Winter came early in the lakes area, much to the dismay of many locals.

However, Mount Ski Gull General Manager Mata Agre may be readier than most.

The Twin Cities native has lived in the area for roughly three years, and has taken an appreciation to the many aspects of this tourism-focused area that one usually will not see on a weekend trip.

“I really love living up here. It has been a really cool community to get to know and be a part of,” Agre said. “There are a lot of different things that you don’t see up here as a tourist, and that’s something I really appreciate about it … As a tourist or a seasonal employee, you just see certain things. Once you are here year-round, there is a lot more to get involved with. I’ve really enjoyed that.”

Agre moved to the area after earning her master’s degree in athletic leadership and took a job as the director of programming and hill operations at Mount Ski Gull. Though she did not have experience working at a ski area, she felt her education and a nearly lifelong background in Nordic skiing made her an ideal employee.

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“It's not a line of work that is very common, and it's not something that people really go to school for,” she said. “Most of the time when people start working at a ski area, they don’t have experience, and I was in that same boat … I think if you have the energy and the excitement for a job, you can make the best out of it and really enjoy it.”

She took over as general manager early last summer, and looks forward to doing more of the things she enjoys.

“I think it's the people you interact with every day, and then the different things you do every day,” Agre said. “One day you’re out shoveling one of the lifts, and the next day you are interviewing and hiring employees. The next day, you run a cash register and help serve food. No day is the same.”

She took the general manager position at a rather precarious time. The stay-at-home orders pertaining to COVID-19 forced Mount Ski Gull to close a few weeks earlier than intended in March, and the early weeks of Agre’s time in Ski Gull’s lead role involved planning for what was to come next.

“In general skiing, snowboarding and tubing are inherently socially distant,” Agre said. “We're really excited to be open this winter and give people an outlet that they're used to and excited about, but we will have some changes when it comes to our indoor operations and things like that.”

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“We're really excited to be open this winter and give people an outlet that they're used to and excited about, but we will have some changes when it comes to our indoor operations and things like that.” - Mata Agre, Mount Ski Gull general manager

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Her duties haven’t simply been planning for winter, however, as the place was open most of the summer with a number of health-conscious activities.

“We have been offering some summer activities the past few years, like some guided night hikes and open trails on Tuesdays and even a workout class at one point … We tried to host some socially distant, outdoor education-based programming this summer, and that went really well. It was just fun to get people out on the hill this summer,” she said.

After a summer full of canceled plans and a reluctance to frequent public places, Agre said the public seems very excited about the notion of taking to the hill at Mount Ski Gull.

“There has been excitement all summer,” she said. “There has been this outdoor movement and outdoor excitement, and we're excited to be on the winter side of that. We are hearing from a lot of interested people asking when we start, when we will be open, when they can sign up for lessons and things like that. We’re excited that people are excited to be outside and are looking for something that feels safe to do this winter.”

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"There has been this outdoor movement and outdoor excitement, and we're excited to be on the winter side of that." - Mata Agre, Mount Ski Gull general manager

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Several changes have been made to the area in the past year, the most prominent being new tubing carpet, which Agre called a “huge project” for Mount Ski Gull. To cope with a lack of indoor use, the staff at Mount Ski Gull have set up additional outdoor seating and fire pits.

“There are going to be a lot of changes when it comes to how things operate, and I think we're excited to see how those work and how those will also play into future things,” Agre said. “We're trying to bring people here who haven't been here and give them the experience that we're going to see every single day.”

All of the changes should bring plenty of learning opportunities, something the new general manager needs and eagerly awaits.

“I have to continue to learn in this industry. We can learn so much and grow in ways that we can optimize at work and make things easier for everybody else,” she said.

Mount Ski Gull plans to have its hills open to the public by Thanksgiving weekend at the latest.

“We have a really positive attitude for this winter,” Agre said. “We do have rules that we are going to follow in order to stay open - I think we want everyone to be aware of that - but we're really excited for winter here and we are hoping everybody else feels the same way.”

Dan Determan may be reached at 218-855-5879 or dan.determan@pineandlakes.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan.