Ski, snowboard groups react to loss of Sima

Heartbreak. Disappointment. Those two words basically sum up how downhill clubs are feeling following Wednesday's announcement that Mount Sima - Whitehorse's only ski and snowboard resort - will cease operations on July 2.

Heartbreak. Disappointment.

Those two words basically sum up how downhill clubs are feeling following Wednesday’s announcement that Mount Sima – Whitehorse’s only ski and snowboard resort – will cease operations on July 2.

The presidents of the Snowboard Yukon and the Yukon Freestyle Ski Association sounded a little dispirited when asked for their thoughts.

“It’s a heartbreaker because we’ve put so much time into the sport,” said Snowboard Yukon president Norm Curzon.

“Everything we’ve done on that hill has been for the benefit of our athletes and the benefit of the users. We worked with Sima to build facilities for the Arctic Winter Games, or for (the season ending celebrations) Simapalooza, or for (Snowboard Canada) Riders events. We’re helping Sima be a place people want to come to.

“For me, that’s where the heartbreak is: the amount of effort and energy put in something that has now been put to pasture.”

“It’s a very sad day. I didn’t think we’d see this,” said Lynda Harlow, president of the Yukon Freestyle Ski Association.

Sima might be history, but the two clubs are not. Both presidents vowed to keep the associations going.

Before the Yukon News could reach Harlow Wednesday evening, the association had already held a meeting to discuss the state of affairs.

“It’s very disappointing,” said Harlow. “We just had a meeting tonight and we definitely felt it’s very disappointing, but we talked about alternative plans.

“Sima shutting down is not going to stop us. We still do our training – our weight training, our trampoline. We still have our airbag (training apparatus) and we’ll find a place for that.

“We’re going to have to figure a few things out, but everybody is of the opinion that we want to continue with the club and make this work.

“We’re hoping for a solution, an alternative training facility.”

Curzon will keep youngsters on their boards, even if that means hiking up toboggan hills instead of taking a chairlift. That’s what he used to do 25 years ago in Whitehorse when he was taking up the sport.

“I walked uphill and snowboarded down. That was snowboarding for me,” he said. “If that’s what we need to do to continue developing kids … I’ll talk to Mount McIntyre and see if we can use the Telemark Hill.

“If kids are that committed to walk up those hills, I’ll be there to train them. I’ll do whatever it takes to try to keep it going.”

Snowboard Yukon, which has about 85 members and 10 certified coaches, wasn’t blindsided by Wednesday’s announcement. Board members have been discussing contingency plans for Sima’s closure since March.

“Our elite athletes will be able to continue to develop,” said Curzon. “We have a core group of athletes, who represented us at nationals, that we can still continue to work with. They can still benefit from doing our Whistler training camps and when we travel out to competitions in Alberta and B.C.

“Snowboard Yukon will still be functioning in that role.

“But the thing is, as these kids get older … they move to Whistler. If we don’t have Sima in place to bring in new athletes into the sport … we’re going to cease to exist.”

Both associations regularly send athletes to training camps and competitions outside of the territory.

And there are always the smaller ski hills in Dawson City and Watson Lake, both of which hosted CS Riders races (a nation-wide program for youngsters to learn how to race) this past season. As many as 20 boarders showed up for some of the Riders races.

“With the success of these programs, we’ve had interest from other places like Haines Junction,” said Curzon. “There’s no reason why we can’t start looking at other communities. ‘Hey, do you have a hill with snow on it?’

“I’m not saying we don’t need a ski hill, but we’ll make do with what we have.”

The timing of Sima’s closure is a bit of cruel irony. Both associations just had their best seasons in terms of results at the national level.

At this year’s Snow Crown – the Canadian snowboarding championships – Yukoners took in a top-20 and even a top-10 result.

Yukon’s Lara Bellon placed ninth in the junior women’s slopestyle event and Adam Waddington placed 20th in junior men.

Waddington was the first Yukoner ever to compete at the freestyle nationals in 2011, placing 21st in the halfpipe.

Just this past April Waddington and Max Melvin-McNutt, both of whom learned to snowboard at Sima, made the B.C. Provincial Freestyle Team.

Whitehorse’s Josh Harlow won the freestyle team its first-ever medal at the Canadian Junior Freestyle Ski Championships in March. A week earlier he placed third to win the team its first medal at a Canadian Shield Ski and Snowboard Tour event in North Vancouver.

At the B.C. Freestyle Ski Championships Yukon’s Lyndsey Boorse won gold and teammate Aiden Allen won silver in the slopestyle competition.

Boorse’s medal was the first gold won by a female on the Yukon team and Allen’s silver was the first medal won by a male.

“We have to continue on with the success we’ve had the last couple years with this club,” said Lynda. “We can’t put on the breaks, we just can’t.”

In addition to great results, the freestyle ski association purchased a $42,000 airbag to practice aerials with. Similar to those used by Hollywood stuntmen, the airbag, which is 15 by 15 metres wide and 3.5 metres tall when fully inflated, cushions the landing for skiers who launch off ramps. It was purchased last fall with about $17,000 from Lotteries Yukon and over $25,000 from the Yukon government’s Community Development Fund.

“People think Mount Sima owns the airbag … it’s the freestyle ski team’s airbag,” said Lynda. “We’re hoping to build a ramp … The kids are behind doing whatever it takes to keep this going.”

The Great Northern Ski Society, which oversees operations at Sima, announced its decision to dissolve and close the resort after Whitehorse City Council voted unanimously to reject the society’s request for a $620,000 bailout on Monday.

The society projected a shortfall of almost $270,000 for the year and owes $170,000 to local creditors, $192,221 to chairlift manufacturer Doppelmayr and over $70,000 to WildPlay, the adventure park franchise.

“Myself, and the members of our organizations, the board members, coaches, volunteers … we have a lot of people in the organization that have poured their heart and soul and a ton of free time into the on-snow activities, helping run Snowboard Yukon events,” said Curzon. “People going out to be coaches, to be trained as officials, (they showed) a huge commitment to this. It’s a big loss for them.

“To think of all they’ve done, and now it’s all for naught.”

Representatives from the Yukon Alpine Ski Association could not be reached for comment.

Contact Tom Patrick at

tomp@yukon-news.com

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