Mount Kato’s Lift Bar was full of people Saturday night, having a few drinks, eating baskets of fried favorites, shooting the breeze and listening to some live music.
It was a scene like many bars in Mankato on a Saturday night until you overheard some of the conversations.
“She would tuck us kids right next to her and tow us up the hill on that tow rope.”
“I would come skiing down, and then side-step up, side-step up. And then I’d ski on down, and then side-step up.”
“Those were the days.”
The talk of Mount Kato centered around the 1960s and even earlier, when the ski hill was called Ski Haven and was owned by the Andersen family. It was 1977 when the business was sold out of the family and renamed Mount Kato, and many of the Andersens and their loyal customers kept coming back over the years to enjoy their favorite winter sport.
To honor his grandparents, Harvey and Dolly Andersen — who started Ski Haven 75 years ago — Jon Andersen decided to have a little party and invite friends and the public to view old photographs and share stories about those early days of Mount Kato.
Jon said, as a kid, he and his sister would get dropped off at Ski Haven to ski and spend time with his grandparents. One of Jon’s favorite stories involved a woman who was not only at the gathering Saturday night, but can be found most days of the ski year at Mount Kato, along with more than a dozen other retirees.
“This woman, Elaine Peterson, she taught me how to ski,” Jon said, demonstrating how Peterson would help tow him up the hill, long before the chair-lift system. “She taught a lot of kids.”
Peterson, of Lake Crystal, who had even skied Saturday before the gathering, has enjoyed the sport for decades, she said. She skis 70 days of the year, she said.
One of her fondest memories about Ski Haven was the Andersens’ kindness.
“Harvey Andersen never turned any child down,” she said. “If they didn’t have the money, he’d say, ‘Go out and bring two armloads of wood, and I’ll give you a ticket.’”
Peterson has skied on many hills, and Mount Kato is one of her favorites, she said.
“I think, No. 1, it’s probably the oldest, or close to it, and boy, it’s good — it’s very, very good,” she said. “They take excellent care of it.”
That’s been nice to see over the years, said Jon, whose early love of outdoor recreation led him to go on to own Flying Penguin Outdoor Sports in Mankato.
Jon was just a kid 35 years ago when Ski Haven was sold. And he doesn’t remember being sad about it.
The hill wasn’t going anywhere, after all. And Mount Kato’s business has grown to include many more facets over the years than Ski Haven had offered.
“It just seemed like maybe it was time,” he said.