A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about full-moon night hikes, and quickly received an email from Holly Brouker (hollyallsports@gmail.com), who told me about a program she does on the Saturday night before every full moon at Hilltop Orchards (hilltoporchards.com) in Richmond, Mass.

"I lead guests on an interpreted full-moon experience, which includes a hike, information regarding Native American traditions of the full moons, some tips on how to connect with nature, a silent walk, a bonfire ceremony, six wine tastes from our winery and entertainment. The cost is $10 per person and, when there's snow on the ground, we use snowshoes (rentals are $15.)"

Sample Western Mass. cross-country skiing

Holly went on to say, "I am also the instructor for private cross-country ski lessons (by appointment) or group lessons."

That got me thinking: There's been an awful lot of snow falling lately, and it looks like we are in for, not only a white Christmas but a long, white winter. Hooray!

If you are looking for a great last-minute Christmas present, I think I've found one. The seven cross-country ski resorts in the Berkshires have banded together to form the Western Massachusetts Cross-Country Ski Association to promote cross-country skiing in the region. They are offering a "Sampler Pass" for $55 that gets you one visit to each of the seven member areas.


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The passes are good for two years from date of issue. What a perfect excuse to get out and explore, try someplace new, and support local skiing! If you want to purchase by mail, the address is WMCCSA, c/o Stump Sprouts, 64 West Hill Road, Hawley, MA 01339.

Proceeds from the Sampler Pass will be used to promote cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in Western Massachusetts and, as they say, "the healthy benefits of being active outdoors in the winter and the joy that goes along with it." I'm all in favor of that! As someone wise has been saying for awhile now: Life isn't a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Can you X-C for free?

"Preventive Health Care" is in the spotlight these days and everyone knows the best way to keep yourself healthy is regular moderate exercise. Many insurance plans reimburse subscribers for gym memberships to encourage them to exercise more. Some will even cover cross-country ski passes. Ask your insurer; it can't hurt!

Why an X-C resort?

When snow falls like it has been recently, every logging road, farm field, city park and golf course becomes a paradise for playing on cross-country skis and snowshoes. So, why do you need to pay for a trail pass at a cross-country ski area?

I can think of six good reasons:

1. Trail maintenance is probably the best reason for choosing a cross-country ski area. If you go exploring on your own, you'll likely encounter downed trees and branches in the woods, flowing water and gullies, rocky hillsides with inconsistent snow. While that can be all part of the fun, it's also nice to just relax, put on your skis and go without having to think about obstacles.

2. Grooming, tracks and skate lanes. If you watch people skiing through a field, especially if they are breaking their own trail, they tend to loaf along at a relaxed pace. Again, it's nice, but if you want to really work out your heart and lungs, nothing beats stretching out in tracks or flying along on skate skis. Tracks and skate lanes make that possible.

3) Rental equipment. Not everyone owns cross-country ski gear or snowshoes. This is especially true if you are trying to gather a group of family and friends to enjoy a day outdoors. A cross-country ski area will usually have quality rental equipment available for the whole crew.

4) Lessons. Again, not everyone knows how to cross-country ski, a cross-country ski area can cure that with a simple group lesson, Cross-country skiing is easier and safer than Alpine.

5) Camaraderie. The nicest people in the world go cross-country skiing. Go to an area alone and you are likely to meet kindred souls and make new friends. Go with a group and you'll all be happier together.

6) Extras. Roaring fires in outdoor fire pits, fireplaces and wood stoves. Hot soup, chili, hot cocoa, fresh chocolate chip cookies, doughnuts, home made bread. Mulled cider or wine. Lots of wonderful ways to replace (some of) the calories you burned when you stretched out and flew on those tracks and skate lanes.

Where to go

The seven XC areas in the association are:

Canterbury Farms (413-623-0100; canterbury-farms.com) in Becket has 32 kilometers of trails on 160 acres, most groomed and or tracked.

Cranwell Resort (413-637-1364; cranwell.com) in Lenox has 10 km of trails and a full spa to relax in afterward.

Hilltop Orchards (413-698-3301; www.hilltoporchards.com) in Richmond has 20 km of trails, some designed by Olympian John Morton.

Maple Corner Farm (413-357-8829 ; maplecornerfarm.com) in Granville has 20 km of groomed trails.

Northfield Mountain (800-859-2960; firstlightpower.com/northfield/ccski.asp) in Northfield has 40 km of tracked and groomed trails.

Notchview Reservation (413-684-0148; www.notchview.org) in Windsor grooms 28 km of their 40 km trail system.

Stump Sprouts XC Ski Ctr. (413-339-4265;) www.stumpsprouts.com) in Hawley has 25 km of trails.

Tim Jones is the executive editor of the online magazine EasternSlopes.com and writes about outdoor sports and travel. Email: timjones@easternslopes.com