by JULIE KRIENKE
DULUTH, Minn.- Spirit Mountain's Timber Twister, a 3,200-foot-long alpine coaster that opened July 1, will stay open during the winter months in the hopes of bringing in more customers for the local recreation area.
"The biggest change that has taken place since last season is that we built an alpine coaster over the summer, so we now have that as a second source of revenue," said Briana Johnson, head of marketing and sales at Spirit Mountain. "The business that the coaster brought in this summer was all new business because people came to Spirit Mountain just to ride it."
With a maximum speed of 26 mph, people can ride down the slopes and through the forests of Spirit Mountain in individual coaster cars. Construction of the coaster started April 12, and the primary material used in manufacturing the tracks of the coaster was stainless steel pipes, according to coaster manager Erica Osterman.
"All of the materials were hauled in by hand except for the bigger tower areas where we had to have a crane come in," Osterman said. "Other than that, it was all done with a chainsaw and then brush cut by Spirit Mountain employees."
The tracks of the alpine coaster are elevated off the ground like a roller coaster, and the ride takes a total of six minutes, with two minutes to go down the mountain and then a four-minute scenic tour to the top. As one of four alpine coasters operating in the U.S. and the only one running in the Midwest, the Timber Twister is expected to have a successful winter season, according to Osterman.
"The coaster is definitely not going to be as popular as it was in the summer, but I do feel like we will have some really good weekends," Osterman said. "The ski hill is very popular on the weekends during the winter, and we think that we will get spillover from that."
As part of the master plan of the recreation area, employees at Spirit Mountain have been working to create a resort that will offer entertainment for every season. The alpine coaster was simply one of the additions that would provide more summertime activities at Spirit Mountain, Osterman said.
"As far as our master plan goes, one of our main goals is to expand into the summer operations at Spirit Mountain," Osterman said. "Right now, we are expanded more into the winter months. Moving forward, we are focusing on summer and making Spirit Mountain a summer attraction in Duluth by adding more outdoor activities for families in the area."
The coaster has several restrictions that have been set by Spirit Mountain employees to ensure safe ridership. Individuals must be at least 3 years old to ride the coaster, and the weight limit for each coaster car is 350 pounds.
"People can ride single or double in the coaster cars, and we strongly encourage people to go as fast as you can go," Osterman said. "Under extreme weather conditions, we will close the coaster down due to things like icy conditions. It is kind of our call on that, and we make the calls on a day-to-day basis."
Tickets to ride the coaster are $8 for single riders and $12 for double riders.
Currently, the alpine coaster is open Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and the entire recreation area, which is located in southwest Duluth, is tentatively scheduled to open Nov. 25.