Thousands of Super Bowl visitors are about to experience a downtown Minneapolis rite of passage: getting lost in the skyways.

But planners for the big event have strategies to get perplexed partiers to their destinations, including an army of volunteer guides and a specially designed phone navigation app.

"You kind of know that look," Steve Cramer said with a laugh, referring to the puzzled expressions on the faces of skyway newbies as they try to plot a route. "It's an intricate system, not always intuitive. And for folks not from the community, it's all brand-new."

It's Cramer's job to make things easier. He co-leads an arm of the Super Bowl Host Committee charged with "wayfinding," a fancy word for helping people get from Point A to Point B with a minimum of fuss and confusion.

It's not a slam-dunk. Even longtime skyway users sometimes find themselves adrift.

"I still get lost!" said Arianna Gomes, a downtown Minneapolis worker for three years. "But I love them. They keep you warm."

Larry Chevalier, a commercial real estate broker, said his visiting business clients are always impressed by the skyways.

"We're unique," he said. "People coming from other cities will be blown away."

That's the feeling Cramer hopes Super Bowl visitors will take away. In his day job as president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, Cramer has a lot of experience with the skyways and people's reactions to them. Downtown Minneapolis has nearly 9 miles of the elevated walkways, making it "as far as we know, the largest connected system anywhere," he said.

But the focus of Super Bowl planners is on a few core routes linking Target Center on the western edge of downtown, the Minneapolis Convention Center to the south and U.S. Bank Stadium to the east. The central crossroads for those core routes is the Crystal Court in IDS Center, where ESPN will be setting up its main broadcast center.

Along the core skyway routes, users will see "a lot of volunteers" giving directions until 10 p.m., Cramer said. More than 2,000 volunteers will be working the skyways during the Super Bowl festivities, with 120 on duty at all times. There will be prominent event signs with specific directions: "This way to U.S. Bank Stadium," for example.

Planners are also running the final tests on a phone navigation app developed by Honeywell specifically for the Super Bowl. It will give turn-by-turn directions along the core skyway routes.

One ongoing skyway issue is a lack of consistency in operating hours. Each skyway is controlled by a specific building owner, and there are more than 60 different skyway owners along the entire system. They don't always observe the same opening and closing hours.

Cramer said the Super Bowl committee is working with the various owners to negotiate uniform operating hours during the Super Bowl festivities. Skyways will stay open later than usual, he said, but there's no final agreement yet on the time.

Kristen Montag, a communications manager for the tourism group Meet Minneapolis, expects that Super Bowl visitors will like their skyway experience, much as other visitors already do.

"The majority of feedback we get is positive," she said. "People think they're cool and unique. And because there are so many amenities in the skyway, people are intrigued by this whole other life that happens in our city."

But the skyways aren't for everyone. Mark Hughes of Shoreview, rolling down the Nicollet Mall in his wheelchair, said he actually finds the city sidewalks easier to navigate. His friend, Elisa Axiotis, said being outside is part of being Minnesotan.

"In the winter, you get all bundled up and then if you go in the skyway you have to take it off," she said. "As long as you're from Minnesota, you might as well enjoy the weather."

John Reinan • 612-673-7402