Mari Kivisto lives life firmly on two wheels most days.
Kivisto, of Deerwood, hones her mountain biking skills and others' as a longtime coach of the Cuyuna Lakes High School mountain biking team, one of the best in the state. She is in her sixth season. The team has 70 riders, from sixth-graders to high school seniors, plus about 30 parents who act as ride leaders in multiple capacities. The team draws young people from across the Cuyuna Lakes region.
In 2019, Kivisto started Sure Shift, a mountain biking guide service, and she instructs and leads all manner of clients. Newbies. Minnesotans. Out-of-state visitors. There are people who want to maximize their time in Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area's growing trail network. Of late, riders have sought out Sure Shift wanting to work on their skills. It's good timing: The area's trail builders have added this summer to its mix of trails this year, appealing to advanced and expert riders with black diamond-like drops and big jumps, among other features.
"There is some different stuff and the ante has been upped," said Kivisto, 35, who is a Level 2-certified instructor. "Folks want instruction on how to be safe and how to have fun."
Here are Kivisto's recommendations for the uninformed who itch to roll in Cuyuna Country:
"For folks coming to the area who are new to mountain biking, who have riders in their group of varying ability, or who are short on time, the Yawkey unit in the recreation area's northeast section provides the most smiles per mile and opportunities to exit back to town.
Green Circle > Easy
Take a spin on Haul Road from west to east to get a feel for the Cuyuna red dirt and terrain. The variability of a relatively smooth, hard-pack surface with a few roots and the occasional patchiness makes for a great beginner or warm-up trail. From there, commit to the new Cuyuna Connector for a smooth, fun and flowy 4-mile loop great for all abilities, including a few B-lines for riders looking for a little spice. On your pilgrimage to the city of Cuyuna via the Cuyuna Connector, don't forget to take a hot lap on Cuyuna Pump Track!
Blue Square > More difficult
While in the Yawkey unit, endure the short but steep climb up Bobsled and navigate the chunky rocks on top to enjoy the crowd-pleasing winding downhill with high, banked curves. Continuing the trail around Yawkey mine pit, the trail splits and offers a climb up Manuel Drive. The hardpack trail with a couple of sandy spots weaves through trees and offers a scenic overlook of Yawkey Mine pit before plunging back down to the parking lot via berms and rollers.
Black Diamond > Very difficult
If rock gardens, tabletops (a dirt jump with a flat top), and berms are your jam, don't pass up Winze for downhill fun on your way into the Yawkey unit off of Haul Road. Next up on the menu is Grizzly. With variable terrain of hard pack and rock, the trail squeezes through boulders, testing riders' skills at slow speeds, balance and rear-wheel awareness.
Double Black Diamond > Extremely difficult/expert only
Timber Shaft is a gnarly choose-your-own-adventure trail accessible via Grizzly and leads riders through a series of step-up jumps, wood skinnies (a thin obstacle to ride over), drops and chunky rock formations. Looking for high-flying fun with greater consequence? Make the trek over to the new Mahnomen North unit for all the drops, jumps and gaps you can eat on the new Sledgehammer flow and jump trail. It's no joke."