bulletin board
events calendar
business directory

best friend
news briefs



photo of ski racers on riverside groomed trailSkiers skate the course during the Methow Pursuit ski race on January 22.  Photo courtesy of MVSTA

Largest in North America
Methow Valley Sport Trails

comment on this story >>

With 160 miles of groomed trails, the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association (MVSTA) is now the largest cross-country trail system in North America, according to executive director James De Salvo, who says it has 40,000 skier days per season.

Having those bragging rights might seem a cause for celebration, but De Salvo cautions that it could be “a dubious distinction.” There’s a reason there aren’t many large cross-country ski trail systems, he says: the money that’s needed to maintain them. MVSTA became the largest because Royal Gorge near Lake Tahoe in California recently was forced to reduce the size of its trail system, he notes.

James DeSalvo, executive director of the Methow Valley Sports Trails Association, is the organizations only full-time employee. - Photo by Solveig Torvik

“We don’t just want to be the biggest. We want to be the best in quality,” says Issaquah native De Salvo, 36. He arrived in the valley 12 years ago to work for Outward Bound and was MVSTA’s trails manager for three years before taking over the helm last year when Jay Lucas retired after 30 years in the job.

The non-profit MVSTA, which has a 13-member board of directors, has been operating in the red for the last three years, says De Salvo, falling between $26,000 and $102,000 short of meeting its annual expenses. In addition, the association is carrying a debt load of $350,000, most of that for grooming machinery.

But thanks to recent restructuring that’s seen administrative expenses drop from 29 percent of the budget to 19 percent, the 2012 operating budget promises to move into the black with anticipated net income of $30,040; projected annual revenues are $776,636. In addition to administration, 54 percent of MVSTA’s operating budget typically is spent on grooming and trails, 2 percent on loan interest, 6 percent on advertising, and 9 percent on events. Trail passes pay 65 percent of the expenses, while memberships pay for 6 percent, events 9 percent, grants and county taxes 12 percent and private donations 3 percent.

De Salvo is the organization’s only full-time employee. There are eight seasonal groomers, some of them working full time during the winter. There also are four part-time office and administrative employees. MVSTA owns five Piston Bulley snow cats for grooming; the oldest has been in service for 15 years and was obtained from the Vancouver Olympics. These machines typically cost $150,000 to $180,000 new, and MVSTA has been replacing some of them every three or four years, he says. In addition, the association owns eight snowmobiles used for grooming.

MVSTA is housed in rented quarters up on Castle Avenue in Winthrop, and De Salvo says ideally he’d like the organization to be headquartered closer to downtown for better public visibility and access. That won’t happen in the near future, though he adds: “It will happen in the next five to ten years if I have anything to do with it.”   

The financial challenge of keeping the ski trail association financially sustainable is not unlike the challenge that faces farmers, he says. “We’re farming snow,” as he puts it. The goal is to make enough money in good snow years to carry the organization in poor snow years, and in past good snow years, MVSTA has made money, says De Salvo.

“We are an economic driver in the valley,” De Salvo reminds, pointing out that it’s difficult to imagine a thriving winter economy in the valley without the draw of the ski trails. A 2005 economic study showed that MVSTA directly and indirectly brings $8.6 million annually into the valley, says De Salvo.

As part of the effort to raise more funds to cover the association’s expenses, he wants to emphasize the economic driver message to local businesses, which benefit from spending by ski trail visitors. “I don’t think the case has been laid out that closely,” he says, and he’s thinking about expanding the membership base to include businesses. De Salvo also hopes to broaden the appeal of the trail system to include more local residents who may not have been utilizing the trails and may wish to become members; about 1,000 people are members now, he says.  They are donors, season pass holders and landowners who’ve donated easements for the trails.

“We do have more room for people to come out and ski,” says De Salvo. Part of the allure of the valley’s ski trails is that they are relatively uncrowded much of the time, he acknowledges. But he wants to get more skiers out on them for more than financial reasons: he’s a strong advocate of the physical benefits of skiing.

The genesis of the ski trail system goes back to 1977 when a group of local residents formed the Methow Valley Family Sports Club and the Methow Valley Community Trail. In 1980, it became the Methow Valley Ski Touring Association and the first staff was hired. In 1995, it became the MVSTA. Almost 56 percent of the trail system is on federal or state land; the rest is on private lands.

Unlike Royal Gorge, closing some portions of the valley’s extensive, often lightly-used trail network is not under consideration as a cost-saving measure, according to De Salvo. But achieving financial sustainability could mean that the cost of ski passes - now $20 per day for adults and $275 per season for regular passes - may have to rise. No decisions have been made about that, he adds.

Trail use by bikers and hikers in summer is free, and De Salvo says he feels it’s important to keep it that way, since there’s been a commitment by MVSTA to provide free trail use in summer in exchange for support from paying users in winter. Says De Salvo: “We want to keep our good will in the community.”



Have a comment?

Wouldn't it be great if we had twice as many skiers? You | would still see almost no one on the trails and the revenue would | increase markedly. We'd have overpasses for all the road crossings, | heated warming huts, and town would be booming. Go get some of those | "Ski the Methow" bumper stickers, send them to every xc skier you | know, talk it up and it can happen.

Mark Miller


Very well written, gives everyone the opportunity to understand what keeps MVSTA running. The only addition I would make is: BECOME A MEMBER!!! there is really no free lunch even though summer users don't need to pay for a pass they need to help maintain our trail system in some manner. Membership is easy and inexpensive. Get on board folks support this wonderful opportunity to play in the Methow.

Roxie Miller