DULUTH - When Olympic gold medalist Jessie Diggins visited Duluth earlier this month she may have inspired a future generation of Nordic ski Olympic hopefuls, but she definitely inspired people to dig-deep for the sport’s future in the city.
The Diggins event at the Grand Avenue Chalet at Spirit Mountain raised $150,000 in a single day toward the new Grand Avenue Nordic Ski Center.
The western Duluth facility will use the existing Grand Avenue chalet at the foot of Spirit Mountain as its base of operations, with a new Nordic ski “stadium” area near the chalet and a loop trail through the woods.
After being the dream of Nordic ski enthusiast for years, the facility is expected to be open to the public for skiing by early December, depending on the weather - either enough natural snow to ski on or cold enough to make snow.
The project includes four big snowmaking guns, the first ever dedicated for cross country trails in Duluth. Water systems were being hooked up last week and crews were working to run electric lines to the site to power the snow guns.
The project’s Phase I includes 2.5 kilometers of new trail, of which there will be snowmaking capabilities on 1.5 kilometers, said Nils Arvold, president of the Duluth Cross Country Ski Club that has pushed the project from concept to reality. The ability to ski when there is no natural snow - a common occurance early in many recent winters - is a huge advantage for local ski teams and ski enthusiasts.
Gary Larson, a trails consultant for the city of Duluth and an avid skier, called the new Grand Avenue trails “fun and challenging.” The loop trail climbs from the start, then rolls and winds down through big pine trees, dropping down to more winding corners to the finish area. “It’s going to be a great place for people to learn skills. And also really fun for good skiers,’’ Larson said.
There are several trail cutoffs so beginners can ski parts and avoid the more difficult sections, Larson said. The trail has some “less difficult” sections and some “more difficult” but no “most difficult’’ sections.
“The trails are so wide, even on the downhills, so if you can control your speed it will be just great. There’s plenty of room to snowplow and hold your speed,’’ Larson said, noting the downhill corners will be banked and downhill runs untracked. “We haven’t really had anything like this in Duluth before.”
Phase I includes an initial $500,000 contribution from the club along with $1 million from the city of Duluth and $150,000 from a federal grant. The club remains responsible for an additional $250,000, of which the Diggins event covered more than half. Arvold said the club has two additional fundraisers this winter, including the Banff Mountain Film Festival in January, and hopes to have the final $100,000 in hand by March.
“That was our pledge, that's our goal,’’ he said.
Phase II, coming in 2019 or later, is expected to include lighting along part of the trail and a 1.7-kilometer connector trail that will link the new ski trails to the existing 20 kilometers of cross-country trials at the top of Spirit Mountain.
“We still have some decisions to make on whether we go for more trail or lighting or what as far as Phase II is concerned,’’ Arvold said. “But, for now, we’re happy that we’re going to be skiing on Phase I in just a few days.”
The club is moving much of its youth and adult ski programs from the Snowflake Nordic Center, to the new Grand Avenue facility, Arvold said, making it the future hub of Nordic activity in Duluth.
Spirit Mountain will be in charge of grooming and operations at the new Grand Avenue trail system. A Spirit Mountain cross country trail pass will be required to ski at the facility. They can be purchased for $10 per day, plus tax, at Spirit Mountain chalets. No state trail pass is required.
Season passes that provide access to both the upper and lower Spirit Mountain cross country trail systems are available for $149 for adults, $99 for students ages 13-17, $59 for youths ages 6-12, $10 for children age 5 and under and $199 for a family pass for up to 5 family members. Discounted rates are available for current Spirit Mountain downhill ski pass holders.
For more information on the Duluth Cross Country Ski Club or to donate to the new facility go to duluthxc.com. For more information on Spirit Mountain and trail passes go to www.spiritmt.com.