Around Steele County: Mount Kato has been warming up winter for 40 years

This year, Mount Kato celebrates its 40th year in business. With 19 ski runs, telemark skiing, snowboarding and tubing, Mount Kato off ers something for just about everyone. (Photos by Anna Vangsness)

 By: Anna Vangsness
February 1, 2018

It’s no secret that Minnesota winters can be brutal, but for 40 years, Mount Kato has been working hard to introduce people to a number of sports that can turn a long, dreadful winter into a season of fun.
Located on Highway 66 in Mankato, Mount Kato offers 19 ski runs, telemark skiing, snowboarding and snow tubing. It’s the only ski hill in southern Minnesota, and thus draws thousands of people from the area and as far away as Yankton and Sioux Falls, SD.
That’s one of the reasons why Paul Augustine purchased the business in 1978.
“The Augustines originally purchased Mount Kato because they saw a need for skiing in the area,” Mount Kato Ski Instructor and social media and website manager Bruce Prehn said. “To this day, we still get people from northern and western Iowa and South Dakota. Even ski areas in South Dakota are very small compared to Mount Kato. The strategy when the family purchased it was to capture that market and they did a great job.”
Mount Kato has continued to expand and grow over the past four decades and has brought an economic opportunity to the area for residents. Though there are just five year-round employees, the number jumps to 250 seasonal employees in the wintertime.
“The biggest thing we want to do is introduce as many people as we can to the different sports in the winter time,” Prehn said. “A lot of people aren’t doing things outside in the winter, but skiing and snowboarding are things you can do your whole life.”
Having been employed by Mount Kato for much of its tenure in Mankato, Prehn has seen the popularity of skiing and snowboarding increase. Whether it’s with a day pass or season pass, skiers and snowboarders flock to Mount Kato eager to fly down one of the ski runs or hit the terrain parks.

Mount Kato started as a ski area and ski school, Prehn said. Now, they have a large following for their alternative snow sports such as snowboarding and telemark skiing, which is a skiing technique that combines alpine and Nordic skiing. The increasingly popular telemark skiing uses terrain parks with jumps and obstacles to challenge skiers.
“Terrain parks were originally for snowboarders, but ski areas have started building them,” Prehn explained. “We’ve built one that has rails, pipes, a boat and a Volkwagen Bug that skiers can bounce off of, corrugated plastic tubing and jumps.”
The park crew works hard each year designing the terrain park at Mount Kato. They even have a progression park for the ski school, which has moveable features with PVC pipes on the ground to introduce people to the terrain park in a safe manner.
“It’s up to the imagination of the park crew about what they come up with,” Prehn said. “Above all, they keep safety in mind and make sure the transitions are in good working order.”
Mount Kato hasn’t forgotten about those who don’t ski or snowboard, either. They also offer snow tubing, which includes two conveyor lifts to get up the hills.
“It’s cool to have families come out or bring their families on ski vacations,” Prehn said. “We have people well into their 90s that come out every day, too. Everything at Mount Kato is a sport you can do throughout your lifetime.”

Mount Kato has you covered if you’re looking for a place to downhill ski, snowboard or try telemark skiing, but the Mankato area also offers an abundance of winter activities, as well.
Heather Curling Club
If you’re interested in trying your hand at curling and you’re at Mount Kato, head just down the road to the curling capitol of southern Minnesota, Mapleton. See what curling is all about during open league on Wednesday nights, January through March.
All Seasons Arena
Maybe your forte is more gliding on ice rather than snow. If that sounds like you, All Seasons Arena in Mankato is an indoor ice rink that is dedicated to both open hockey and public skating.
Winter trails
Bicycling isn’t just for spring and summer anymore. With oversized tires designed for riding on soft, unstable terrain, a fat bike lets you hit the Sakatah State Trail or Red Jacket trail in Mankato year-round. Nicollet Bike Shop has fat bikes for rent by the day or week.

Anna Vangsness works in the healthcare communication field in Mankato and is a freelance writer. She resides in New Ulm with her husband. 

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