Text by Jack Hennes
Photos by Jonathan Portinga
When the snow starts flying in Duluth, our nearly 100-miles of pristine singletrack becomes blanketed in snow. But before persistent cyclists can exchange their skinny-tired trail bikes for their fat-tired companions and hit the trail, our trails are groomed by a dedicated crew of volunteers throughout the city. Meet the COGGS volunteer winter grooming crew.
From the East Side to the West Side, Duluth is home to about a dozen volunteer groomers. With the leadership of Coodinator Dave Cizmas, each volunteer is ready to dispatch the moment there’s enough snow to pack down. Trails are groomed by slowly driving a snowmobile, which pulls a contraption designed to pack down snow. COGGS owns three snomobiles, which stay close to trails so that groomers can pack snow quickly and efficiently.
Mike Adamczak, (above) a volunteer groomer at Piedmont, doesn’t let below-zero temperatures keep him from manicuring these challenging trails. Adamczak has been grooming Piedmont trails for three years, ever since those trails have been groomed for winter fat biking.
GROOMING 101: How It's Done @Piedmont
While there are more complicated groomers that utlize “roller” designs, the Piedmont snowmobile uses a DIY-style groomer that pulls two truck tires.
On the side of one tire is a metal plate with sharp teeth. This tool isn’t used for loose, powdery snow. Instead, it can be flipped over to help smooth over deep footprints or ruts in harder snow or ice.
Adamczak says the tire groomer is preferred for the terrain at Piedmont, which is steep and rocky. The tire groomer can easily bounce off trees in narrow spots that would be game over for a more complex roller-style groomer (like they use in Cuyuna or Marquette).
Grooming is much more work than simply driving a snowmobile. Duluth’s steeper, rockier, narrow trails mean back-breaking work: maneuvering the snowmobile and the groomer around sharp corners, prying the snowmobile loose, all the while dealing with subzero temps.
In order to groom snow effectively, groomers drive the snowmobile much slower than you’d expect (slower than most people walk).
Switchbacks are every groomer’s enemy. When approaching a sharp switchback, Mike needs to get off the snowmobile, maneuver the tire groomer, and attempt to turn the snowmobile along the turn.
Grooming mostly takes place during the night to avoid traffic on the trails. Even though it’s hard work, Mike happily drives off to groom B.O.B., a double-black diamond trail with one of the steepest rock rolls in town.
While grooming is hard work, anyone is welcome to help out with the winter trail grooming crew. Volunteers are rewarded with the satisfaction that they helped hundreds of cyclists, hikers, and runners hit the trail.
SNOWSHOERS: DIY GROOMING WELCOME
Due to inaccessibility for snowmobiles and the sheer number of trails in our area, not every trail is machine groomed. Volunteers are welcome to help “groom” trails using their snowshoes. COGGS is thankful for legions of snowshoers who help efficiently pack trails the moment we get several inches of powder. Snowshoeing is a relatively inexpensive and fun way to explore Duluth’s trails when you’re out of the saddle.
Riding or hiking on ungroomed snow can lead to unven ruts or deep footprints. Groomers need at least several hours after a snowfall to work their magic. Hitting the trail before groomers can pack them can lead to hard, uneven surfaces that are difficult to fix.
Once trails are open, respect tire pressure guidelines to prevent further damage to the trail. You can now find infographics at trails throughout town with air pressure guidelines. Before hitting the trail, always be cautious and courteous of openings and closures. Check Twitter for trail updates from each trail center.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST: Thank you to our 2018-2019 grooming sponsor, Orion Construction Services!
Orion is the exclusive sponsor of COGGS grooming operations for this season and we are very thankful for their contributions. Jamie from Orion has graciously offered to cover all of COGGS' expenses to groom the various sections of the DT and trail systems! Check out their Facebook page here where you can see some of the high quality work they do: https://www.facebook.com/OCSDuluth/
See you on the trails!