Friends of Sima bloodied but unbowed

The Friends of Sima say they aren't giving up just yet. On Monday, city council voted against giving the society $65,000 to help run the Mount Sima ski hill this coming winter. That is the same amount it will now cost to mothball the facility.

The Friends of Sima say they aren’t giving up just yet.

On Monday, city council voted against giving the society $65,000 to help run the Mount Sima ski hill this coming winter. That is the same amount it will now cost to mothball the facility and keep it in good running order for a possible re-start next season.

It was a heavy blow, but the group isn’t prepared to quit, said the society’s Rod Taylor.

“We’re not prepared to see our kids have this critical asset taken away from them when we’re down to the same amount that it would cost to mothball it,” Taylor said.

“I am still inundated with emails from people saying, ‘Do not give up.’ People are offering to come and brush the hill, season passes are still being pledged right now,” he said.

The organization has received more than 800 promises to buy seasons passes this year. It needs about 200 or 300 more pledges to completely eclipse all the user revenue from last year, including day pass sales, Taylor said.

“We increased the season’s passes by reducing the cost to $400, which made the hill more accessible and more affordable. The revenues were exponentially greater, and most importantly, they’re guaranteed,” he said.

The passes are a safer bet than relying on day-use fees, Taylor said.

“Those season’s passes, once they are sold, they are sold, and it doesn’t matter if the weather changes,” he said.

Except that they aren’t sold just yet. On Monday, city council expressed concern that the Friends might face challenges getting people to pay for the passes they promised, but Taylor said he is confident people will pony up.

“The city said they don’t trust Yukoners to pay up. But we do. We know these people. These are not people in Whitehorse Correctional. These are families. They’re going to give us the money,” he said.

Taylor said he conducted a straw poll of the business community to gauge its reaction to the city’s decision, and that reaction has been surprise and frustration.

“One of the quotes was, ‘Either the councillors’ business acumen is circumspect or they have been completely disingenuous all along.’” If they don’t support it in any way this year, why would we ever assume they’ll support it in the future?” Taylor asked.

“Mount Sima is a real economic generator,” said Craig Hougen, who owns a number of sports stores in town.

“Not only does it provide direct employment for the employees that are up there. It also generates sales in skis and snowboards and clothing and accessories that go along with it. I know other stores that have said they’re now considering closing some of their winter clothing orders,” he said.

Hougen is also the president of the beleaguered Great Northern Ski Society, which ran the hill for the past two decades. The group is in the process of settling its debts and dissolving.

“City council has not considered that, beyond the direct loss of the ski hill not operating, there is also going to be the whole issue of training these athletes. Within the alpine ski group personally, I know there are kids who have been training right up to this day who don’t know how they’re going to continue with this program,” Hougen said.

SportsLife is one of the stores that Hougen owns, and it operates the rental shop at Mount Sima. Some critics have said the shop should be turned over to the new society to use as a potential revenue stream to support the hill.

If the Friends of Sima, or anyone else, wants the rental shop, they can have it, Hougen said.

At most big ski resorts, rental shops are a cash cow, Hougen said. But Sima is not most ski resorts, and the rental shop can’t rely on high numbers of tourists to rent equipment, especially with its short season.

“That business, over the period of the last 20 years, has done no more than probably break even. It is really weather dependent. There is a lot of risk involved.

“I have offered on numerous occasions to turn that over to anyone, the society or anyone that wants to operate it. We consider, as a business, operating it as a public service. It’s not a real money-maker for us. If anyone wanted to come forward and operate that facility, we would gladly stand aside,” he said.

Taylor said that with the city’s refusal to help, the Friends of Sima is now looking at other options to find the additional $72,500 needed to open the hill this year, including the business community.

“That option is definitely on the table,” he said.

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