Spirit Mountain nordic trails: The same, only better
The cross country ski trails at Duluth's Spirit Mountain have been an insider's mecca, a system of well-groomed trails in lovely hardwood forest that only a few folks seemed to know about. Those that knew it, loved it. If you didn't know it, well...
Over the summer, the Spirit ski trails got a major makeover, both physically and logistically. The trails are no longer managed by the Spirit Mountain ski hill, but are cared for by a partnership between the City of Duluth and the Duluth XC Ski Club (DXC).
DXC volunteers took a hard look at the trail system and came up with some significant improvements to the trail layout. What had been a set of nested ski loops, ranging from a 1 kilometer easy trail to an 11 kilometer gut-buster, is now a well-thought out network of trails for all skiers. New signs mark every intersection. DXC volunteers were out this fall clearing out the brush and filling in rough spots. The trail feels well-loved now, after many years of benign neglect.
My old fave, changed
In the old Spirit trail system, my personal favorite was the Pete Fosseide 5K trail, named after the guy who won the 153-mile ski race from Duluth to St. Paul in 1938. It was a perfect five-kilometer intermediate loop, running counter-clockwise through the oaks and maples. About two-thirds of that trail is still in place. However, about three kilometers in, the old "5K" disappears into a small maze of redirected trails. No problem, I found a way to stay on the basic loop using a short section of the advanced 11K.
In the new map and signage, I went from Intersection E to Intersection I. E to I. Or, as I yelled going down the first steep and scary hill in the gloaming dusk, "E-I-I-I!!!"
If you go
The Spirit Mountain Nordic Center is right off Skyline Drive. From Exit 249 of Interstate 35, head toward the Spirit Mountain downhill area but stay on Skyline Drive. It's about one mile to the entrance to the Nordic Center on the right.
The trail is open daylight hours every day. The nordic chalet is open 3:30-5:30 weekdays and 9:00-4:30 weekends. Plan to come up to Spirit on Saturday, February 9 for Winter Trails Day, with free rentals and free lessons co-sponsored by DXC and local ski shops.
Due to a quirk in time and management, the Spirit Mountain trails this year are free to anyone to ski. You are of course encouraged to buy a Great Minnesota Ski Pass and/or join the DXC.