The clock seems stuck at the eleventh hour for Mount Sima.
Friends of Sima, the new society formed with the hope of taking the ski hill off the hands of the debt-laden Great Northern Ski Society, is running out of time to get the hill open this winter.
So far, they have gathered over 700 promises to buy seasons passes and more than $40,000 in donation pledges.
On Monday, Community Services Minister Brad Cathers promised to match whatever donations the group can raise, up to $70,000 for this year, $50,000 for next season and $30,000 for 2015-16. Cathers also promised to cough up an additional $55,000 to pay for Sima’s Zaugg groomer on the city’s behalf.
But the territorial cash is dependent on two things: a significant contribution from the City of Whitehorse, and the hill actually being open this winter.
So Sima supporters were back before city council with a new business plan on Monday night, asking the city for $200,000 to make the whole scheme work.
Lorie Henderson, a spokesperson for the new society, said they have gone over the budget with a fine-toothed comb, and “cut as close to the bone” as possible.
“We have been very cognizant of the fact that we need to balance safety. This is a facility where people are going up in the air. It’s a facility where people are going quickly. In our view, there is a limit to how much you can cut and still maintain safety,” Henderson said.
She said the society needs $100,000 immediately, and another $100,000 later in the season.
Some of the changes Henderson highlighted include a shortened opening season of 68 days, keeping the hill closed on Mondays, and staffing cutbacks.
The group took an especially hard look at staffing, cutting the number of managers and lowering the top-end salaries, said Henderson.
Under the Great Northern Ski Society, the highest paid managers earned in the neighbourhood of $90,000, Henderson said. The highest paid employee under the Friends of Sima would make close to $63,000.
The $200,000 would allow the group to open the hill this winter, run it safely, and have time to figure out a more sustainable plan going forward, Henderson said.
If they can’t open this year, Henderson said she worries the board and the community will lose its momentum.
Coun. Betty Irwin was skeptical about the promised cuts and business plan.
“Over the past few years, we have seen the Great Northern Ski Society come forward to city council with various business plans,” Irwin said.
“On the basis of some of those, the city has invested in the ski lift to the tune of $3 million, plus sustaining funds, and yet we have seen these business plans prove to be unrealistic. Why should city council put more faith in this business plan than we did in previous ones?” she asked.
Henderson replied that she couldn’t speak to the business plans of the former society, but she was confident that the community support demonstrated by the number of pledges shows that their plans will work.
It’s unlikely that Mount Sima will ever be entirely self-sufficient, Henderson said, but she compared it to other recreation initiatives that the city funds like hockey, swimming and curling.
Many other recreation projects get up to 50 per cent of their funding from government. Sima is only asking for 20 per cent, Henderson said.
Coun. Mike Gladish asked the group how many pledges it is counting on coming through as actual money.
Henderson said that of the 700-plus seasons pass pledges, about 400 are for adult passes, which cost $398 each.
That totals about $160,000. Henderson said the society is conservatively hoping for 85 per cent of all pledges to be honoured.
Cathers told the News in an interview after the meeting that if the ski hill can’t open this winter, he’s not confident that next year would be any better.
“The contributions are intended to help Friends of Mount Sima get back on their feet. The key factor is that this is a key point in the future of the ski hill. The time to act is now, not to dither and defer for another year. The community group will lose momentum and the city of course will be forced into paying costs to mothball the facility,” Cathers said.
Those costs, Cathers said, would be almost as much as paying the $200,000 to keep the hill open.
On Monday night, city council approved spending $198,000 from the territory to help pay creditors still owed money by the Great Northern Ski Society, which ran the hill for two decades.
Earlier this summer, council agreed to put forward $200,000 to buy the ski hill’s chairlift, to keep it from being sold off.
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