is to leave something behind that is valuable to the community,” Rogers said.

Among the skills to be taught is water management and making trails stand up to extreme weather, such as the flooding Duluth experienced in June.

“There are so many different grade reversals that the trail is going to shed water really fast,” Rogers said of the new course, which blends into the contours of the hill.

That trail structure also is part of what will make it fun to ride.

“Everybody is blown away by how great the trail is looking,” said Adam Sundberg, chairman of COGGS. “It’s so much fun, so creative, so well-done.”

Crossover appeal

Longtime mountain biker Todd McFadden of Duluth lives near the new trail and tested out parts of it last week. A veteran of trails across the country, he said the new flow trail at Spirit Mountain sets a new standard and “is as good as there is. … This is the new platform. This is what people will build.”

McFadden prefers to ride cross-country trails, as opposed to gravity-oriented riders who thrive on steep downhills. But the new flow trail caters to both groups, at all skill levels.

“I can do it, my 5-year-old can do it, (and advanced gravity riders) can just rip this stuff,” he said.

“It’s bringing the mountain biking community together,” Sundberg said.

It’s been a busy few years for local mountain-biking enthusiasts, as they also plan for the city-spanning Duluth Traverse trail system. Seeing plans become reality on the slopes of Spirit Mountain is invigorating, Hansi Johnson said.

“It almost made me cry when I walked down it,” he said of the flow trail. “We’ve been waiting … for true, modern, well-designed trails in Duluth.

“To finally see something that we’re envisioning get on the ground, it’s pretty awesome.”