The pay to play business models works
Jackson XC, the Methow Valley Sport Trail Association and Swedetown Trails collect user fees through annual membership and day passes. Rates for full season passes range from $80 at Swedetown to $275 for the MVSTA. Fee structures are determined through a combination of historical precedent, the competitive environment and tempered against ever-rising costs of basic needs like fuel and grooming equipment.
Perkins explains, “We don’t want to compete unfairly with profit making businesses in our local market area so we tend to be consistent with their pricing for the day memberships. We think we offer high value for the cost. We are not anywhere near as costly as trail passes for other areas but at the same time we have to price it so we can afford to operate.”
Noting that cross country skiers have a multitude of demands on their free time Perkins adds, “We are in a leisure, recreation and entertainment business. We have to make sure the offering that we are providing is as good a value for the consumers time as any other option they have. If someone says I have a day to invest in leisure time. What am I going to do with it? If we are not fulfilling their maximum value for the time they have, they will find something else to do.”
A skier at the Swedetown Trails in Calumet, Michigan.
Mayo-Kiely describes the Copper Island Ski Club’s reluctance to boost Swedetown trail fees on an annual basis. “Fuel costs are on the rise, we haven’t raised rates in a few year and thought this was the year to do it. Many people in the area buy a combined pass. What we don’t want to see is that fee go up on an annual basis. We try to get all the clubs on board to say ‘this year we will be raise our rates $5,’ but then hold off for the next couple of years. As fuel prices continue go up it’s something we struggle with. When you run a Pisten Bully every day for four months that adds up. It’s a struggle. But we want to keep skiing in the Keweenaw affordable.”
Grooming of the Swedetown trail is funded by trail pass purchases. An area wide trail pass combines Swedetown with Michigan Tech and Chassell trail systems. Day passes of $8 are collected at the chalet and trail pipes that people put donations. That funds the day-to-day grooming costs that can reach in excess of $20,000 each year.
At the end of the year an accounting process allocates funds to the three cooperating trail systems. Mayo-Kiely says, “All the clubs work well together. A CPA may come in and say that’s not the best way to do it but it’s worked well for all of us.”
All three ski areas provide members with laminated passes to carry anytime they are on the trail. Day passes resemble downhill ski ticket stickers. With people streaming in and out at all hours, policing can be a challenge. Jackson XC has a full time ski patrol staff and volunteers to ski the trail system to make sure people are having a good time, offer advice and check to make sure people have properly compensated the trail system for the cost of the trails.
Although relatively rare, people do try to ski without paying. “People who ski here sometimes get confused about what their obligations are. Our patrols inform them and straighten that confusion out. We do that in a very specific and careful way. We obviously have people who ski the trail system without compensating us but through a long history and a lot of education that’s a fairly minor problem,” offers Perkins.
Mayo-Kiely says, “ We don’t have people actively checking to see if people have a trail pass. Most of the visitors to the area expect to pay and look for a way to do that. They come into the chalet or put money into the trail pipe. It’s not something we’re overly concerned about. We get a lot of good support in the community. Our numbers have gone up every year since the passes have been introduced. Of the people locally using the trails, probably 90-95 percent have purchased a pass.”
Public private partnerships
In 1983 the Minnesota state legislature established the Minnesota Ski Pass that required skiers to purchase a pass in order to use any state-operated ski trails. Funds raised were used to support grant-in-aid programs across 1,800 miles of ski trails across Minnesota. Currently the cost of the Minnesota Ski Pass is $5 daily, $15 annually and $40 for a three-year option.
Dave Tuttle, former owner of the Bearskin Lodge and a longtime advocate of cross country skiing on the Gunflint Trail recalls, “The early 70s was a period of time when a lot of people were buying cross country ski equipment and were looking for places to ski. The resorts on the Gunflint Trails started building trails. It was new to everyone at first. It was a struggle to determine what cross country skiers would want and how would the Forest Service work with us to allow trails to be built primarily on Forest Service lands.”
More on the next page