It might be the end of the run for Mt. Sima.
Whitehorse city council discussed either a temporary or permanent closure of the ski hill’s operations on Wednesday evening, after councillors panned the Great Northern Ski Society’s new business plan.
The new plan asks city council to provide the ski society with $610,000. That’s down from an earlier request, made in March, for $800,000 to keep the ski hill running over the summer and winter seasons.
Most pressingly, the society needs $220,000 by June 30 to pay rent, utilities and payroll, said board member Lee Vincent.
To provide those funds, the city would have to either cut programs or increase taxes, said acting city manager Brian Crist. And it doesn’t look like that’s about to happen.
“We just don’t have the money,” said Mayor Dan Curtis. “I don’t see how the taxpayers aren’t going to get nailed for a two or three per cent tax increase just for one facility.”
The ski society has received over $3 million in the last two years to fix Mt. Sima’s chairlift and maintain operations.
The ski society’s new request for funds would actually be about $625,000, when you include interest payments owed for the new chairlift, said Crist.
The new business plan flows from two summits held by the Great Northern Ski Society, which invited residents to come up with a solution to the hill’s financial troubles.
Coun. Dave Stockdale criticized the end result. “It was a nice exercise, the food was good, company was enjoyable,” but “nobody came up with any concrete ways of addressing the financial situation,” he said.
When Coun. Betty Irwin asked what the group would do if they were not granted the money, Vincent said that the society may dissolve.
“Our problem is we cannot dissolve the society by having outstanding debts,” Vincent said, adding that they would have to sell all the major assets of the hill to pay for outstanding bills.
Once they paid off their debt, the remaining fixed assets – such as the chairlift, chalet and buildings – would revert back to the city, said Crist.
Another liability to the city should the group dissolve would be the transfer of WildPlay, the summer adventure park the group opened in an effort to recoup winter losses. The group signed a 10-year lease with the park, and the city would have to pay for the breach in contract. The cost of this remains unclear.
Stockdale questioned why the group allotted $274,000 to three staff members, amounting to approximately $90,000 each. One of the group’s members said that the amount was for full-time jobs.
Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu said she wanted to see the hard numbers for the cost of breaching contract with WildPlay and an explanation of other figures. “I’d really like to know what those employees are doing and why they need to be full-time,” she said.
Rather than completely shutter the facility, the city could continue paying the ski hill’s maintenance fees so the hill could re-open one day.
This already happened in the past, when Mt. Sima shut down in 2007 in the fall and reopened in the winter.
Curteanu leaned towards the temporary closure. “At that point the public would come and provide more support, because sometimes they realize the impact once it’s gone,” she said.
The mayor also preferred moth-balling the operation to simply closing it. “It’s not a problem to take a bit of a breather and realize what a wonderful facility it is,” so that residents step up to the challenge and fundraise to keep the hill alive, he said.
The society asserts that Mt. Sima should be the city’s responsibility. “We’re simply asking to be treated no different from the Canada Games Centre or the curling rinks or hockey rinks that exist in the Yukon,” said the group’s president, Craig Hougen.
Hougen’s remarks closed the meeting. “We were asked as a board to raise money all different kinds of ways to replace an asset that ultimately belongs to the city. I think the politics have turned this into something very complicated.”
He also noted that he’s dipped into his own wallet to cover some of the hill’s expenses. “I personally paid the garbage collection yesterday up at Mt. Sima because the garbage hasn’t been collected for a month and we were concerned the bear was going to get it.”
Curtis asked administration to present council with calculations for shutting down versus keeping Mt. Sima dormant.
Further details will be discussed during the next council meeting on Monday, and a final decision is expected on June 24.
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