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Busiest “off-season” to date on Ely’s Hidden Valley trails

by Brett Ross, Ely Nordic Ski and Bike Club

A mecca of Nordic skiing for the region since 1989, Hidden Valley Recreation Area saw its busiest non-ski season ever in 2023.

Early June brought the final installation of a number of ramps on the Ely Airlines jump loop, completing the nine mile system of single track mountain bike trails.

The summer included a ribbon cutting grand opening for the trail system, the inaugural five week Hidden Valley Hammer race series, a visit from two adaptive riders pedaling all terrain hand cycles, and the start of the third season for Team Borealis sixth through 12th grade competitive mountain bike team. By late October, a trail counter had recorded nearly 10,000 user days for the year.

With the growth of single track mountain biking across northeastern Minnesota, the Hidden Valley trail system is quickly making Ely a destination for both mountain biking and winter fat tire biking enthusiasts.

As adaptive mountain bikers Alex Van Horn and Linda LaReau discovered in September, the trail system shows great potential for welcoming riders with disabilities. During a stay at Veterans on the Lake, the ladies reached out to Ely Nordic about riding their all-terrain handcycles on the trails. The three-wheel bikes are powered by arms rather than feet, and with beefy tires, full suspension and an electric-assist, they allow riders without the use of legs to have a dynamic mountain biking experience.

Along with Ely Nordic Chair Brett Ross, Alvin Goesser of Ely Bike and Kicksled and Scott Anderson who spearheaded the Ely singletrack trail initiative, Van Horn and LaReau demonstrated their arm strength and riding skills on the first two trail loops. Arriving back at the trailhead, both riders were eager for another lap.

With the accessibility offered by Vets on the Lake and the Hidden Valley trails (and a night of northern lights over Fall Lake) LaReau described her adventures in Ely as a “life changer!” While not officially designated as “adaptive” trails at this time, the visit by LaReau and Van Horn has planted the seed for that possibility.

With the success of the Hidden Valley singletrack system, the city of Ely along with Minnesota North College Vermilion Campus and the Kawishiwi Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service, additional trails are already in the works.

Connectors from Hidden Valley and the Trezona Trail are planned for an additional five miles of new trails. Adam Harju of Grand Marais based Dirt Candy Designs is at work on the engineering of the new trails, expected to be shovel-ready in 2024.

Supporters of mountain biking in Ely will continue to look for funding for the build, as well as locations for more trails. According to Anderson, “from an economic development standpoint, 20 miles of trail is the sweet spot to make Ely a singletrack mountain biking destination.”

As the winter snow season draws near, a new grant-funded grooming snowmobile and personnel including five part time groomers, will create an impeccably groomed setting for both classic (tracked) and skate skiing on nearly 30 kilometers of trails at Hidden Valley and the Trezona Trail.

Two additional part time personnel dedicated to fat bike grooming stand ready to make the most of snow on the singletrack with the Club’s Trail Tamer fat tire bike trail groomer.

Winter events at Hidden Valley include the Ely Invitational High high school Nordic Ski race on Saturday, Jan. 28 and the combined Skinny/Fat Bike Race and candlelight ski on Saturday, Feb. 3.

Trail grooming on the Trezona and Hidden Valley trails, along with year-round maintenance and management of the Hidden Valley Chalet, are funded in part by annual memberships in the Ely Nordic Ski and Bike Club.

At just $75 for individuals and $125 for a family, membership allows keyless access to the Hidden Valley Chalet for warming, water and restrooms. The chalet is also available for rental for private events, daily or by the hour.

Additional donations are always welcome, and trail sponsorships of $100 (bronze) $250 (silver) and $500+ (gold) are recognized on the signboard facing the trailhead parking lot. Checks can be sent to Ely Nordic, PO Box 346, Ely, MN 55731.

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