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Wild ride coming to Duluth

Spirit Mountain ski area in Duluth is making a move to become a year-round destination with construction of an Alpine Coaster ride.

The attraction would be open all year and whisk riders down a winding, 3,500-foot stainless steel track at speeds up to 26 mph. Riders, who are seat-belted in, can control the speed.

When the ride down the 750-foot vertical drop is over, riders simply stay on the coaster and are pulled back up to the top of the hill.

It would be only the fifth Alpine Coaster ride in the U.S., and the first one in the Midwest.

"It's the coolest thing ever. I loved it, and I'm not normally a ride person,'' said Renee Mattson, Spirit Mountain executive director, who rode on an Alpine Coaster at Wisp Resort in Maryland earlier this year. "This is going to be a great thing for us and for all of Duluth. It's the first new attraction in the city for many years.''

Janice House, Wisp Resort reservation center manager, said the ride has been a year-round draw to bring tourists to the rural vacation destination.

"Ours is open all year. People ride it all winter,'' she said. "You hear a lot of screams. But it's not super scary. You aren't upside down our anything ... but there are sharp turns. It's more fun than scary.''

Construction of the more than $2 million project, including $1.7 million for the slide and the rest for a ticket booth and other infrastructure, would start in April, and the ride is scheduled to be open by July, Mattson said.

The project already has the blessing of city officials and the Spirit Mountain board. The construction plan still must be approved by the city's Parks and Recreation Commission and the Duluth City Council later this month, Mattson said.

Rides are expected to cost $8 for one person or $12 for two. Each coaster can hold two people, or two children and an adult.

The ride would be built immediately west of the ski runs and would wind around existing natural features, with little tree cutting or disruption required, Mattson said.

The coasters are manufactured by German-based Wiegand Sports. They are similar to alpine slides such as the one at Lutsen Mountain ski area.

Mattson said the ride is expected not only to pay for itself quickly but also to help generate revenue to help pay for other big projects on the Spirit Mountain master plan, such as ski lift improvements, new snow-making equipment including a system to pump St. Louis River water instead of using city water, and possibly a new chalet at the bottom of the hill off Grand Avenue.