After attending the PedalMN Bicycle Summit a month ago (blogged here), I took a detour to Duluth before heading back home, as I’d not ridden any of the new downhill mtb trails at Spirit Mountain. I knew the chair lift wouldn’t be running (it was a Tuesday) and I’d only have a couple hours to ride before dark. But the likelihood was high that I’d not be able to get back to Duluth before winter so I was determined to get a taste of Spirit.
I’d not seen the new Grand Avenue Chalet at the base of Spirit Mountain before, with its Riverside Bar & Grill. Pretty impressive on its own but sort of amazing to have this type of amenity only a few steps from a new downhill mountain biking mecca.
The DH mtb trailhead sign is gigantic, informative, and hits you over the head with warnings. My favorite (comma added for clarity):
All dirt features are different sizes, and shapes and lengths may change daily. It is strongly recommended that you roll everything the first time through.
Since the chair lift was closed, the route to the top was via the new Happy Camper trail:
Happy Camper is an easier downhill trail with features including small jumps, berms, and rollers. This trail is perfect for beginners who are just learning downhill skills, but is also a fun trip for an expert rider.
“Happy Camper” is a directional trail, which means that when the chairlift is running, it is signed as a DOWNHILL ONLY trail. When the chairlift is not running, it is used as an UPHILL ONLY climbing trail. By offering this uphill climbing option, you now have access to our awesome trails all the time! When the chairlift isn’t running, you just have to work a little harder for it.
It probably took me a half hour of riding and pushing to get to the top of Happy Camper. Not for the faint of heart. The view of the St. Louis River and Lake Superior from the top, of course, is stunning.
I really wanted to ride down Happy Camper, given that I’m a DH newbie and there was no one else out there riding that I could see. But rules are rules and with daylight running out, I decided to ride Blaster and Smorgasbord.
Blaster is a more difficult downhill single-track trail with features including lots of rocks, roots, and very little dirt. This trail gets very steep in areas and is a true test of your downhill riding abilities. Experienced riders only!
Blaster is gnarly indeed and with a 29’er hardtail out there by myself (“Please note that we do not have Bike Patrol on duty when the chairlift isn’t running so please use extra caution and be careful on the trails.”) I wasn’t about to go blasting down it. Slow and trials-like was my modus operandi, and will continue to be until I’m able to afford full squish.
I knew that Candyland trail would be more my speed:
Candyland is a 1.5 mile beginner/ intermediate level downhill flow trail featuring large berms, medium and small sized table tops, and hip jumps. All features on Candyland are roll-able, making it an ideal trail to learn on, and perfect for gravity-based mountain biking skills.
and that the Smorgasbord trail would be over my head. But I wanted to see how much over my head and figured I could walk what I couldn’t roll or ride:
Smorgasbord is a 1 mile intermediate level freeride/ downhill mountain bike trail featuring large berms, medium size jumps, a drop, and rock gardens. Several features on Smorgasbord are mandatory, including small 3-4 foot gaps, and a 5-foot drop.
I was able to roll (very pokey) some of those mandatory features but the berms and rollers (photos and screengrabs of video above) at the bottom were more my speed. Here’s a 10-second video clip of me riding those:
When I go back next spring, I’ll concentrate on Candyland and Happy Camper. When I’m able to afford a full-suspension bike and learn the skills to go with it, then I’ll tackle Smorgasbord.
I’m glad I got a taste of Spirit. It’ll motivate me this winter.