There was a time when I thought it ludicrous to pay to cross-country ski. When I moved to New England in 1977, there were no cross-country centers or groomed trails in the Keene area. Friends introduced me to Nordic skiing by taking me out on backroads and snowmobile trails.

As a novice, I had a lot to learn. Fortunately, the snow was soft and forgiving. I fell down often but learned how to get up and go again. Eventually, I learned how to climb up hills and then come down safely. Stopping often involved sitting. That winter, I discovered I loved skiing in the woods.

None of the trails we skied were groomed or charged a fee. Skiing on the Keene Golf Course was free, but also ungroomed. It was, “Ski free, New Hampshire!” Snowmobile trails were packed down by the users and we took advantage of that rudimentary “grooming!”

One winter vacation, we came to Jackson to ski with our toddlers and were surprised we’d have to pay to cross country ski there. Being frugal, we opted to buy one adult pass to share. One of us would babysit the kids while the other skied around the golf course. Then, we’d switch jackets, and the other parent would ski. But, we got “busted!” by a ski patroller. We fessed up and paid our dues.

Since then, I’ve come to appreciate what goes into running a cross-country center and why it’s necessary to charge the trail users. The amount charged is minimal compared to downhill ski areas, and it all goes to a good cause. It supports grooming, trail maintenance, land agreements and staff that make a cross country ski area operate smoothly.

How can I begrudge the money needed to pay groomers for their long hours in the middle of the night preparing the trails for morning skiing? Would I want to short change the ski patrol staff that makes sure people are safe and rescued? The executive director who manages the whole system and negotiates with landowners and Forest Service needs to be compensated, too. Who pays her, the front desk, ski school, snowshoe and rental staff’s salaries? Ultimately, the pass buyers do. On top of those costs, there is fuel, electric and other bills to be paid, too.

Good skiing conditions and experiences don’t come for nothing. Season pass holders and ticket buyers are an integral part of the financial support cross country skiing centers need to keep going.

Many of the local Nordic centers are nonprofit organizations or family-run operations. Their goals are not to make huge profits, but to make enough money to support themselves while providing quality ski experiences. Any money left over after bill paying usually goes into replacing worn-out equipment, expanding and improving trails, or improving facilities. I don’t think anybody gets rich running a cross country area.

Day pass or season pass? If you like to ski at a particular touring center most of the time, a season pass might be the best and cheapest alternative. Once you have the pass, you can go anytime you want. Many local centers offer special “early season” discounts if you buy your pass either at the end of the past season or just before the start of the new season.

I used to calculate how many days of skiing I would need to have before my pass was cheaper than paying each time I went. In low or no snow years, the difference wasn’t there. In great snow years, it was definitely worth it. Jackson Ski Touring Foundation advertises that it only takes “nine days of skiing to pay off a season’s pass.”

Now, I don’t look at it that way anymore. Even if I don’t get to use my pass as often as I would like due to poor snow seasons, I view the money paid as a donation to support the cross country centers. Whether the snow is great or marginal, they still need money to operate.

If you like to ski at different Nordic centers, you might opt to buy day passes. That way, you can choose where you go depending on conditions, time, and convenience. Some years, when snow is good in some spots but thin in others, this option gives you more flexibility. Some centers also offer half-day passes and discounts for children and seniors or reduced rates on multiple day passes. One has cheaper rates midweek than on weekends.

Factors to consider when buying a season’s pass: 1. Where do you like to ski, what kind of trails do you prefer, and how much terrain do you need? Do you want to take your dogs or children? 2. How much can you pay? 3) What’s convenient to you or how far do you want to drive? 4) Are there any extra benefits to the pass — ski shop, clinic or lesson discounts, guest passes or reciprocal passes at other areas?

Once you’ve considered these factors, and decided where you want to buy your pass, either go online or to the center to purchase your pass-the earlier the better and cheaper.

In Mount Washington Valley, we are fortunate to have six Nordic centers. Each one is unique and offers its own blend of cross country ski and snowshoe experiences. Below, I’ve listed them all and given information about their adult day and season ski ticket prices, and early season specials. Many have special rates for seniors, juniors and children, as well as half-day rates. Snowshoe passes tend to be less. I’ve included the number of kilometers, groomed and ungroomed, in their networks.

The Nordic Season Passholder Exchange offered at many cross-country centers gives you a 50 percent discount at other centers if you show your Nordic center’s season pass. Included in this program are Bretton Woods, Great Glen Trails, Jackson Ski Touring, Mount Washington Valley Ski Touring, Purity Springs and Eastman in Grantham.

JSTF, GGT and Bretton Woods also have a cooperative agreement from opening day through Dec. 31. If you show your season pass to one of them, you can get $5 adult trail passes to the others. It’s a great early season deal.

Many of the centers have additional benefits for season pass holders that you can find on their websites listed below.

Bear Notch Ski Touring Center in Bartlett — (603) 374-2277. 65K. Adult day pass — $20. Adult season pass — $165.

Bretton Woods Nordic Center — (603) 278-3322. 100K. Adult day pass — $21. Adult season pass before Nov. 30 — $169, Dec. 1 and after — $179.

Great Glen Trails in Pinkham Notch — (603) 466-3988. 45K. Adult day pass (for ski, snowshoe and fat bike) — $22. Adult season pass — $125, before De. 1, $150 after Dec. 1.

Jackson Ski Touring Foundation in Jackson — (603) 383-9355. 150K. Adult day pass — $21. Adult season pass — $165 before Dec. 1, $185 after Dec. 1.

Mount Washington Valley Ski and Snowshoe Foundation in Intervale — (603) 356-9920. 45K. Adult day pass — $15. Adult season pass * Dec. 1-24 — $69, after Dec. 24 — $86. Town of Conway resident/nonresident taxpayers get free seasonal passes with a $15 processing fee for the first issue and $5 for each renewal fee.

Purity Spring XC and Snowshoe Reserve in Madison — (603) 367-8896. 20K. Adult day pass — $12 weekend or holiday, $8 midweek. Adult season pass — $80.

Coming events

Nov. 30: Great Glen Trails Craft Fair, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., to benefit Great Glen Bill Koch League Ski Club for kids in grades 1-8.

Nov. 30: Last day of early-season pass discount at JSTF, GGT and Bretton Woods.

Dec. 1-24th: MWVST season pass sale.

Dec.3, 10, 17: Great Glen Trails Nordic Warm-ups, 10-11:30 a.m.

Dec. 14: Jackson Ski Touring Foundation’s Potluck, 5-7 p.m.

Dec. 15: GGT Bill Koch Ski League starts, 1:30-3:30 p.m. for students grades 1-8.

Sally McMurdo is a cross-country ski instructor at Jackson Ski Touring Foundation. For almost four decades, she has explored New England's groomed and ungroomed trails on all kinds of skis.

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