navigating the trails
There is no such thing as a free lunch, and these days there's no such thing as a free cross-country trail, either.
Nearly all trail systems charge for a pass, and the funds are used for trail grooming. But the system can be confusing. If you live in Minneapolis, for example, and want to ski at Theodore Wirth Park, plus a Three Rivers Park District park such as Hyland Lake in Bloomington, and perhaps occasionally a state park such as William O'Brien, you'll need to buy three different passes totaling $115.
The Three Rivers Park District yearly pass is $50; the Minneapolis season pass is $45; and a seasonal state trail pass to access 135 ski trails, including all those in state parks, costs $20. Other trails around the state also charge fees. (Dakota County charges $20 for a seasonal cross-country ski pass.)
Last year, the DNR sold about 15,000 ski passes, Minneapolis sold around 8,000, and Three Rivers Park District sold about 6,500 seasonal passes. Pass sales rise in snowy winters.
No one is sure how many Minnesotans ski cross-country, but a 2004 DNR survey estimated the number at 227,000.