A winter with early and ample ample snow, a bump in ski pass prices, increased enforcement and some media attention apparently have combined to help boost sales of the Great Minnesota Ski Pass this winter, and that means more money for trail grooming.
Sales of the ski pass have been so low in recent years that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, for the first time ever, delayed handing out grants this winter to local clubs, counties and cities that depend on the pass sales revenue to help groom trails. The DNR even warned that grants might be permanently reduced if more passes weren’t sold.
The problem is that far fewer Minnesotans are buying the passes, which are required at many state and local trails, mostly outside the Twin Cities. The decline in ski pass sales had depleted the state’s cross-country ski fund, putting the grooming grants in jeopardy. Expenditures have been higher than revenues every year since 2014 and the fund balance, which sat over $700,000 as recently as 2014, was down to nearly zero earlier this winter. (The News Tribune highlighted the problem in a story Jan. 12.)
But with this winter’s rebound in pass sales the DNR said clubs and municipalities “will soon begin receiving full payments for grooming activities up to their approved amount.”
As of mid-winter, cross-country ski pass sales reached 11,190, a 35% increase compared to the five-year average at that time. Still, sales are lagging well behind past years, including 17,774 sold at the same time in 2014. (Sales of the pass peaked at just over 24,000 in 2001 and hit nearly 20,000 as recently as 2004.)
The city of Duluth, for example, gets $11,000 in state state grants annually to help maintain nearly 30 miles of the city’s cross-country ski trails, which is why the state ski pass is required on most city trails like Lester, Hartley, Chester, Piedmont and Magney Snively.
Officials blame some low-snow winters, the fact that many Twin Cities county-managed trails don’t accept or use the state pass, lax enforcement and freeloading by many skiers who skied without buying the pass.
“When you purchase a ski pass, most of those dollars go directly to supporting the maintenance of grant-in-aid ski trails by local volunteers,” said John Waters, DNR trails program consultant. “These volunteer clubs are the heart of the ski trail system and they rely on these dollars to maintain the trails. If you ski the trails, buy the pass.”
Minnesota conservation officer Kylan Hill in Tofte reported last week that he’s finding more people buying the pass in recent weeks. “Ski pass compliance is finally getting better with only one citation being issued to a party who knowingly went skiing without a pass,’’ Hill said in his weekly report.
Ski pass prices this year increased to $10 daily, $25 a year or $70 for three years. They are required for users 16 and older to ski on groomed trails in Minnesota state parks, state forests or on state or grant-in-aid trails. Ski passes can be purchased at any of 1,750 locations around the state that sell DNR permits and licenses, by phone at 888-665-4236 or online at mndnr.gov/licenses.