“Some people think that’s crazy,’’ said Aaron Hautala, 38, of Cuyuna, president of the 75-member local mountain bike club. “But winter riding has grown every year.
“It was 16-below one time when I was out there,’’ he said. “The key is dressing right.’’
Hautala is a relative newcomer to mountain biking, taking up the sport in 2011 after moving to Cuyuna.
“I got on these trails and said, ‘Holy cow.’ It gave me the same experience as downhill skiing in the mountains. I fell in love with it. It’s become a lifestyle; I just want to ride. I used to golf with some guys; now we all mountain bike.’’ A novice explores
One of the allures of Cuyuna is that its 25 miles of single-track trails cater to a diversity of skill levels. They are rated easiest, more difficult, most difficult and extremely difficult. (There’s also the 6-mile paved Cuyuna Lakes State Trail.)
While hard-core mountain bikers love the challenging trails, beginners and novices can find good riding, too. “You don’t need to be an expert,’’ Hautala said. “I’ve come a long way, but I’m still very much learning.’’
I’ve ridden some mountain bike trails over the years, with a 25-year-old bike that has no suspension. But I consider myself a novice, and, at 61, I wanted to explore the backcountry without wrecking myself. So I borrowed a better bike from a friend, and we headed to Cuyuna last week. He’s an experienced mountain biker who has biked Cuyuna several times.
“We’ll start on the easy trails,’’ he said.
But it wasn’t long and I was tackling more advanced trails, and even the ‘most difficult’ black diamond trails like “Ferrous Wheel’’ — a nod to the area’s mining past — and “Bobsled” — aptly named for a series of banked curves on an exhilarating downhill run.
Along the way, we encountered a group of 10 women, with two female leaders, on a two-day adventure outing. Only two of the 10 had mountain biked before, but all were smiling.
“We’re so happy to get new people out here,’’ said Katie Seipp-Deblock of Ironton, one of the group’s leaders.
After exploring the area for a couple of hours, we later biked with Hautala and McCarvill. The well-marked twisting trails offered a variety of experiences, from harrowing to serene. The scenery is spectacular, and if you didn’t know the history of this land, you might never guess this is a reclaimed mining area. Some of the trails follow the steep edges of the former ore pits, and the overlooks provided views that rival those of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
The uphills will take your breath away.
So will the downhills.
Doug Smith • 612-673-7667