Survey aims to shore up Sima support

Mount Sima could ride again. Last week, the Yukon government offered to pay nearly $180,000 to help pay off debts to local creditors.

Mount Sima could ride again.

Last week, the Yukon government offered to pay nearly $180,000 to help pay off debts to local creditors. Whitehorse’s ski hill closed last month after the Great Northern Ski Society, the not-for-profit that runs the city-owned hill, decided to begin dissolving.

It was deep in debt, and city council had unanimously voted against giving the organization over $600,000 so the hill would be able to open this winter. Instead, the city paid more than $190,000 to clear the debts owed on the chairlift. This means the city can lease it back to whatever group runs the hill in the future.

The government had previously offered to pay the debt on the chairlift. But when the city decided to foot that bill instead, the government chose to put these funds towards debts to local creditors, said Ben Yu Schott, director of communications for the Department of Community Services. The government and the city are still working out the details of how this money is supposed to be spent, he said.

City council will have to vote on whether or not to accept the funding, acting manager Brian Crist said this week. Council doesn’t meet again until Sept. 3.

This means there’s a tight deadline for determining if the hill will open again this winter. The Great Northern Ski Society board will decide by the end of the first week of September if that’s possible, secretary Lee Vincent said this week.

Ideally, it will be an easy decision: all debts will be paid and there will be large community support for the hill, she said. But right now, it’s not that simple. The government’s offer doesn’t cover everything the society owes. It’s in debt for between $200,000 and $250,000. The board and Yukon government are still figuring out the details of last week’s offer. The society is trying to sell some of its equipment to pay off its debts, but no one’s bought anything yet, said Vincent.

The hill needs both community support and financial stability if it is to survive, she said.

“Nobody wants to just open the hill and be in a deficit situation again,” she said.

A group of Yukoners is trying to determine just how much community support there is for the hill.

The new group, called the Friends of Sima, launched an online survey this week to see what people think about the hill, and if they’d be willing to give money and time to keep it running.

In June, a group calling itself the Friends of Mount Sima paid for a newspaper ad urging people to tell city council to support the hill. This is not the same group, said Rod Taylor, one of the survey’s organizers. The ski society board is also not involved in this survey, he said last week.

This new group was formed after the ski society hosted an information session last month to give the public a place to discuss ways to save the hill. This survey looks at coming up with short-term financial solutions. Other people are looking at long-term funding strategies and governance.

Securing funds is going to be tricky, said Taylor. The group can’t collect money until it knows the hill will be open this winter, and it can’t decide if it will open the hill unless enough people want it open.

“It makes this a bit of a chicken-and-egg (situation),” said Taylor. Once the group knows if the hill is going to open again, it will re-contact survey participants who offered to give money, he said.

But the first step is making sure the Yukon government and City of Whitehorse can see that enough people care about the hill and are willing to support Mount Sima, said Taylor.

“This is a classic Yukon situation where it really is going to take everybody. It’s going to take all parts of the community, and all parts of government to, at the end of the day, come up with a rational way to at the very least see that this great facility will be open at least for this winter,” said Taylor.

The city has always maintained the solution to the hill’s financial problems needs to come from the community. Taylor agrees.

“There needs to be a demonstration on the behalf of a lot of Yukoners that this is important to them. If it isn’t, then it shouldn’t necessarily be supported,” he said.

But people need to show their support now.

If the hill doesn’t open this season, he has a “terrible, terrible feeling that it’s going to be very difficult to get this thing up and going in another season’s time. So it’s critical now that Yukoners respond,” said Taylor.

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