Back in the dark ages before snowmaking technology was perfected, the principal deterrent for first-time skiers and discouragement for regulars were the conditions on the trails.

History shows that prospective new entrants to the sport were prevented from taking it up – and even devoted skiers gave it up – just because of the inability of ski areas to provide skiable surfaces.

Thankfully, all that is a dark and distant memory for us older skiers, and for the industry in general. Now, as long as temperatures cooperate, outstanding conditions are virtually guaranteed.

Just this past week, I spent a few days at Sugarloaf, where there was nary a speck of natural snow. I cruised to-die-for corduroy on Hayburner, King’s Landing, Candyside and Tote Road, and this after some freezing and thawing and refreezing that in the past would have made the mountain virtually unskiable.

So now the complaint du jour, according to Snowsports Industries America, is the cost of skiing. In one of the group’s studies, cost was cited as a major deterrent for those who wanted to learn to ski or snowboard. And my own unscientific sampling of folks that have either given up the sport or decided not to give it a try is that cost is the predominant sticking point.

The cost of skiing is divided between the expense of the equipment and the cash it takes to buy gas, lift tickets, meals and accommodations.

But I can tell you there are plenty of ways to get equipped without breaking the bank, especially if you realize you don’t have to be garbed in designer clothes. And you don’t need skis built to tackle a giant slalom course on the Narrow Gauge. It might be some consolation to you to know that the poles I use were given to me in 1968. And they’re still working just fine.

When our sons first started, Play It Again Sports proved to be a great source for very serviceable gear for beginners, and their stock of high-quality, reasonably priced equipment is an inexpensive way to get equipped.

Rental equipment from a mountain or community shop have been options for years, and programs make it possible for newcomers to use and try the latest products. Recently, rental clothing has also become available. Two companies, getoutfitted.com and Mountain Threads, rent name-brand products, and you can even select what you want online and they’ll ship the gear to you.

Ski swaps and sales early in the season are a great source for low-priced gear, and don’t overlook yard sales and Uncle Henry’s.

As for the cost of lift tickets, there is a multitude of cost-saving programs. The WinterKids Passport Program provides free and discounted tickets for all Maine youngsters in grades 5, 6 and 7. Check out www.winterkids.org.

Ski Maine Association’s $399 Maine Mountain Pass gets you 28 tickets at 14 areas, and many ski areas have discount days for Maine residents. And if you’re over 70, there’s plenty of free skiing all over the state. Season and multiday passes can really reduce the cost for avid aficionados.

Some gas stations issue coupons for reduced lift ticket prices, and some areas have discounts if you bring a friend. Just check out their websites for the range of money-saving options.

Remember, it’s usually cheaper to ski on a weekday, and arriving for first chair will allow you to get in more runs for your money before the crowds arrive.

Half-day tickets are available at most areas, with some like Camden Snow Bowl selling tickets for as short an interval as just a couple hours.

Consider car pooling to cut down gas costs. If you’re planning an overnight, a few miles can make a huge difference in price, so check out nearby towns rather than on-mountain accommodations. Ditto for dining. And most areas provide special seating for “brown baggers,” so consider packing your own lunch.

John Christie is a former ski racer and ski area manager and owner, a ski historian and member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. He and his son, Josh, write columns on alternating weeks. He can be reached at:

[email protected]