Northern Wilds March 2018

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An avalanche of winter fat bike trails ary through mid-March, weather and conditions permitting. If you want to try fat biking, but want gravity to do the work, buy a lift ticket and try their downhill MTB trails. They even have integrated slopes where fat bikers can ride on the same trail as the skiers and snowboarders. Just make sure to consult with the website for which trails are open and for fat biking rules at Spirit Mountain’s facilities.



There are over a dozen fat bike trails on the North Shore. | STOCK

NORTH SHORE—Winter fat biking opportunities keep expanding in the Northern Wilds. There are 30 percent more groomed trails for the balloon-tired bicycles this winter than last. The trend seems likely to continue. A quick survey of local trails for the sport shows over 200 miles of trails open to wintertime fat biking and over 140 miles that are machine groomed. From Cuyuna Country State Recreation area in the west all the way to Thunder Bay in the east, there are over a dozen trail choices along the North Shore. Duluth pioneered the local opportunities in the winter of 2014-15 with machine grooming. Tim Kostner, trails coordinator of the Cyclists of Gitchee Gumee Shores (COGGS) said that a snow machine is stationed at the Mission Creek, Piedmont, and Lester destination systems. “Luckily, the trails that are inaccessible by snowmobile get a fair amount of foot and snowshoe traffic so that the majority of the trails are rideable in both seasons,” Kostner said via email. The whole Duluth Traverse system is approaching a completed total of 100 miles and all these COGGS trails are open to fat biking in the winter. Thunder Bay is close on Duluth’s heels as they enter their third winter of grooming for fat bikes. The Shuniah Mines and Centennial Park complex include 17.8 miles of groomed trails, 12.4 miles of which are machine groomed. Will Takacs, president of the Blacksheep Mountain Bike Club emailed that Kinsmen Park is the approved fat bike trailhead for those trails.


The Minnesota DNR is also entering the third year of a pilot project that allows winter fat biking in state parks. Local options include the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area (20 miles) and Jay Cooke State Park (5.4 miles) west of Duluth. Farther up the shore, Split Rock State Park grooms fat bike trails (8.7 miles), including the section of the Gitchi-Gami State Trail that passes through the park.


Another third-year venture is the liftserved fat biking at Spirit Mountain in Duluth. According to their website, the mountain is open on Sundays from JanuWilds_Tourism_April.indd 1 163124_Northern MARCH 2018 NORTHERN  WILDS

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Jay Arrowsmith DeCoux, board member of the Superior Cycling Association said that grooming is improving in this second year of fat biking on the Pincushion Mountain Trail System in Grand Marais. He said that building berms and finding the winter grooming flow has gotten better this year. Another system in their second winter is the Lake County Demonstration Forest near Two Harbors. Nate Eide, Lake County land commissioner, touted the 5.3-mile system and its different “stacked loop” options. There are four new arrivals on the list this winter. The Norpine Ski Trails are allowing a section of cross-country ski trail to be used for fat bikes on a trial basis. This trail, the Cascade Connector, runs 10.4 miles from the Cascade Lodge to the Lutsen Mountains Ski Resort road. According to the Norpine Trail Association website, fat bikers should ride on the portion groomed for skate skiing, not in the classic ski tracks. According to Jon Benson of the Superior National Forest, the Jensen Trail portion of the Flathorn-Gegoka ski trail system is open to fat bikers on a trial basis this year. This system is near the National Forest Lodge in Isabella. Two lodges along the Gunflint Trail are also joining the game for the first time. The Gunflint Lodge is grooming 12 miles of trails. Two of those miles are on Gunflint Lake itself and more suitable to new riders. Bearskin Lodge is grooming 8-10 miles of fat bike trail that they are calling “wilderness single-track” that is separate from their ski trail system. There are so many options now it’s almost overwhelming. Dan Cruikshank, owner of SpokeNGear Cyclery & Outdoor in Two Harbors, offers a solution. He has a one-mile boot-packed fat bike trail around his shop. That way, people can take test rides on a fat bike and give it a try before launching on a more varsity trail system. “And then come inside and have a cup of coffee,” said Cruikshank. Sarah Lynch of Sawtooth Outfitters pointed out that the Cascade Connector is a trial run. The state park options are considered a “pilot project” and the Flathorn-Gegoka option is also a trial run. Lynch said that riders should be considerate of other trail users and use correct tire pressures for the trail conditions so as not to damage the trail. As always, local outfitters can help you figure out which trails are best suited to your interests. Nobody will know the trail conditions, rental options, and etiquette answers better than the fat bike experts at your local shop.—Eric Chandler

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