Mt. Sima mountain biking hits snag on opening day

Mt. Sima Ski Resort's new downhill mountain biking initiative is already facing an uphill struggle.

Mt. Sima Ski Resort’s new downhill mountain biking initiative is already facing an uphill struggle.

Just two hours into offering downhill mountain biking to the public for the first time – on one of the hottest days this summer – the motor of the chairlift used to ferry cyclists and their bikes to the summit overheated.

“People have to realize it’s not a safety issue,” said Mt. Sima area manager Guillaume Rochet. “It’s just because it’s warm and the shack at the bottom is not insulated. We have to make sure it works when it’s too warm.

“We have to come up with a solution that provides a lower temperature in the engine room.”

About 25 bikers bought lift-tickets to ride the mountain Sunday morning, a few of whom were temporarily trapped on the lift before operators got it running long enough to get them off.

Mt. Sima has suspended its mountain biking operation until a solution to the overheating motor can be found. Tuesday, a mechanic was on site examining the motor, but no news was available before press time.

“I am hoping to open as soon as we can, but right now we have to make sure we can run the lift even when it’s over 25 Celsius,” said Rochet. “It’s mainly because it has been built to run in the winter.”

Technically, the motor did not break down – it shut down as it was designed to do when operating at an exceedingly high temperature – and no one’s wellbeing was at risk, said Rochet.

“It’s not a safety issue because the lift has been designed to stop when it’s too warm,” said Rochet. “Nobody realized that until we tried to run the lift when it was over 25 Celsius.”

Sima was hoping to open the two new downhill trails it built last month, making three in total, to the public on Sundays and Wednesdays this summer. Those who bought lift tickets on Sunday will receive free passes when the lift problem is fixed.

“I’m not in a position to give a time (of reopening) right now because we don’t know the next stage of solving the issue is,” said Rochet. “As soon as we solve the problem, I want to see people back because they had a lot of fun for the first two hours.”

This is not the first time a chairlift problem impacted the resort’s business. In January of 2008, the resort abruptly closed one month into ski season when a metal piece fell off the lift, narrowly missing a skier. The mechanical failure closed Sima until the following ski season.

Although Sunday was the first time the mountain was open to the public in the summer months, the resort has held downhill mountain bike races called Sima Slamfest the last two summers, ferrying riders to the top using vehicles. Currently, Sima staff and organizers with the Contagious Mountain Bike Club are unsure – perhaps now more than ever – whether Slamfest will be held this year.

“I spoke with the mountain bike club and they don’t know if they’ll have enough help, so right now it’s on standby,” said Rochet. “If we are in a position to organize a Slamfest, we will do so. We want to organize something for August, but right now we have to fix the lift.”

The addition of mountain biking is just the latest installment in Sima’s efforts to becoming a self-sustaining, year-round operation.

In May, the creation of an adventure park at Sima advanced another step towards becoming a reality with a $49,000 grant from Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency to access the viability of such a park in Whitehorse.

More than simply determining where to put a zipline or plant the foundations of an outdoor adventure course, the funding is meant to figure out whether the business model could succeed in the Yukon, taking in consideration the local market, tourist potential and overall impact on the territory.

This past winter, Sima teamed up with the Equinox Adventure Learning to offer ice-climbing activities on a 15-metre ice tower located next to the chalet.

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