Pine Valley Recreation Area was established just over 50 years ago and has been home to countless young athletes who have grown skiing on the slopes and trails. Athletes have achieved notable feats winning local, state and national ski titles, and several of them went on to compete at the Olympics.
Over 50 years ago, legendary skier and coach Joe Nowak lead an effort to construct a first-rate Nordic and ski jumping facility within the city limits of Cloquet, MN. At the time, Nowak was seeking to build a championship high school ski team. However, the team lacked the infrastructure to train and host events. Previously, there was a 20 meter jump located at Gillete's Hill, which is located just west of the now Applebee's restaurant. In 1961, Ed Jankowski led Nowak to the perfect hill. The Northwest Paper Company offered the entire 40-acre plot if the city would accept the land as a park. The former Cloquet Park Board led by Al Spafford guided the construction of the ski area, which was later named Pine Valley.
In the fall of 1961, a temporary ski jump was constructed and a network of trails were established allowing the skiers to begin practicing. The first USSA jump meet was held there the following January. One year later, a cinder block chalet was added along with lights for the jumps. That year, the Cloquet Ski Club was officially established with Nowak paying the USSA fees for the 15 members out of his own pocket.
In spring 1963, the local ski group secured steel from Duluth Mesabe and Iron Range Railroad to build a 40-meter ski jump. An accompanying 15-meter jump for beginners was also built adjacent to the larger jump (which has since been replaced with a 20-meter jump). That December, Nowak took the inaugural soar off the new jump. Soon after, a slalom hill with a rope tow was added.
Mike Marciniak joined the Cloquet High School coaching staff in 1963-64, leading the cross country ski team. Marcinak spent many hours supervising the upgrading of the cross country ski trails to support skate skiing and lighting to add night skiing.
In 1971, through a donation by the Noon Kiwanis Club the chalet was upgraded. Another primary supporter, the Cloquet VFW, served as a sponsor for the annual Cloquet Invitational Jumping and Cross Country Ski meet for more than 40 years.
Since their beginning, the Cloquet Ski Club has made nordic skiing a staple in the Cloquet community. Today, over 100 young skiers meet several times a week to soar off the jumps and explore the cross-country ski trails. The brutal cold of the northern winters are quickly forgotten as kids strap skis to their feet and find solace in the hills at Pine Valley.
Pine Valley is Home to Notable Nordic Skiers
- Patrice Jankowski won three consecutive individual state championship titles in cross country skiing. Jankowski also participated in the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Biathlon competition.
- Steve Flankey represented the U.S. in Biathlon in the 1979 World Junior Championships and in the 1980 Olympic Team Trials.
- Barb Unzen won an individual state ski title in 1980
- Mike Randall competed in the 1984 Olympics in the Nordic Combined event
- Denny Nelson joined the U.S. Biathlon team and trained in Europe and Alaska
- Dave and Don Quinn, finished first and second in the American Birkebeiner at Telemark in 1974.
Source: Pine Journal