A Passion for Powder

Mount Ski Gull’s Learn to Ski Program
has helped over 25,000 area kids 

WRITTEN BY NICOLE STRACEK | Photography BY Alli Isaacson

It costs just $10 for kids to participate in Ski Gull’s Learn to Ski Program, although— scholarships are available as well. No skier is turned away.

Each season, around 1,000 anxious 6th graders from area schools roll up by the busload to Mount Ski Gull in Nisswa, Minnesota, eager to hit the slopes. For most of them, it’ll be their first time on skis. The Learn to Ski Program runs Mondays and Fridays in January and February, purely by volunteers.

“Many of our volunteers went through the program themselves,” said Mata Agre, General Manger at Mount Ski Gull. “It became such a huge part of their lives that they chose to give back by volunteering.” 

The word “ski” originates from the old Norse word “skio”
meaning a split piece of wood.

Anywhere from twenty-five to thirty volunteers help run the program all season long. Agre attributes the success of the program to the dedication of the volunteers who have a genuine love for both kids and skiing. “It’s what keeps the program going year after year,” Agre said. 

Since 1987, the Learn to Ski Program has taught more than 25,000 area kids how to navigate Mount Ski Gull’s snowy slopes. It costs each child just $10 to participate, and they leave with a lift ticket to use on a future visit. Although, the Learn to Ski managers are certain to mention that scholarships are available—no skier is turned down. 

Marie Clair Ryan was one of the first volunteers in the Learn to Ski Program. “When the program started, there were three or four of us who volunteered,” Ryan said. “We had about twenty-two classrooms of 6th graders who came to learn to ski. It went from smaller groups to entire schools.” 

“When I hear the kids say, ‘this is better than video games’
and then seeing those same kids back on the slopes throughout
the season is what makes the program,” 

— Justin Isaacson, Learn to Ski Program Coordinator

Ryan is now the co-head coach for the Brainerd High School’s Nordic Cross-Country Ski team. After twenty-five years as a main contributor to the Learn to Ski Program, Ryan has recently stepped down, but still volunteers as a ski instructor. “Seeing the kids jumping around having fun while learning to ski is really a source of joy for me,” Ryan said. “It’s very rewarding to know they feel successful and that they are outside getting some fresh air while enjoying their newfound love for skiing.”

Her favorite part about working at Mount Ski Gull is seeing how their mission plays out each year through many different aspects. Although the mission of the program is kid-focused, the overall mission of Mount Ski Gull is making memories and connections. “It’s very fulfilling to see families come together, learning and growing while fostering a life-long love for the outdoors,” Agre said. “It’s about making connections with family, friends, and our communities.” 

Current co-coordinators, Justin and Alli Isaacson, are local resort owners and enjoy their involvement in the Learn to Ski Program as a way to give back. “When I hear the kids say, ‘this is better than video games’ and then seeing those same kids back on the slopes throughout the season is what makes the program,” Justin said.

The oldest known ski was discovered in Sweden and dates back to 4500 – 2500 BC

Mount Ski Gull operates a registered non-profit facility that receives no local, state, or federal funding. Lift tickets sales and season pass sales provide only a portion of Mount Ski Gull’s annual income. The program relies on fundraising, grants, donations, partnerships, and volunteers. 

For more information about Mount Ski Gull and their Learn to Ski Program visit mountskigull.com. 

How to Volunteer

You don’t need to be a skier to volunteer! Mount Ski Gull needs volunteer ski instructors or those who are willing to learn (training provided), volunteers to stand near the bunny hill helping to load lifts, volunteers to help in the chalet, and more. 

Volunteer Time Frame:
Mondays and Fridays in January and February
Shifts run approximately 8:30 am to 2:30 pm 

Contact Mata Agre at:

Area Schools in the Learn to Ski Program: 

  • Brainerd Public Schools
  • Pillager
  • Staples/Motley
  • Pine River
  • Pequot Lakes
  • Cuyuna Range
  • St. Francis of the Lakes
    Catholic School
  • Crosslake Charter School
  • Discovery Woods Charter School
  • Little Falls
  • Lake Region Christian School
  • MLAP (Middle Level Alternative Program) in Brainerd