Mt. Sima pleads for cash to avoid wipeout

The ride could almost be over at Mt. Sima. Unless Whitehorse City Council coughs up $400,000 for the Great Northern Ski Society, the ski hill could close at the end of this winter season.

The ride could almost be over at Mt. Sima.

Unless Whitehorse City Council coughs up $400,000 for the Great Northern Ski Society, the ski hill could close at the end of this winter season.

Craig Hougen, president of the not-for-profit society that runs the city-owned facility, made the announcement Monday night at city council. His presentation came after residents spent nearly two hours urging council to fund the facility.

On top of a $400,000 cash infusion for this year, the society also wants the city to provide an annual operating grant. Just how big that grant would be, Hougen has so far declined to say.

But in an interview Tuesday, he stressed that he doesn’t envision city funding to be permanent. Instead, the society wants funding for five years, with contributions decreasing each year and eventually ending altogether, said Hougen.

Such requests by Mt. Sima within council chambers seem to be an annual tradition. Last April, the city gave the society $1.3 million dollars. This came months after the city gave $1.6 million to replace its chairlift.

Last week, the society announced online it needed money again. The ad-hoc funding model the society uses isn’t working anymore, according to a note posted on the society’s Facebook page and the Mt. Sima website.

So the society wants the city to provide long-term core-funding. Citizens were encouraged to come to city hall to show support.

They crowded the chambers. At times, the meeting resembled a school rally. It began with an unusual request for cellphones to be turned off and applause punctuated many of the over 20 presentations. Partway through, Coun. John Streicker, who was sitting in the mayor’s seat, called a break so people could go stretch.

Athletes, parents, business owners, Mt. Sima employees and tourism industry representatives all had something to say.

The message was clear: Sima can’t close.

“Winters are long in the North and taking away a pillar that stands for a healthy lifestyle, sport development, pride, and community in sport would be a tragic loss for the Yukon,” said Katrina Crouch, vice-president of Snowboard Yukon.

The club’s membership is growing, and many athletes compete across the country, she said. But if they’re going to represent the Yukon Outside, they need a place to train.

“Snowboard Yukon is a family, and Mt. Sima is our home,” she told council.

And it’s a positive one.

“Without Mt. Sima, we would have nothing,” said Callaghan Guidolin, a freestyle skier. “We don’t play hockey or soccer, and if you’re not into that, and you don’t have skiing, your only options are alcohol and drugs, really.”

Others echoed this thought.

“Bored youth are troubled youth,” said Sandor Elek, owner of Sandor’s Clothing, and sponsor of snowboard team Sandor’s Shredders.

“If you don’t do anything you love with your life, you’re not going to be a happy person,” said Genevieve Beaudin. The ski hill’s a big reason why she decided to stay in Whitehorse, she said.

Growing up in Quebec, skiing kept her from “bumming around,” she said. And it taught her responsibility: she would save her babysitting money to buy snowboards.

The city should provide things for kids to do, instead of complaining about how they get in trouble, she said.

But not everyone was so positive.

“I feel like there’s a disconnect – please everybody don’t hate me – between Sima and the community,” said Vanessa Brault. She’s had annual passes for three years and has bought them for her children too. She loves Mt. Sima, but as a Whitehorse taxpayer, she’s concerned about repeated requests for money. The society needs to be more open about how it spends its money, she said.

This is especially important if they’re going to be asking for taxpayers’ money, Jeffrey Kalles told council. If the city does approve funding, council should require the society post its financial statements online, he said.

“They need to talk to us taxpayers. That’s the issue I have,” he said.

“They built an infrastructure that they cannot maintain, no matter what. I think they went too far, too fast, and they need to sit back and re-organize and talk to the taxpayers of the city,” said

Kalles.

That infrastructure includes the wilderness park Mt. Sima opened this summer. The goal is to have revenue from the park offset costs incurred during the winter, Hougen said. But the park opened late because the government was late in doling out federal funds, he said.

The society has to pay franchise fees to WildPlay and Monkido. But they were able to have the fees cut in half, Hougen told council. In total, the franchise fees are $2,100, said Jody Woodland, the society’s treasurer.

The society has known about the financial problems for months. “It’s not like we woke up last week and realized that there’s no money in the bank,” Hougen said on Tuesday.

But the society needs more money than can be raised by fundraisers like bake sales, he said. And Monday night was not the first contact the society had with council. It sent a letter to council in February, he said.

There’s no place to cut costs, and Mt. Sima is well run, said Hougen.

On Monday, Coun. Mike Gladish asked Hougen how he would feel about the city raising taxes by one per cent to give the society $400,000. A one per cent increase would be a “bargain,” said Hougen.

The city should fund the ski hill just like it funds other sports infrastructure, like arenas, he said.

Council hasn’t indicated when it will make its decision. In the meantime, the society will increase its efforts to communicate with the public, said Hougen. It’s also planning to release a summer season pass, similar to the winter season passes, he said.

Mayor Dan Curtis is in France on city business and could not attend Monday’s meeting. Coun. Kirk Cameron was also absent.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

mgillmore@yukon-news.com