Sima to get new chairlift with help from city

Mt. Sima Ski Resort will have a brand new chairlift ready for the start of the upcoming ski and snowboard season, the Great Northern Ski Society announced at the resort's chalet on Thursday.

Mt. Sima Ski Resort will have a brand new chairlift ready for the start of the upcoming ski and snowboard season, the Great Northern Ski Society announced at the resort’s chalet on Thursday.

Whitehorse is contributing $1.6 million towards the cost of the $3-million lift. The money was diverted from the Black Street reconstruction project after the city received a federal grant to cover that project’s cost.

“So we will be doing the Black Street work through Build Canada, and what that did was free up $1.6 million in capital,” said Deputy Mayor Doug Graham. “Consequently, we’ve agreed to make that money available to the Mt. Sima folks for the new chairlift at no real cost to our budget. In other words, this isn’t going to cost us an increase in taxes or shortchanging any other projects that are happening around the city of Whitehorse.”

The decision was “pretty well unanimous” in council, he said.

Sima’s existing 36-year-old lift, which was bought secondhand in the early ‘90s, suffered “about” 21 breakdowns this past season, including one on opening day that led to the first evacuation of the lift in the resort’s 17-year history. (With a couple exceptions, the breakdowns were all electrical.)

The new lift will be a fixed-grip quad chairlift, manufactured and installed by Doppelmeyr Lifts Limited, which recently won a contract to install a lift on Europe’s tallest mountain.

The quad lift will be capable of transporting up to 1,800 passengers an hour, about twice as many as the current lift.

“We’re obviously very excited,” said ski society board chair Craig Hougen. “It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anybody why we’re building a new lift. We had a pretty rough year last year, as you all know. The lift was not unsafe, but it certainly was unreliable.

“We had a consultant here – an industry expert – and had him look at our lift towards the end of March and he concluded that the lift was essentially at the end of its life. He said, ‘If you want to go ahead with the ski facility, it’s time for a new lift.’”

The unreliability of the lift created a “crisis of confidence” in the ski community, which resulted in a drop of revenues for the resort, said Hougen.

“People were not prepared to ride the lift in the same numbers as they were in the past, particularly when it got cold we saw our numbers drop off.”

However, there were some other significant factors at play.

With an injection of $1.5 million from the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (Cannor) last summer, Mt. Sima is currently building an adventure park on its premises to open next spring. WildPlay Yukon, as it will be called, will transform Sima into a year-round operation and will require a chairlift for its zipline operations.

“One of the weak links in that plan was that, essentially, we had an unreliable lift,” said Hougen.

In addition, Whitehorse will be hosting of the 2012 Arctic Winter Games this winter, in which Sima would host downhill ski and snowboard events.

Last year, Sima also installed three downhill mountain bike trails and has hosted the annual Sima Slamfest downhill races the last three years. The new lift has been ordered with mountain bike racks because “Mountain biking is in the future of Mt. Sima,” said Hougen.

The ski society expects to raise $300,000 from the private sector in sponsorship deals and will come up with the remaining $1.1 million through “government and other sources” said Hougen, with few details added.

“Today, what we are doing is we are launching a fundraising campaign – we do have considerable funds to raise,” said Hougen. “We will be providing details, probably in the next 30 days, of how people can get involved, both individuals and companies.

“We’re working on some pretty creative ideas, and I think people will want to get involved.”

Society executives have set for themselves a fundraising deadline of April 2012 to make up the difference.

“(Doopelmeyr) did a site visit to do the final specification on the lift, and they have been very flexible in financing and payment options,” said Hougen. “So we do have some time to get some of these things in order.”

Helping goad city council into action was the Save Our Sima Project, a youth group dedicated to first encouraging the purchase of a new lift, and now fundraising to help pay for it.

“These people came forward on their own and said, ‘We’re concerned about the chairlift, we want a new chair. This facility is important to us,’” said Hougen. “They represent 1,200 young people from the schools in the Yukon and we’ve worked with them quite intensely over the last two months.”

The new lift will have either no or “very little” affect on lift-ticket prices, said Hougen.

Construction of the lift is expected to begin in September and is contracted to be complete on December 1.

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