Cross-country ski pass sales increase in Minnesota, help pay for trail maintenance

A man puts his gloves on before skiing.
Aaron McCabe puts his gloves on before setting out on his cross country skis at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis on Friday, Jan. 17.
Evan Frost | MPR News

After a delay in state grant funding for cross-country ski clubs to maintain Minnesota trails, an increase in price and higher sales of the Great Minnesota Ski Pass have allowed those clubs to receive full grant funding for their maintenance work.

Typically clubs would receive about 40 percent of their grant funds to help cover the cost of trail maintenance in January. The clubs normally get about $285,000 a year to maintain trails that are covered by the Great Minnesota Ski Pass.

But a decrease in sales of the pass had left that fund depleted. Minnesota has been selling fewer cross-country ski passes on average since 2016. The passes are required for skiers to use many trails.

After stepping up outreach this winter, the DNR sold 11,190 passes — an increase of 35 percent compared to the five-year average, though it’s still significantly lower than in 2014, when the state sold 17,774 passes.

“The really promising thing is, with the fee increase, even though we’re not selling quite as many passes, our revenues are right now over our 2014 numbers,” said John Waters, a DNR trails program consultant.

In 2019, the state Legislature increased prices for the ski pass, moving the daily pass up from $6 to $10, the annual pass from $20 to $25, and the three-year pass from $55 to $70.

Even with positive results in sales and revenue for 2020, Waters said the DNR will continue to watch the trails fund closely and work with the Minnesota Nordic Ski Association and ski clubs to determine how to handle funding for maintenance.

With multiple years of below-average sales, Waters said the state’s fund to help reimburse clubs will take a while to refill.

“We obviously do not want to have another delayed payment like we did this year. We’ve been funding at historic levels, and that may not be sustainable based on revenue and the health of the fund in general,” Waters said.

Waters said the state will continue educating skiers on how the funds from the ski pass help maintain the trails, and increase enforcement of ski pass compliance.

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