The Story of Spirit Mountain and AMSOIL Championship Snocross

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Exec Director Renee Appel Mattson discusses the history of snocross at Spirit Mt. & what it means to Duluth

Contact: Pat Schutte
PR Director, ISOC Racing

Minneapolis (Nov. 27, 2013) – They’ve been racing sleds Thanksgiving weekend at Duluth’s (Minn.) Spirit Mountain for 22 years now, starting all the way back in 1992. And in that time Spirit’s Executive Director Renee Appel Mattson has seen the AMSOIL Championship Snocross, presented by Ram event grow to become one of the region’s largest events, both attendance-wise and in economic impact to Duluth and the surrounding region.

Founded by visionaries Denny Monson, Craig Hansen, Terry Mattson and CJ Ramstad, the ‘Duluth National’ (as it’s widely known) has become snocross racing’s version of Anaheim 1 (SX) or the Daytona 500 – a staple in the AMSOIL Championship Snocross series and, as the opener, one of the few foundation events (along with Canterbury & Lake Geneva) making up the one of the world’s most successful snowmobile racing series.

Since 1993 Appel Mattson has been on board with the event. Previously working with “Visit Duluth,” the City of Duluth’s tourism marketing arm, Appel Mattson came on board with the Duluth National in 1993 – and has been part of the event ever since.

ISOC got a chance to speak with Appel Mattson from her desk at the top of Spirit Mountain to find out about how this great event came together, how it’s survived – and grown – for the past 22 years and what it means to the people of Duluth.

ISOC: Right out of the gate, Renee, talk a bit about how AMSOIL Championship Snocross mean to Spirit Mountain?

Renee Appel Mattson: At first we didn’t think it’d be that big of a deal. We were looking to put together an event that would fill up hotel rooms in an otherwise slow time of the year here in Duluth – it’s not an accident that it happened Thanksgiving weekend. So if you’re going to hold an event the thought is that you do so when you have an ample amount of hotel rooms that you want to fill. Over the years the event’s had a huge impact on the local economy. You consider the some 30,000 fans that show up, the teams and all the persons that travel with them – it’s a five to six million dollar impact on the city annually.

ISOC: That’s amazing. What have been some of the more memorable snocross events at Spirit Mountain?

Renee Appel Mattson: The most memorable years are the ones where we just manage to pull it off. Mother Nature isn’t particularly cooperating and by god the crew doesn’t pull a rabbit out of the hat and get the track ready to go. And that only adds to the excitement level with the racers and the fans. So it’s those years that really stick out in my mind.

ISOC: So you could almost categorize last year (2012) into that, given the 48-hour window we had to make snow in order to pull the race off.

Renee Appel Mattson: I was convinced last year we were going to have to postpone it. There was no question in my mind that, as of Thanksgiving Day, we had no snow. So looking back our snow makers really did an amazing thing getting that track prepped and ready to go.

ISOC: How does Spirit Mountain’s ski and snowboard clientele take to snowmobile racing on their mountain? Do you see some of them mixed in amongst the diehard snocross fans that attend the Duluth National year after year?

Renee Appel Mattson: One of the benefits that we give our season pass holders here at Spirit Mountain is we give them access to the snocross racing on the weekend of the Duluth National. So there’s a core group of season pass holders that I see year after year that come out to check out the racing. It’s our way of thanking our season pass holders for allowing us to use a portion of the mountain during a weekend when, many times, we’re open for skiing and snowboarding. And I think in turn they appreciate the sport of snocross and respect the way it’s grown over the years to include the jumps and athleticism that we’ll see here this weekend.

ISOC: How does Spirit Mountain handle all of the snow that’s blown at the top of the mountain for the Duluth National? Do you plow it back down the runs, or does it get pushed off?

Renee Appel Mattson: Some years are better than others. Obviously in the years where we’ve had little or no snow and we end up digging up some of the dirt during the race, a lot of that snow is just lost. So we end up pushing it over to the side. But in good years, and it looks like this year will be one of those, we save most of it and that becomes part of our beginner hill. (Note: Appel Mattson added it takes five million gallons of water, blown through the multiple snow guns, to make the Duluth National course.)

ISOC: With the cold weather leading up to this weekend’s season opener for AMSOIL Championship Snocross at Spirit Mountain there appears to be plenty of snow with which to build the track. This wasn’t the case last year where pretty much all of the snow for the entire course was blown in the last 48 hours prior to Friday’s AMSOIL Dominator race. Is it always a touch-and-go effort in terms of snow amounts the weeks/days leading up to the Duluth National?

Renee Appel Mattson: In the big scheme of things Spirit Mountain is first and foremost a ski resort. So over the years our business in the summer months has been growing exponentially with other events. So what happens, when snocross arrives, we’re still flipping over our building from our summer operations – not necessarily right into winter – but into a build specifically for snocross. And it’s not a small task. There are bleachers to be constructed, security fencing to be put up and all the other logistics involved. It’s an amazing amount of work for just this three day event. And at the same time our resources are stretched to try and get snow cover on all of our runs for our major winter business. So on Monday morning, when everyone from snocross leaves town, we’re still tearing things down and cleaning up for the next five days – trying to turn it back into the base for our winter operations. And add to that this year, we’re open for skiing for the first time that I can remember prior to the snocross race, so everything was colliding as we worked to bring the snocross event together!

ISOC: Incredible. Overall, do you feel the Duluth National at Spirit Mountain has become one of the more iconic and well-attended events in the region during the winter months?

Renee Appel Mattson: Oh absolutely. In the Duluth area – and Duluth is expert in hosting major events – snocross is the third-biggest event behind Grandma’s Marathon and the Bayfront Blues Festival. So snocross is an incredibly important event to the local economy, and it happens during a time of year when the visitors aren’t at their peak here either. So that creates even more importance for this event.

ISOC: That’s great. Talk about the City of Duluth’s involvement with the event, how they’ve gotten behind it and helped to grow it.

Renee Appel Mattson: Spirit Mountain is an authority of the City of Duluth and Visit Duluth is the official destination marketing organization for the City of Duluth. And through our organizations we really pull together all of our resources to make sure this event its done first class. A lot of events come and go, but snocross has grown steadily for us over the years. And it’s encouraging that we’ve continued to draw new interest in this sport with the great athletes and technology involved. So the City of Duluth really supports snocross, and has now for 22 years.

For more information on Spirit Mountain link to:

2013-’14 AMSOIL Championship Snocross, powered by Ram

Round/Date City/State

1 – Nov. 29-Dec. 1 Duluth, Minnesota
2 – Dec. 6-7 Bessemer, Michigan
3 – Jan. 3-5 Shakopee, Minnesota
4 – Jan. 31-Feb.1 Deadwood, South Dakota
5 – Feb. 7-8 Salamanca, New York
6 – Feb. 21-22 Mt. Pleasant, Mich.
7 – March 7-8 Fargo, N.D.
8 – March 14-16 Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Beginning with AMSOIL Championship Snocross’ season-opening round in Duluth, Minn. and running through the season finale in Lake Geneva, Wis. CBS Sports Network will air 16 half-hour programs of the ACS races.

About ISOC Racing

The International Series of Champions (ISOC) is the premier snowmobile race sanctioning organization in North America and sanctions national AMSOIL Championship Snocross, in addition to affiliating with nine regional circuits. Visit for more information, fan and racer memberships, schedule details and more.