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Sima to welcome elite athletes for early season training

Come November, it is common practice for Canada's elite ski and snowboard teams to send athletes to places like Colorado to get early season training. Whitehorse's Mount Sima is trying to change that.

Come November, it is common practice for Canada’s elite ski and snowboard teams to send athletes to places like Colorado to get early season training.

Whitehorse’s Mount Sima is trying to change that.

Friends of Mount Sima Society, the non-profit group that runs the ski hill, will welcome provincial and national level skiers and snowboarders this month, thanks to a contribution of $160,000 from the Yukon government, it was announced Monday.

“There are a number of provincial and national teams who want to get on snow before most ski areas open up, meaning in November,” said Laurie Henderson, past-president of Friends of Mount Sima Society who stepped down from the position following the group’s AGM two weeks ago. “We’re one of the few who are able to offer that. This is the first year we’re doing that. So the money the Yukon government is providing is going to assist us in developing this opportunity for Sima.

“So there are over 120 athletes and coaches and people coming with them to do this preseason training.”

A pair of provincial teams are scheduled to arrive in Whitehorse by the end of the week and could be on the slopes by the weekend.

Panorama Provincial Ski Team, based in the East Kootenay region, is sending about 40 athletes and coaches from its alpine ski team.

Calgary’s WinSport Academy has about 35 freestyle skiers and snowboarders on the way.

“It is probably important to realize that these 120, 130 people will need accommodation and food ... hotel accommodation and other facilities in town,” said Henderson. “There’s 120 people coming in and they all need food to eat and hotels to stay at, so that should be, I hope, some contribution to private businesses in town.”

“Social, cultural and economic benefits for Yukon residents and communities are a priority for this government,” said Economic Development Minister Stacey Hassard in a news release. “This project addresses community needs and has the potential to contribute to Yukon’s economic prosperity with positive effects for the service industry.”

Ontario Snowboard Club plans to send five to seven boardercross athletes by the end of the month.

Canada Snowboard’s para-snowboard team will send five, including a pair of Sochi Paralympians, for nine days of training at the end of November.

“There are a lot of little pieces that make this a great fit for teams that traditionally have had to go outside the country, or great distances, to obtain that training environment we’re looking for in the early season,” said Canada Snowboard’s para-snowboard head coach Mark Fawcett. “It’s always been a struggle for me, ethically, to take our team to Colorado in particular - that’s the hotspot for early season training in North America - and spend our dollars down there in an environment we don’t have a lot of control over. And I see so many Canadian teams down there in the same situation.

“We get the non-preferred training lanes, times - we’re spending all this money down there. I kept thinking, there’s got to be a place in Canada that we can have the same product at that time of year.”

Mount Sima projects Dec. 4 as its opening day for the public. Accessing the hill before it is open to the public is extremely beneficial for his athletes, said Fawcett.

“That’s really a key component to it. Maybe in the future they’ll do something where they open on the weekends for the public,” he said.

“Having control over the environment is critical for the training variety, it’s very critical for training safety, training volume.

“We’ve been in Colorado where we get the third time slot and the lift line is 25 minutes long. You’ve just cut how many training runs you can get in in half. And you’re paying out the nose for it.

“I’m going to have several boardercross features and a mini track in when I’m up there, and nowhere else in North American would I be able to establish features so early in the season.”

The government money is going towards snowmaking equipment (snow guns), safety equipment (alpine ski safety nets) and operating costs. Funds were also used for marketing, to get the word out to ski and snowboard groups. The hope is Sima will become a hot spot for teams wanting an early jump on the season for years to come.

“Sima is quite appreciative of the support the government has given us to expand this,” said Henderson. “I think if all goes well it should be something that should be able to contribute to the long-term sustainability of the hill.”

Sochi Paralympians John Leslie and Michelle Salt will be joined by teammate Alex Massie, who won a bronze medal at the X-Games and the world championships last season in the para-snowboardcross.

The team would come earlier, but are attending a World Cup event in Holland before their trip to Whitehorse.

“Dirt work” has been done to Sima’s terrain park this year, including the addition of more big jumps, said Henderson, and the snowmakers have been blowing night and day since the temperature dropped.

Canada Snowboard could consider sending athletes from other disciplines, such as freestyle and alpine, next season, said Fawcett.

“I’m really keeping my fingers crossed that this becomes an annual pilgrimage of sorts for high-performance teams in the early season,” he added.

“We feel Sima will have the earliest big jump line in North America ... That’s going to be a big attraction.”

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