Mount Sima needs a mountain of cash

Mount Sima needs more money. City council agreed Monday to give the Great Northern Ski Society, the non-profit group that runs the Whitehorse ski hill, $1.3 million.

Mount Sima needs more money.

City council agreed Monday to give the Great Northern Ski Society, the non-profit group that runs the Whitehorse ski hill, $1.3 million.

That’s in addition to the $1.6 million the city provided last June for the new chairlift.

The new infusion of money is needed because the ski hill is more than a $1 million in the red.

“The deficit is mainly attributable to down time on the lift two seasons ago, which caused a fairly large operating loss in that year,” said Robert Fendrick, the city’s director of administrative services.

But Mount Sima had been bleeding money for years.

“Because it was exclusively winter operations before, there was always a deficit year-to-year,” said Fendrick.

Last year Mount Sima got a new chairlift, paid for in part by the city, and also received $1.5 million from the federal government to build a summer adventure park.

Part of the money the city is giving to Mount Sima this time will be used to cover the operating costs associated with the new lift and the adventure park.

“Funding that was predicted, that was going to be raised for the lift, didn’t materialize,” said Fendrick.

The president of the Great Northern Ski Society, Craig Hougen, wouldn’t say exactly what had happened to create the shortfall.

But he did say this will be the society’s last request.

With year-round operations starting this summer, the society expects to break even within three years.

“In fact it will do a little better than break even if we do everything well,” said Hougen.

But not everyone is so sure.

“My biggest concern is that this isn’t the last of the society’s financial troubles and the city will be entertaining more requests for bail outs in the future,” said Coun. Betty Irwin, who was the only one to vote against the funding request.

“I do find it a little bit ironic that on the same night council will vote to approve a $1.3-million contribution to a barely functioning, non-profit, recreational organization that we’re being asked to proclaim hunger awareness week,” she said.

“I wish I could be convinced that being aware of hunger for a week would be an equal investment in the future and the quality of life in Whitehorse.”

Although Irwin was the only one to vote against the funding request, she wasn’t the only one with reservations.

“Three years from now, I believe we’ll be asked for another half a million in funding,” said Coun. Dave Stockdale. “So I will support this, but I will be holding my nose as I do it.”

The city is really caught between a rock and a hard place, said Coun. Dave Austin.

“There are some truths in there,” he said, referring to points raised by Irwin. “But I guess the real truth for me is that if we don’t support Mount Sima, we’re going to own it, and we’re going to have to either operate it or bury it.”

In 1993 the city granted the Great Northern Ski Society a 40-year lease on Mount Sima, so if it goes belly-up the city will ultimately be left holding the bag.

Austin urged the other councillors not to give up on the ski hill too quickly.

“To me, it’s a great asset to the community,” he said.

In addition to the money, Whitehorse is also looking at other ways to make Mount Sima more financially viable.

Recently the city approached the Yukon government about transferring land to the municipality that could then be developed by the ski society. It’s an idea the territory has signalled it was willing to entertain.

“We think this is a solution to make this hill sustainable and not just put Band-Aids on it,” said Coun. Ranj Pillai. “When you look at these operations, golf courses and ski hills, usually recreational assets such as this, in Canada, do not stand alone unless they have land development connected to them.”

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