I love to cross-country ski. I shiver as I set out, chilled by the temperatures. Soon, I am caught up in the meditative "swish, swish" of my skis.

The low-level exercise relaxes all forms of stress, releases toxins, clears my mind and fills my lungs with the freshest oxygen on the planet. Skiing reminds me how fortunate we are to live in the northland. It also never lets me forget how precious winter is.

This week, we are taking a break from saving the planet, and remembering to savor it.

Last week, I was skiing on the Erkki Harju city trail in Two Harbors. Early-December skiing so close to Lake Superior is unusual. It feels like money in the bank, or dessert first. So much pleasure so early in winter!

To make matters even better, trail conditions were ideal. The whopping post-Thanksgiving dump of snow pulled our faithful volunteer groomers out to track the trails, and a few dustings afterward muted any icy or sharp curves. I neither got stuck nor slid around, but glided smoothly along.

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It was mid-afternoon and rapidly getting dark, and as the orange clouds sharpened then darkened the sky, the twinkling lights along the ski trail came on.

A note to the uninitiated: There are “lit” trails and “unlit” trails.

Unlit trails are exactly what they sound like. Once it gets dark, you’re alone in the woods and, in the absence of a full moon, you better be coming in or wearing a headlamp.

Lit trails are lit, but not all lighting is equal. High-up street-light type lights send a glare down and make you feel like you’re skiing on a city street.

The Erkki Harju trails, thanks to the foresight of Errki Harju and others, are lit with lovely glowing lantern-like bulbs every 20-30 feet at shoulder level. Just when you’re getting in the dark zone, the next light comes up. You don’t lose your night vision, and you feel like you might have entered a Norman Rockwell painting, or perhaps Narnia. It’s that picturesque.

The quiet "swish, swish" of your skis continues as the darkness and peace descends, interrupted only by the cheerful sounds of other skiers (or, I’ll admit, the distant sounds of highways 2 and 61). If you haven’t tried skiing at night in Two Harbors, I hope I’ve induced you to start.

If you are ready for the truly wilderness feel, head up to the Northwind trails just northwest of Silver Bay. These classic-only trails make straight for the highlands, and soon you are alongside the Beaver River with nothing but cliffs and valleys between you and Tettegouche State Park. And this is all in our backyard?

When I re-entered the trail parking lot last week, we were met by a DNR officer checking us for our annual ski passes. The officer told us that compliance rates for skiers has been as low as 5%! Luckily, we had ours.

I’ll admit that I haven’t always had an annual pass. But why not? Skiing, like anything else, takes effort. Our ski passes supplement trail membership in funding all state trails (think snowmobiles, gas, insurance, grooming equipment). All labor is volunteer.

If you go hunting or fishing without a license, regardless of whether you are successful, you will (and should) feel some social shaming. Poachers have no social license in our culture, regardless of whether you are caught. It should be the same for skiers.

Like hunters and fishermen, we don’t know how much sking will be available to us this year, but that shouldn’t matter if we love to ski. Ski passes, which are required for most ski trails in Minnesota, are available at all major gas stations in our county.

Entitlement is the opposite of gratitude. We are not entitled to a ski trail, or winter for that matter. Think of the ski pass as one small way of acknowledging the wonderful gift of winter that we enjoy, and taking responsibility for keeping it alive.

Happy skiing!

Katya Gordon is a volunteer for the Citizens' Climate Lobby and a Two Harbors resident.