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Duluth snowboarders find unique ways to practice out of season

DCN Reporter

With the opening of Spirit Mountain still more than a month away, a group of friends take it upon themselves to get some snowboarding practice in before the first snowflake hits the slopes.

On warm fall days for the past few years Tim Miller, Barry Buhr, Bjorn Reed, Eric Christofferson and Morgan Pease grab their boards and their buddies and set up a make-shift snowboarding session at Portland Square Park in Duluth.

“We’ve been doing this for seven, maybe eight years now,? said Miller, who was born and raised in Duluth. “Me and a couple buddies started doing this here when we were still in high school.?

The guys use their trucks and in some cases, cars, to gather snow from local ice rinks that is left over from the Zamboni. They build a small ramp with a jump launching them onto a rail and back onto a landing patch of snow.

“It takes us about an hour to gather enough snow and then maybe another hour for set-up and fine tuning the jump and rail,? Reed said. “On nice days when we have the time this is just way too fun.?

The tricks are small-scale but still impressive and a good way for the boarders to prepare for the much larger jumps and rails at Spirit and other nearby ski areas.

“It’s always nice to get back on a board a few times before hitting up the bigger stuff,? Christofferson said. “If nothing else it works the kinks out of the legs.?

The slopes at Spirit Mountain usually don’t open until around Thanksgiving and in some years, closer to Christmas.

“The Lake [Superior], can help us or it can kill us if it’s too warm,? Buhr said. They can start making snow at Spirit early in November with their machines but if it’s too warm that doesn’t do us any good and we have to wait it out.?

All of the guys have been snowboarding for at least seven years, and a few have been doing it for over a decade.

For all the years they’ve been setting up in the park they have never had any problems with the city or the police.

“We’ve had cops show up and stop to watch,? Miller said. “This isn’t exactly the best part of town so I think they enjoy stopping here to see something cool going on instead of something destructive. This is just good clean fun.?

In a neighborhood that doesn’t have the best reputation, doing something fun for the whole community can brighten days for all involved. The guys encourage young riders to join them and sharpen their skills.

“A lot of the kids around here don’t have a whole lot,? Reed said. “If we can introduce them to snowboarding instead of someone introducing them to something worse, I’m fine with that.?

Unlike skateboarding, there are no city ordinances in Duluth that restrict the use of city parks for snowboarding.

“We try and be as respectful as we can with what we do in the park,? Miller said. “We want to be able to keep on doing this and we don’t want problems with police or the city.?

In the past there have been multiple ramps and rails lining the small hill on 5th Street. Miller remembers having ramps under lights in the park so that the fun could go uninterrupted into the night without the use of generators for their own lights.

“Generators are loud and keep people awake," Pease said. "We tried that once and it just doesn’t work in an area like this with so many houses around. People get pissed."

It’s not often that the guys get a chance to do something like this more than three or four days during the Fall before a fresh coat of powder lures them to the slopes. If it’s raining the rain melts the snow and work schedules don’t always cooperate with the weather.

“There’s usually only a couple of days when we all have the time and weather is nice enough to do this,? Buhr said. “But who knows, it’s been raining a lot lately so maybe it will get cold so we can get a lot of snow too.?