Monday, July 2, 2012

MN MTB's beacon of hope

Could the Duluth area be the savior of MTB in MN and the mid west? Can it bring us out of the dark ages and back to the 21st century?
What could I possibly be talking about? First yes, yes the Duluth area could be the savior of real MTB in MN, they have the terrain and with the Duluth Traverse they may soon have the trails.
 Well what I’m talking about, aggressive forms of MTB, dual slalom (DS), four cross (4x), Super D racing, Enduro racing and most of all Down Hill riding and racing and not just having dh runs but having shuttle and lift assist riding!
Yes that is correct! Until recently for shuttle runs you either need to go to Nordic Mountain near Steven’s Point, WI, Marquette, MI, out to the Black Hills to Terry Peak or to Copper Harbor to ride van shuttle dh which is great however a little slower but now Mont Du Lac in Superior, WI, just over the bridge is offering shuttle runs on their 2 and soon to be more DH runs as well as their 1 super d, slightly more pedally, run. However the big news is not the Tuesday and Saturday shuttle runs at Mont Du Lac, even though that is awesome and a total step in the right direction, the big news is that in the “master plan” for the Duluth Traverse there are plans to add “multiple” DH runs at Spirit Mountain. I’m not sure how many that is. I have heard rumors but no one has been able to confirm anything but I have heard from a couple people that Spirit would like to have 5 runs done this summer alone! With a goal of 15 + on the mountain!
Spirit Mountain has 780+ feet of elevation loss from the top back to the lift line! That is awesome. If you are riding at places like whistler and others out west, they are typically running their parks in about 900 feet or so of elevation loss and less out east! That means Spirit could actually be on par with some big name bike parks, if they do it right!
I was up in Duluth the other weekend and we actually rode some of the rogue DH lines around Spirit Mountain and some of the single track at Spirit Mountain and I was truly shocked when standing at the bottom of the “mountain” looking up. It was quite a long way to the top, much larger than any of the ski areas here in the metro and was quite delighted by the terrain and natural rock this place had to offer. If they do as the Traverse plan states they will and bring in professional trail builders and designers, there could be some serious runs formed here. I hope they also build some more bike park style runs with larger drops and big jumps! I’m not sure how IMBA plays into these things. I understand sustainability and all of that, however I’m not sure of IMBA’s stand on DH and bike parks as to my understanding, IMBA isn’t involved in any bike parks at this time. They are all privately owned and operated and basically do as they want. I know IMBA will most likely be involved with this project and I sure hope that they do it right and do not stifle its potential to be an actual major draw to MN and the mid west.
As it looks right now from everything I can find on the Duluth Traverse website, Spirit Mountain’s website, MORC and talking to the few locals I know up there. The new lift they are putting in this summer should be up and running this fall and they may do some “test” days, to see how many people actually want to do this kind of riding. I hope a bunch of people show up, even though this will take a few years to grow in popularity for a couple reasons. One being that there is nothing like it around so people do not have DH bike and most don’t even have DH worth bikes and the second correlates to the first a lot of people may be scared to try this out. However if the rumors are true, this lift will be capable of running year round and basically takes you to the top and at that point you could access within a few pedal strokes a plethora of runs when the park is complete.
An actual DH/Bike park will take time to grow but will be a huge success with proper marketing. They will need to have a solid set of runs, I’d say close to 10 and at that point if they are high quality with an array of difficulty. I’d say 2 green, 4 blue, 3 black and 1 double black run they would be able to start really putting it out there in magazines and such and if they could grow that to closer to 15 to 20 runs they could compete on a national level and at that point they would want to start bidding to host a national level DH race and really put the bike park on the map.
However in order to do this the runs would have to be legit, basically meaning that green could be run on a HT or 4 inch bike but from that point up you would want a full suspension bike. Blue would be ride able by a 6inch bike but more fun on a bigger bike and the runs after that you would basically need a full freeride/park bike 180mm+ or a DH sled 200mm bike. The bike park would also need to start offering rental equipment, bikes, helmets and pads so that new people can give it a try so that they don’t need to dump $2000+ into a new bike just to find out that this type of riding is too difficult or not for them.
Also once it is up and running, they may want to find an area where they can build a jump park and pump track area that they can offer as part of your general lift pass or separately for a lesser price.
The park should also consider hosting local events and series similar to other parks like Whistler. They run Thursday night Tunie races. It only cost you $2 bucks to enter, on top of your lift pass, and works like a split pot to my understanding. Spirit would get $1 buck and the other dollar would go into the pot and winner takes all. On top of a cheap race they may want to consider running Saturday night races to draw people from farther out and charge a bit more to like $20 bucks to race and offer more pay outs and possibly get a bike shop or company to sponsor the series and offer swag for the armature levels and really get the youth involved. Another thing to consider doing would be starting a high school and collegiate DH racing team. The collegiate team could race other schools like Michigan Tech and travel further out as well.
All of this is still a pipe dream of mine and they need to start with simply getting the lift up and running, committing to offering lift assisted riding and building the runs to draw the crowds! How I see it, it is like the field of dreams, if you build it they will come, but you have to have faith and commit to it full on!
If and when they do this, I feel the bike shops will see a surge in new bike purchase as the locals will need and want to buy new bikes specific to the style of riding and the economy will definitely see the effects. It might take a few summers but I feel that this will be a draw to people from all of the surrounding states and will bring people from a lot farther away. Especially if they do it right from the beginning and make the runs worth it!
I know personally that I will most like end up purchasing a bigger bike if and when this becomes a reality. I will also probably buy a season pass and make multiple day and weekend trips a summer up there to ride; which would mean that I would be pumping cash into their economy and I know that I’m not alone, there is a growing demand for this type of riding in the Metro area and Duluth may be the catalyst that the Metro ski hills need to get them in gear to start building DH trails and offering lift assist! Let us all hope!   

Keep it real!

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