Mount Sima celebrates success on the slopes

It's amazing how things can change in a year. Few groups in the Yukon know that better than the Friends of Sima Society.

It’s amazing how things can change in a year.

Few groups in the Yukon know that better than the Friends of Sima Society.

On Wednesday evening, about 30 people gathered at the Mount Sima ski lodge for the society’s annual general meeting, many with large grins on their faces.

President Laurie Henderson was beaming when she announced the society had ended the fiscal year in the black.

“It’s an expensive hill to run and we’re not on Easy Street,” she told members.

“But it takes a bit of the pressure off.”

This time last year, the Friends of Sima struggled to raise funds for the ski hill and its closure appeared all but confirmed.

Within the span of a few weeks, the society managed to bring in more than 800 pledges to buy seasons passes and drew financial support from local organizations and the territorial government.

By the end of the winter it had sold almost $500,000 in passes, amounting to just under half of the society’s total budget.

Revenue totalled $1,066,227 for the year with a profit of $101,850, according to the society’s financial statements.

Beyond the success of the ski hill this past winter, the society is in good financial health for another reason.

A group of eleven individuals and businesses agreed to purchase the money-losing WildPlay adventure park.

The park, which lost an estimated $35,000 this summer, was, in Henderson’s words, a cloud hanging over the Friends of Sima.

The society had inherited a $400,000 debt to WildPlay following a transfer of the asset from the Great Northern Ski Society, which went bankrupt last year.

The investors are now in the process of deciding whether to sell the park’s equipment or find a new operator for it.

As one of the investors, WildPlay is motivated to find a quick solution, board member Rod Taylor said.

It simply wasn’t feasible to keep the park going, Taylor added.

Despite an aggressive marketing campaign, the attendance numbers just didn’t add up.

“The people never came,” he said.

“Some people will say you have to operate for a few years before it becomes profitable. Well, we couldn’t afford to lose $25,000 or $30,000 every summer waiting for the business to grow.”

The ski hill, on the other hand, is highly successful from an operational standpoint.

Over 600 season passes have already been sold and the society is on pace to beat last year’s total, which was approximately 920.

The numbers are good, said secretary/treasurer Scott Casselman, but there is room for improvement in several areas.

Food and beverage is one of the areas the society wants to tighten up.

Approximately $135,000 was made in sales while $92,421 was spent on concession and lounge-related costs.

But when you factor in wages specific to food and beverages, the society lost money, said General Manager Cindy Chandler.

“Food and beverage should have given us at least a 20 per cent profit margin,” she said.

Staffing and portion controls are partly to blame.

“We had staff turnover and inexperience,” she said.

“The business background to portion control and waste management was limited so our costs ran higher. This year we have improved on the business skills required to run the food service.”

Fuel costs were another big expense last year, running at $80,136.

Operations manager Sam Oettli said the society will be getting a better rate this winter.

While that might not amount to considerable savings, it will keep numbers on par with last year’s at the very least, he said.

Casselman said one of the concerns for this winter is how well the equipment holds up on the hill.

“We got through last year without any major breakdowns, thankfully,” he said.

“Those can be very expensive if they happen.”

Repairs to the large groomer are estimated at over $25,000 alone, Henderson said, and are necessary before the season begins.

The society plans on launching its sponsorship campaign in the coming weeks.

The hill will be open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays this winter.

Beginning in March, it’ll be open on Thursdays, too.

The new ski season is scheduled to begin Dec. 5.

Contact Myles Dolphin at