Sima decision draws near

The City of Whitehorse's administration is recommending that council give $65,700 to the Friends of Mount Sima to get the ski hill up and running this year.

The City of Whitehorse’s administration is recommending that council give $65,700 to the Friends of Mount Sima to get the ski hill up and running this year.

The problem is that the group, yet to be registered as a society, says it needs at least $200,000.

Administration recommended $65,700 because that’s how much the city would have to spend this season anyway if it were to mothball the hill, according to the report.

Council will vote next week to decide how much, if any, money it will grant to the society.

The decision is fraught with uncertainty. The society needs to decide soon whether or not the hill will open.

Businesses are waiting, unsure if they should order ski and snowboard gear for the winter inventory.

The budget has been cut to the bone, Friends of Mount Sima told council. If they get less than $200,000 from the city and can’t fill the gap elsewhere, there’s no guarantee they won’t be back in front of council asking for more before the season is through, members of the group said.

The Great Northern Ski Society, which ran the hill for 20 years, voted in June to dissolve. But it can’t do so until its debts are settled.

The city recently agreed to buy the chairlift from the society for $200,000. The territorial government also contributed close to $200,000 to pay off debts.

But that money won’t go to WildPlay, which says it is owed more than $400,000 for its adventure park and franchise fees.

The Great Northern Ski Society is currently in negotiation with WildPlay over the debt.

Money from the sale of two groomers, one purchased by the Yukon government for $55,000 and the other purchased by the Hougen Group of Companies for $30,000, will go towards settling that debt.

Friends of Sima is not related to GNSS, although the older society’s debts could complicate the reopening of the hill.

If the debt is not settled, WildPlay could place a lien on anything owned by GNSS, council heard Monday. That would include equipment like generators and groomers but not the chalet, the chairlift or hill itself.

Sima supporters filled council chambers Monday evening, as delegates rose to speak about why the ski hill should be saved.

Some focussed on the economic spin-offs that Sima brings to Whitehorse and the Yukon.

Council learned that there has been no comprehensive study done looking at the value that the ski hill brings to the community, and it directed administration to see what they can come up for next week.

But some delegates offered clues.

Whitehorse resident Kristy Lerch says she saves the Yukon government $170,000 annually by providing services in the territory that people would otherwise have to go Outside for.

She’s a physiotherapist who was recruited by the Whitehorse hospital two years ago. Her job was vacant for two years before she came, said Lerch.

About 30 per cent of the work she does is in specialized services that no one else in the territory provides, she said. Before she came, patients had to go elsewhere for treatment, at a cost of about $5,000 per visit, she said.

“My whole life, I have never lived more than a three-hour drive from a ski hill. Mount Sima was the tipping point for me to choose to come here.

“I can work anywhere. I would not have considered Whitehorse if Mount Sima wasn’t here.”

With a shortage of doctors and other highly trained professionals in the territory, it would be a wise investment to spend $200,000 on Sima, she said.

“We do not need the majority of city taxpayers to support this hill. We just need 20 people, like me, who choose to live and work here, for this to be a lucrative investment for every taxpayer in the Yukon.”

Kalin Pallett, general manager of Up North Adventures, spoke about how his business depends on Sima.

While Up North caters its winter business to backcountry skiing and snowboarding, the company could lose 30 to 40 per cent of winter revenues if Mount Sima failed to open, said Pallett. Two or three jobs could be at risk, he told council.

A lot of people want to see a ski hill that works.

By Monday, Friends of Mount Sima had collected pledges from people promising to purchase more than 800 season passes if the hill opens this year. That’s up from just over 200 passes sold for the 2012-2013 season.

The Yukon government has promised to chip in $70,000 in matching donations this season, decreasing to $50,000 next year and $30,000 the year after that.

That money depends on the city also making a “significant contribution” to operational funding, according to a letter sent by Community Services Minister Brad Cathers to Friends of Sima.

And with the news that the Great Northern Ski Society would dissolve and Sima would close, community members with no previous involvement in the management of the ski hill have stepped up to volunteer time and expertise to get the new society off the ground.

Christina Pekarik told council that she has put in 40 to 60 hours of volunteer time per week in addition to her kids and regular job. She is one of many who have stepped up on behalf of Friends of Sima.

Mayor Dan Curtis told the crowd that he, too, would like to see a ski hill that is working and sustainable.

But if the city is going to give money to the hill, it will either have to raise taxes or cut services elsewhere, he said.

Friends of Sima have argued that other sports groups receive 50 per cent of operational funding from the city, and it is only asking for 20.

Jacqueline Ronson at