Riding the snowboard rails ... in Cloquet?
A group of snowboard enthusiasts are working to bring another winter sport to Cloquet's Pine Valley. Already home to five kilometers of cross country ski trails, three ski jumps and a winter tubing hill, the group wants to add snowboarding to the mix.
Local skateboard and snowboard enthusiasts Matt Anderson and Jackson Joyce-Nemmers have formed a group of close to 20 people working to build a snowboard terrain park at Pine Valley near the tubing hill. A snowboard terrain park consists of a variety of jumps, rails, down bars and jibs for the snowboarders to use for stunts and other tricks on the way down the slope. Most ski areas do share their slopes with snowboarders and many of them include terrain parks.
The two young men began the journey last winter by talking to a fellow Park and Recreation Board member (Anderson is also on the board). They originally wanted to build at Pinehurst Park, but Cloquet Street and Park Supervisor Les Peterson suggested Pine Valley, citing the availability of a tow rope already in use for tubing and room to build the needed jumps and rails near the tubing hill. As well, Peterson had been at the tubing hill when a worker installing the tow ropes pointed out a half pipe, which the worker informed him had been installed when the ski chalet was built in the 1960s. At the time the half pipe was overgrown with trees, which the snowboarding group has now cleared out and the half pipe is restored.
"It's all right here, we have everything we need, we just need to fill it with rails," Joyce-Nemmers said enthusiastically.
The work began in earnest last summer. The group began "landscape work," as Anderson laughingly referred to mowing the grass as well as trimming back tree branches on the hill in preparation for the fun part of building jumps, down bars, shot gun rails and more.
"It's refreshing to see the kids take this on, rather than waiting for the city to do something," Peterson said. "They're using their own resources and their own muscles to get it done. Kudos to them."
Joyce-Nemmers has been snowboarding since seventh grade, either building his own or going to Duluth. While at Chester Bowl, he came up with the idea of making a similar park in Cloquet and is loosely basing the design on that terrain park. The rails are portable and able to be moved to make different designs. The group pools together their own resources including skills, money and knowledge of building the rails. They also recycle, gathering up leftovers donated from the old Esko skate park.
"We took all of the ramps, we recycled a lot of the rails and [are using them] in the snowboard park," said Joyce-Nemmers.
They can also use the ice shavings from the Zamboni at the nearby hockey arenas to build jumps when snow is scarce.
Icy weather and a lack of snow has been a problem this year and last.
Joyce-Nemmers has been researching to see about getting a snow machine for the park. He is checking into the possibility of either sharing one with a nearby ski area or buying a used one.
"If we had a snow machine we would be there every day," Anderson said. The skiers and jumpers - as well as the city's tubing hill, which has yet to open this year because of the weather - would also benefit from the availability of a snow machine in dry winters, saving them from shoveling snow from the shady areas and hauling it to the ski trails.
The next step will be to "come to the Park Board with their vision," said Peterson, adding that he does not want to squelch their enthusiasm.
Currently, local youth who want to participate in after-school snowboarding need to travel to Spirit Mountain or Mont du Lac.
Anderson acknowledged the Pine Valley project will take time to accomplish. Realistically, he admitted, the soonest the park would be open to the community would be next winter.
Both Anderson and Joyce-Nemmers believe the park would generate additional income for area businesses, bringing people from out of the area by hosting events.
The Damage Board Shop in Duluth is a local store which specializes in snowboards and hosts multiple events at several locations in the Duluth area. They have expressed interest in hosting an event such as a "rail jam" once the terrain park is up and running. The shop has been in business for eight years and has experienced a solid customer base, including a large group from the Cloquet area.
"The average age of our customers is 16-24 years old," said shop manager Alex Demianiuk. "There are also 3-year-olds just beginning up to a guy about 50 years old."
Both Joyce-Nemmers and Anderson envision the park opening after school as well as on weekends, providing another option for winter frolicking at Pine Valley during the Northland's long winter season.
Once the rails and jumps are in place, passes would be sold at the chalet - just like the tubing area - and then you can grab your board and get ready to ride the snowboard rails.
"Another great reason to get off the couch," Anderson said.
Now, if Mother Nature would just cooperate with another foot of snow.
Pine Journal Editor Jana Peterson contributed to this story.