Like the phoenix rising from the ashes in Greek mythology, Whitehorse’s Mount Sima is back from the dead and is flying high.
Following an off-season in which Sima looked to be on its way out due to financial difficulties, the ski and snowboard resort is thriving with high ticket sales and great weather.
As of this week, Sima has sold just over 900 season passes, which is believed to be the most ever in its 21-year history.
Provided the vast majority of passes were purchased by Yukon residents, that works out to around one in every 38 Yukoners having one.
The outpouring of support from the community has been tremendous, says general manager Don Wilson.
“It’s great that it’s open and I’ve got to say the community support has been overwhelming, and I think that’s one of the most satisfying things this year,” said Wilson. “When we were gearing up to open the hill people were congratulating us. ‘It’s great you guys are opening!’ Businesses in town offered support and they’re not even associated with the industry, they’re just regular businesses around town glad to see it open. People were volunteering their time, their equipment, ‘If there’s anything we can do to help, just let us know.’ Construction companies said, ‘We have a loader, do you need your parking lot cleared?’ There were companies that said, ‘We have mechanics that are not really busy right now, do you need some help?’”
In addition to the 900-plus season passes, Sima has also sold 1,772 day passes.
The resort welcomed about 7,000 visitors over the Christmas break between Dec. 20 and Jan. 5.
“Traditionally, that’s coming close to half of our typical year,” said Wilson. “So having that many just on the Christmas break is a good indication that we’ll exceed our normal skier visits.
“Based on that number I think we’re likely to see in the 18,000 to 20,000 skier visits.”
In an average season Sima will have about 14,000 to 17,000 visitors. Numbers were down last season with between 12,000 to 13,000 visitors, “because we had quite cold weather during the Christmas break, so we lost a fair number of days,” said Wilson.
“That’s when everybody is on holidays and the whole family can come up and ski together. That’s when we see a good portion of our numbers, is during the Christmas break. If you lose that, it really puts you behind for the whole year.”
Sima topped out with about 700 visitors over the holiday and bottomed out with between 250 and 300 on Christmas Eve.
“We have a counter on our lift that tells us how many rides people have taken on the lift and from that we can do some statistical analysis based on that number of rides,” said Wilson. “We do three estimates and then do an average of those three estimates to get a fairly accurate determination of the number of people out during the day.”
With debts to local creditors, chairlift manufacturer Doppelmayr and the WildPlay adventure park franchise exceeding $400,000, Sima began to collapse under its debt during the summer. The Great Northern Ski Society, the non-profit group that oversaw Sima’s operations, announced its intention to dissolve at the end of June and the resort ceased operations on July 2.
A hugely successful fundraising campaign by the Friends of Sima, which took over for the Great Northern Ski Society, kept the nails out of Sima’s coffin.
Friends of Sima secured 800 pledges to buy season passes and raised about $500,000 from local businesses, ski and snowboard associations, and the territorial government.
“I’m very, very happy and thank everyone who bought passes and are so keen to support the hill,” said Friends of Sima president Laurie Henderson. “We’re about a quarter through the season, so we have a ways to go, but we have a solid foundation right now. I continue to encourage people to come out and support the hill.”
Friends of Sima operated under the belief 85 per cent of the 800 pledges would be made good on. It would seem that might have been a conservative estimate.
Henderson credits early season pass sales at a lower price than last year, as well as great conditions, to the high sales.
“When Softball Yukon got the ball rolling with their support, everyone seemed to jump on board,” said Wilson, referring to a $20,000 donation and a $50,000 loan Softball Yukon made to Friends of Sima. “I think that’s one of the most satisfying things about seeing the hill open, there were so many people putting their time and support into seeing that it happened.”
“I think it took the scare of losing it to get people to not take it for granted,” said Snowboard Yukon president Norm Curzon. “The combination of a great amount of snow and decent temperatures over the break is obviously working to the hill’s benefit.
“It’s the best I’ve ever seen it since I moved back to the territory (eight years ago).”
The snow gods have definitely smiled down on Sima this season. Whitehorse experienced twice the average snowfall in December with 55 centimetres of downfall, up from the average of 26 centimetres.
“Mother Nature was definitely on our side on this one,” said Wilson. “She’s an important one to have on your side in this industry.”
“It’s a recreational facility, it’s very dependent on weather and so as a result it’s hard to predict what you’re going to spend on your budget for things like snowmaking, grooming, etcetera … and how much money is going to come in,” he added. “I would liken it to the city’s snow-clearing budget. They put a number in the budget and I’m sure this year they’ve gone over that.”
To cut costs, Sima has gone from operating four days a week to three, Friday to Sunday. However, Sima will return to four days a week with the addition of Thursdays beginning February 13, weather permitting.
“The hill has always been operated by a non-profit society and the goal has always been, not to make a lot of money, but to make enough money to survive to the next year and obviously pay all the bills,” said Wilson. “The actually operating bill for the hill, in my opinion, is fairly lean and always has been.”
Contact Tom Patrick at