Yukon News

Mount Sima needs a mountain of cash

Josh Kerr Wednesday April 25, 2012

Ian Stewart/Yukon News


Chairs are stacked while the lift is serviced at Mt. Sima on Tuesday. City council agreed to give another $1.3 million to the non-profit organization.

Mount Sima needs more money.

City council agreed Monday to give the Great Northern Ski Society, the non-profit group that runs the Whitehorse ski hill, $1.3 million.

That’s in addition to the $1.6 million the city provided last June for the new chairlift.

The new infusion of money is needed because the ski hill is more than a $1 million in the red.

“The deficit is mainly attributable to down time on the lift two seasons ago, which caused a fairly large operating loss in that year,” said Robert Fendrick, the city’s director of administrative services.

But Mount Sima had been bleeding money for years.

“Because it was exclusively winter operations before, there was always a deficit year-to-year,” said Fendrick.

Last year Mount Sima got a new chairlift, paid for in part by the city, and also received $1.5 million from the federal government to build a summer adventure park.

Part of the money the city is giving to Mount Sima this time will be used to cover the operating costs associated with the new lift and the adventure park.

“Funding that was predicted, that was going to be raised for the lift, didn’t materialize,” said Fendrick.

The president of the Great Northern Ski Society, Craig Hougen, wouldn’t say exactly what had happened to create the shortfall.

But he did say this will be the society’s last request.

With year-round operations starting this summer, the society expects to break even within three years.

“In fact it will do a little better than break even if we do everything well,” said Hougen.

But not everyone is so sure.

“My biggest concern is that this isn’t the last of the society’s financial troubles and the city will be entertaining more requests for bail outs in the future,” said Coun. Betty Irwin, who was the only one to vote against the funding request.

“I do find it a little bit ironic that on the same night council will vote to approve a $1.3-million contribution to a barely functioning, non-profit, recreational organization that we’re being asked to proclaim hunger awareness week,” she said.

“I wish I could be convinced that being aware of hunger for a week would be an equal investment in the future and the quality of life in Whitehorse.”

Although Irwin was the only one to vote against the funding request, she wasn’t the only one with reservations.

“Three years from now, I believe we’ll be asked for another half a million in funding,” said Coun. Dave Stockdale. “So I will support this, but I will be holding my nose as I do it.”

The city is really caught between a rock and a hard place, said Coun. Dave Austin.

“There are some truths in there,” he said, referring to points raised by Irwin. “But I guess the real truth for me is that if we don’t support Mount Sima, we’re going to own it, and we’re going to have to either operate it or bury it.”

In 1993 the city granted the Great Northern Ski Society a 40-year lease on Mount Sima, so if it goes belly-up the city will ultimately be left holding the bag.

Austin urged the other councillors not to give up on the ski hill too quickly.

“To me, it’s a great asset to the community,” he said.

In addition to the money, Whitehorse is also looking at other ways to make Mount Sima more financially viable.

Recently the city approached the Yukon government about transferring land to the municipality that could then be developed by the ski society. It’s an idea the territory has signalled it was willing to entertain.

“We think this is a solution to make this hill sustainable and not just put Band-Aids on it,” said Coun. Ranj Pillai. “When you look at these operations, golf courses and ski hills, usually recreational assets such as this, in Canada, do not stand alone unless they have land development connected to them.”

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Yukonadam wrote:
3:13am Tuesday May 1, 2012

Unbelievable that 1.3 MILLION dollars can be given away like this, without further discussion with Whitehorse residents!  And….councillor Stockdale agrees with it and admits that they will be looking for more in 3 years. Well, lets hope Stockdale is NOT there in 3 years. This is not right !

Yukon Ann wrote:
4:58am Friday April 27, 2012

This kind of money should have been set to help the poor and homeless. This should have been put to public input. Count on my vote to get this administration out for good

RALPH wrote:
3:20pm Thursday April 26, 2012

BRUTAL!!you cannot invest in one form of leisure activity,without assesing the other forms,that contribute to making Whitehorse a healthy community.the real problem is that we are spoiled when it comes to options,to entertain us.All this council did was set a president that cannot be afforded. i think that if these groups cannot make it on their own,then let it go.

Infromthecold wrote:
1:04am Thursday April 26, 2012

Perhaps this issue should go to the vote of residents of this city.  Is Mt. Sima a Whitehorse asset or is it a Yukon asset.  Regardless, it has a board of directors, well paid I am sure, so it should be able to support its self.  second time in a year it has its hands out.  I say slap their hands.

bangforurbuck wrote:
11:21pm Wednesday April 25, 2012

Brutal. Give the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club this much money and they would contribute a 1000 fold in comparison, to improving the health of this community! Pillai; Mark my words, these types of expenditures are not assets they are liabilities in the long run. We simply don’t have the population base to maintain this resource intense sport in the Yukon. We’re in Whitehorse not Whistler! smile

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