An ice-tower for winter climbing, mountain biking and the installation of a zipline in the summer are just a few ideas percolating through the mind of Guillaume Rochet.
As Mt. Sima’s new area manager this year, Rochet has the dubious honour of attempting to resurrect the fallen ski resort after a disastrous 07/08 season.
At the start of 2008 the Yukon’s premier ski resort ground to a halt after its main lift failed and the mountain was forced to close, thereby failing to deliver on $70,000 in season passes.
Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, Mt. Sima is better than ever, some would say, but there’s still plenty of ideas left on the drawing board.
“It’s awesome,” said Chris McNutt, president of Snowboard Yukon. “This is more snow than this part of the Yukon has got in a long time.
“The hill is in great shape. This is the best I’ve ever seen it. There’s gobs of snow up there!”
“I think they’ve done great,” said Keith Thaxter, former president of Mt. Sima’s board of directors. “I’m really happy with how the hill’s worked out Ã‰ I’m impressed with the way things are working so far.”
For Rochet, however, being in “great shape” this year is just a stepping-stone to turning Mt. Sima into a resort comparable to some of the best in the world.
“Next year we’ll be different again,” said Rochet, who considers this season a success. “We will do more with more people – we will be ready.”
In the months leading up to the winter season, Mt. Sima received $225,000 in government grants to repair the damaged chairlift and to hire three year-round, full-time employees, a first for the resort. In the past, the resort relied on volunteer work.
To help shake things up, the resort elected a new board of directors to oversee Mt. Sima’s rebirth as it begins implementing a five-year plan, intended to give the resort a facelift over the next half-decade.
To help with the plan, Mt. Sima directors have enlisted the help of a Vancouver based consulting company, Trec International, that will present the Sima board will their finding at the end of March.
“There will probably be a lot of great comments in the report,” said Rochet. “It’s a visualization plan for the future Ã‰ what’s zpossible to do or not.
“Maybe we can work with this report for a long time.”
Even before the first snowflake fell, changes could already be seen. In August the hill played host to its first ever downhill mountain bike race, the Mt. Sima Slamfest, in which 67 riders participated. Since opening for the winter, the hill has seen the installation of a coffee shop at the top of the chairlift open on the weekends and a number of skiing and snowboarding events, including three Slopestyle events held by Snowboard Yukon.
“For the Yukon, this is it, this is where snow sports happen,” said McNutt. “Skiing alpine, freestyle, (and) snowboarding.”
In addition, the chalet now has a licensed lounge up stairs that serves Mt. Sima’s own Last Run Lager. (However, rumour has it that the beer is Chilkoot with a different label.)
But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Opening the slopes in mid December, Mt. Sima immediately missed most of the Christmas break because of frigid temperatures.
“We have to make money because we missed the Christmas break this year,” said Rochet. “We opened during the Christmas break, maybe just four days. We had two weeks, so we missed a lot of money and a lot of time for skiing.”
“I think at the year end, if there is any financial shortfall, it would be a result of the lost days,” said Thaxter.
Despite continuing flesh-freezing temperatures, Mt. Sima directors decided to open the hill for a full week in early January to help make up for lost business during the Christmas break – and to win the confidence of wary skiers and snowboarders.
“It was good marketing to keep the hill open a week after Christmas break because we had a lot of people that were pleased to come,” said Rochet.
Mt. Sima has had about 9,000 visitors so far this season and expects to end the season with about 11,000. Prior to last year’s truncated season, Mt. Sima saw between 15,000 and 18,000 visitors in any given year.
“We need to get people’s confidence because last year it was closed,” said Rochet. “It’s a new mountain – we want to change the past.
“We’ll know how it was this season and so we’ll be ready for next season.”
With a handful of events complete, the biggest is yet to come.
At the end of the month, Mt. Sima will host Simapalooza. It will feature a boardercross for skiers and snowboarders, a Slopestyle competition, family games on the bunny hill and live music. Perhaps as a prelude to the changing season, there will also be a mountain bike race down the mountain after the chairlift shuts down March 28 at 4 p.m.
“There will probably be a beer garden outside,” said Rochet. “And we will have a barbecue.”
In the more immediate future, to celebrate the coming of spring, Mt. Sima will be staying open an hour longer, until 5 p.m. this Saturday.
Although Rochet has a background in skiing, being a former ski instructor and cross-country skier in the European Cup, surprisingly, when it comes to management, his background is in different sports. Before moving to Canada from France in September, Rochet was the Project manager for the Tour de France and managed a tennis tournament in Monaco, in the south of France.
“I’ve wanted to come here since I was three or four and now I’m asking for permanent residency,” said Rochet. “At the end of the year, I will be a Canadian.”
Mt. Sima will remain open until April 12.
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