Duluth Nordic Center prepares to expand (2024)

DULUTH — The Spirit Mountain Nordic Center is about to grow larger and more interconnected with some help from local cross-country ski enthusiasts.

The Duluth Cross-Country Ski Club, often referred to as DXC, will contribute $114,000 to help complete Phase II of the center’s development plan. The project will include the construction of a 2.2-kilometer connector trail to link the newer loops at the base of Spirit Mountain with the more extensive established network of trails up top. It also will fund the purchase and installation of a new water pump to boost the snow-making capacity of the Nordic Center below the ski hill, with the upper trails that still rely on natural snowfall.

“The big piece will be the connector," DXC President Jake Morgan said.

“The lower trails at Spirit are definitely more difficult. They’re nice for racing and high-level training, but a little more challenging for someone learning how to ski or someone not as confident on their skis,” he said.

Morgan said the connector will enable people to directly access the more varied and less technical trail network at the top of Spirit Mountain from the Grand Avenue Chalet.


Duluth Nordic Center prepares to expand (1)

Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

Even though there’s a significant change in elevation from the trails at the base of the ski hill to those at the top, Morgan said, “It will be kind of a gradual climb with some switchbacks. There is a route planned that allows for a fairly shallow pitch to get to the top. And it will be two-way, obviously. So, I’m thinking they’ll make it wide enough to accommodate that.”

The project is expected to be completed in time for the 2024-25 ski season.


The total cost of the Phase II improvements, including the construction of an additional 800 meters of looped trail, is expected to total about $800,000, with the city itself investing $58,000 from its St. Louis River Corridor Initiative, funded by a dedicated sales tax, said Jim Filby Williams, director of Duluth’s parks, libraries and property division. State and federal grants have made up the difference.

The city also seeks state funding to assist with Phase III Nordic Center improvements, expected to cost about $1.4 million

“The vision was to establish a regional flagship cross-country skiing destination,” Filby Williams said.

Morgan said the improvements should only make Spirit Mountain a more attractive ski destination and venue for races, such as Olympic-qualifying events and Junior National competitions.

What we found is that people would show up at the Grand Avenue Chalet and ask: 'Well, where’s the Nordic center?' And we’d say: 'You are here.'

Ann Glumac, executive director, Spirit Mountain Recreation Area

“There are some more high-level races being discussed and in the works right now. So, because of our cold climate and now our ability to make snow in that cold climate, there’s demand for us to be a place to go where we can almost guarantee to host a race on a scheduled date,” he said.

“It would basically enable us to offer very reliable skiing from November through March,” said Filby Williams, noting that despite hefty snowfalls the past couple of years, weather patterns have become less predictable.


This isn’t the first time DXC has stepped forward. The club also contributed $430,00 for Phase I of the Nordic center.

Filby Williams said the initial funding in 2018 was sufficient to construct 2.5 kilometers of trail and provide snow-making capacity for about half of that distance.

Duluth Nordic Center prepares to expand (6)

Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

“The current asset has been heavily used, particularly early in the season, even though it is probably one-third complete,” he said, predicting its popularity will grow with its size.

“The connection will establish an interlinked trail system with three hubs — Magney, Upper Spirit and Lower Spirit — with more than 37 kilometers of exceptionally high-quality trails," Filby Williams said. "So, that creates a destination experience for vacationers and the possibility of larger, longer cross-country skiing events that have the value of significantly adding value to our tourism industry and our long-standing tradition of Nordic skiing in Duluth."

Morgan, too, expects the trail network will draw increased interest.


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“A lot of trails generally become famous because they have such a variety of terrain and reliable snow and a large amount of trails that you can easily access, and that’s all going to be the case at Spirit, once this is built out. We’ll have a reliable man-made loop with lights. And then, there will be a nice connector from that loop up to another 20 to 30 kilometers of beautiful trails with great, varied terrain,” he said.

The name of the system will be updated along with the improvements. It used to be referred to as the Grand Avenue Nordic Center, but will be renamed the "Spirit Mountain Nordic Center," in a move that only makes sense to reduce confusion, said Ann Glumac, executive director of the Spirit Mountain Recreation Area.

“What we found is that people would show up at the Grand Avenue Chalet and ask: 'Well, where’s the Nordic center?' And we’d say: 'You are here.'"


“Since Spirit is maintaining it and grooming it and planning the races and things, this is kind of a branding move for us, because those events can draw a lot of attention, and Spirit Mountain wasn’t really being mentioned. That didn’t quite seem right to us,” Glumac said.

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