The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 25, 2013

Mount Kato cheers winter's early arrival

Snow-making machines in high gear with extended cold snap

By Mark Fischenich mfischenich@mankatofreepress.com
The Mankato Free Press

---- — A bout of unusually cold weather over the weekend may have been a bummer for most, but it was beautiful to Jeff Putrah.

“It’s looking pretty good,” said Putrah, general manager at Mount Kato.

Mankato last saw an above-freezing temperature at about 4:30 p.m. Friday, and the snow-making equipment at south-central Minnesota’s only ski hill was humming productively enough that one run was open for skiers by Sunday morning. The temperature is forecast to nudge a degree or two above 32 for about four hours this afternoon, then not hit that threshold again until Friday and Saturday. And one long-range forecast, for what it’s worth, predicts the first 11 days of December will also stay below the melting point — a bit different than a year ago when Mankato saw a high of 57 as late as Dec. 3.

There’s almost no natural snow in the extended forecast, but with 21 snow-making machines at Mount Kato the white stuff is piling up at a time when typical highs are near 40 degrees.

“It was terrific,” Putrah said. “We had a couple of good nights and a great day (on Saturday).

So great that when the facility reopens on Wednesday, four runs should be open. After a day off for Thanksgiving, Mount Kato will be open again Friday and through the weekend. The first week brings limited hours with the slopes closing at 4:30 p.m., but Putrah expects evening skiing starting some time during the first week of December.

The cold weather and snow-making will allow Mount Kato to put one of its two major investments for this skiing season to use — a new Piston Bully snow-groomer, which is bigger and more efficient, Putrah said.

“We always pride ourselves on our grooming and this will make it even better,” he said.

The other addition to the facility is a conveyor lift for the tubing hill, which will replace a cable system where the tube was clipped to the cable and riders sat in their tube on the return to the top of the hill. With the new system, the riders will step on to the conveyor, hold their tube in front of them and ride to the top while standing.

“It’s like a magic carpet ride, really,” Putrah said.

It’s also less labor-intensive and quicker to use, meaning shorter waits in line and more runs down the hill for users, he said. But users won’t see the new conveyor in action until the Christmas school break, when the tubing hill traditionally opens.

And Mount Kato is already planning to add a second conveyor next year — this one on the bunny hill so that beginning skiers won’t have to deal with the complications of mounting and dismounting a chair lift.