The Yukon is a wild and mountainous land that’s been drawing fortune hunters, adventurers and poets ever since Joe Skookum struck gold in the Klondike in 1896. Today, a new wave is answering the Yukon’s irresistible call of the wild. They’re young, competitive skiers and snowboarders, racers and freestylers alike. They’re coming to Mount Sima in pursuit of even more precious Olympic and Paralympic gold.
Mount Sima, Yukon
Always Looking, Thinking And Moving Ahead
Community ski areas can be found in every Canadian province and territory, from Whitehorse, Yukon to London, Ontario and from Prince Edward Island to Vancouver Island. Community Ski Areas shows you who created these areas, why and when they came into being and how they’re continuing to make skiing accessible, affordable and fun for everyone, from coast to coast to coast.
The Great Northern Ski Society
Mount Sima was founded by a band of local adventurers who called themselves The Great Northern Ski Society. After spending years exploring, trekking and skiing the mountains surrounding Whitehorse, they decided it was time they had a proper, lift-served ski hill.
This was no mean feat given Whitehorse’s then small population, its often inhumanly cold weather and snow that’s meagre at best. To help them in their quest, the Society hired a mechanical engineer named Don McLaughlin.
Photo and photo caption to come.
So Many Choices … So Little Room For Error
Together, they scoured the area for a suitable mountain and winnowed their selection down to four possible locations. What they all agreed on was that their number one criterion was convenience. Said Don, “That meant not more than 30 minutes away from town.”
A second key factor was size. “Some people wanted 2,000 feet of vertical and I said, ‘the worst thing you can do is create a monster that you can’t look after’.”
“Like most ski areas we’re constantly innovating and trying new things. CanWest has accredited us for being the leader in a lot of things. Things that other places weren’t doing, we were charging ahead with.”
– Sam Oettli, General Manager
And The Winner Is …
Eventually they settled on the smallest of the four peaks: Mount Sima. With his keen eye and engineering smarts, McLaughlin recognized Sima’s tremendous potential. With a little money and lots of hard work, it could accommodate a chairlift, a Bunny slope, a comfortable base area and a variety of beginner, intermediate and expert trails. It was also close to water and power, which were vital to snowmaking. The clincher was that it already had an access road and it was just 15 minutes from town.
Mount Sima officially opened on December 26, 1993 with one handle-tow lift, a Bunny slope and some trailers.
The Rise of Mount Sima
The following summer, the Society cut more trails and erected a second-hand, double chairlift from Alaska. Says General Manager, Sam Oettli, “We subsequently replaced it in 2011 with a fixed-grip quad with a loading carpet, so we can run it faster. Our vertical is 318 metres, or about 1,043 vertical feet. We have really good, varied terrain.”
By 2007, Mount Sima opened two FIS homologated runs and then hosted the Canada Winter Games. Says Sam, “Over 6,000 people came. It transformed Whitehorse forever. We ended up with the Canada Games Centre, which is our huge, multi-rec purpose building and a whole lot of other things. It really put us on the map.”
Passing The Torch
In 2012, the Great Northern Skiing Society collapsed under mounting financial pressure. Says Sam, “They just couldn’t sustain the facility any more.” Like a mighty phoenix, the Friends of Mount Sima Society rose up from the ashes. “They took control of the reins,” says Sam. “I was there. The bones were good. They just needed to approach things differently. It’s been pretty great here ever since.”
Today, Sam explains, “We’re a co-operative ski area run by a not-for-profit society. We lease the land off the City of Whitehorse.” The municipality kicks in about $9,000 of the area’s $2.2 million annual budget. The balance comes from fundraising, sponsorships and selling Mount Sima’s various product offerings.
Mount Sima Today
The hill works closely with First Nations groups from across the Yukon. Many come to ski or snowboard and stay here every weekend. Local families love the family passes that allow both parents to share one pass. Meanwhile local businesses are quick to snap up corporate passes that they use to attract employees.
Mount Sima’s cold temperatures and advanced snowmaking mean skiers can expect perfect mid-winter conditions in early November. Which is why racing teams from British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec regularly come here for their early season training.
Mount Sima also boasts an incredible array of terrain parks. And its Big Air jump is the first on the continent to open. By early December, Mount Sima is a favourite stomping ground for ranked slopestyle skiers and snowboarders.
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Mount Sima Tomorrow
Once again, Whitehorse is growing. Decades ago, Don McLaughlin estimated that Mount Sima would have to revise its operating plans should the local population exceed 40,000. (It’s now almost 42,000 and the hill averages about 27,000 skier visits annually.)
As always, the Friends of Mount Sima Society is looking ahead. Says Sam, “We just finished a seven-year-long project to electrify our entire snowmaking system, which was running on diesel. That’s a huge amount of greenhouse gasses that we’re no longer emitting. It’s also made our operation much more efficient.” Instead of moving heavy generators and diesel tanks around, crews just plug into a pedestal!
And Now For The Real Dirt!
Years ago, Mount Sima started making its terrain park features out of dirt. Now, with the help of Canada Snowboard, they’ve built North America’s first banked slalom course entirely out of dirt. Says Sam, “when you build things out of dirt, you can’t change it. But it worked out really nice. It’s a paralympics-specific sport and a lot of people just love banked slalom. So we’re hoping that, for next year, it’ll be an event here. We’re always trying to do the next thing, and we always try to do things right.”
If you have any photos, videos or anecdotes that you’d like us to add to this story or if you have a story about any other ski area is your province or territory that you’d like us to add to this collection, please contact: [email protected]