In the current debate raging in Whitehorse Council Chambers about support for the Mount Sima ski facility, one thing seems to have been overlooked.
The city’s brand.

I’m not talking about the logo but about the brand signature:
“Whitehorse — the wilderness city”

A brand signature is really a succinct version of the brand’s promise, and a brand promise is that special something of value that you get from the brand. The City of Whitehorse brand promise is about authentic wilderness — summer and winter wilderness! What we get out of “the brand” is that Whitehorse puts us in touch with wilderness, we can actually do things in it, not just have a Disney-fied drive-by experience.

That brand promise is why councilors like Dave Stockdale and Betty Irwin really do want to support Sima. They’re believers, long-time citizens, folks that know and love the place not just during tourist season, but year-round. They appreciate that the wilderness is something to be experienced, so they’re all for supporting initiatives that reflect the city’s brand.

After all, our brand promise is not:
“Whitehorse — the stay indoors city” or
“Whitehorse — the drive-around-and-look-at-wilderness city” or
“Whitehorse — the wilderness city for half the year”

When Dave was quoted on CBC radio saying "No one has walked up to me on the street and said ‘Support Mount Sima,’ " it may have sounded like he was negative about Sima. But we think he was actually pleading for support. He really does want to hear from all those of us who believe in the brand too.

If you’ve ever had your winter refreshed by a day on Sima, or said to your companion as you’re going up the lift “isn’t this an unbelievable place!” or sent up a prayer of thanksgiving when your teenage kids came home as human beings again after a day on the hill, please show Dave and Betty that you support their efforts to live up to the city’s brand promise. Call or email the numbers below:

Other Mayor and Council contacts and info

At aasman we sure enjoyed Mount Sima during our 2012 Spring Ski Day:



by margriet aasman

Dave, as our representative on council, I really want to believe that you understand the city’s brand and that you really want to hear from us… “Support Mount Sima!!!!”


by Eleanor

I don’t go there that often, but I do really like that other people can!


by Geof Harries

Thanks for writing this post, Al.

Here’s what I just wrote to Dave and Betty via email:

“As a snowboarder of 26 years and a father of three with a six-year old who snowboards, I’m writing to ask you to PLEASE support Mount Sima and give them the adequate funding they need to keep going.

I’ve ridden at Mount Sima since 1998 and have seen, first-hand, all of the improvements and upgrades that money has provided to Sima. From the halfpipe to the chair lift and the chalet to the snow-making, Mount Sima is a completely different (and much better) place than it was just ten years ago. I can’t imagine not having Mount Sima exist and be so close to Whitehorse in order for our family, and others, to enjoy it. We may not be a sample for all of Whitehorse, but what community services and centres ever really support the interests of the majority of the population? I’d say very few, if any.

The one year that Mount Sima was closed (2008/09) I had to resort to riding my snowboard at the toboggan hill in Granger. That really sucked, truth be told. That sort of terrain was fine when I was a kid, but as an adult with a small child learning to ride, nothing makes the snowboarding experience more enjoyable than riding at a real resort, with real terrain and real services, just like Mount Sima provides right now.

Keep Mount Sima open! Please, I beg of you.”


by Scott

Al.  It would seem your thought process is quite warped on this issue.  SIMA has requested $800k to remain operational.  This for a hill that has managed to eat over $20 million since 1993.  A hill that has never come close to break-even.  A hill that less than 1200 individual patrons visit each year. A hill that is too expensive for the vast majority to visit.  A hill that requires an expensive visit to Hougen Sport Life of Hougen Board Stiff that the majority cannot afford. A hill that is a luxury and should have had all Capital expenses paid 5 times over by now withh money left over for O&M.  Nothing about SIMA is justified, and as for Wilderness City, when was the last time wilderness included clear cutting a hillside, creating fake smow and running a giant metal ski lift up the side?


by Fish

lets see some financials… why do we have to raise property taxes on thousands of people to support something a minority of people use.  i havent been to sima in years… its boring, its short, its often plagued by problems with the chair lift and cold-weather days, short hours… the list goes on.  this is just a money-grab by people who are already so rich they cant bear the thought of committing any of their only riches.  shame on the hougen family… theyve really turned the downtown core into an ugly little place over the years and now they want to ruin mount sima


by Eleanor

It’s a good desicussion with many facets. What is that money really resulting in is a key one. Is it just more money spent on gear on main street? or is it a lifetime of passion that starts with kids at the hill. Perhaps learning to downhill ski before you backcountry ski is valuable, being competative with other national or international skiiers, and yes, hosting events that use the skihill might help keep whitehorse on the map and tied to the wilderness, as one might imagine a wilderness city. hmmm, what else? good or bad? Can we make it a coop?


by James

I cannot stand behind the support of Mount Sima in its current state.

The hill has been mismanaged and mishandled for years.  Why should taxpayers once again have to bail out the ski hill at the cost of other city needs that serve the majority of the population not just a small percentage of it.

I do like Mount Sima and do use it frequently because there is nowhere else to go, that does not mean that I will blindly support the hill and the poor choices and backward thinking they so often have.

If Mount Sima is looking for a way to cut losses then cut expenses.  I am sure there are luxuries that as a small hill in winter or summer operations they could do without.  For example the zipline and Monkido projects.  If you want to make money at something like that you can’t do so with minimal advertising and the hopes that 70 year old tourists are all of a sudden going to decide to take up extreme sports.  The best idea I have seen come out of there in years was allowing Mountain Biking on the hill.  they ran the bike park with less staff to run it than they have managers walking around at the hill, and run it when the lift was already scheduled to run; GOOD IDEA, too bad it wasn’t theirs and too bad it took them so long to do it. Did it make them money, probably not, but it was a step in the right direction and gives them something they can build on.

I would like to see Mount Sima start thinking of other less extravagant ways to make money, how about a summer camp program.  You have nothing but space and now you have an adventure park, a bike park, ziplines and a vast amount of real estate, use it and stop waiting for others to do it for you.  All of those children and youth attending camps not only bring in money but you are creating future customers for those attractions.

I would like to see Sima and the GNSS step up to the plate and take some responsibility before anything is decided.  Other options and ideas need to be presented and long term planning from someone who knows what they’re doing. You would think Sima would learn from their mistakes but the only thing they seem to have learned is that when you get in trouble someone will bail you out.


by Al

Ok, comments…let’s see, we’ve got passion, entreaty, cynicism, fiscal affrontery, indignation, some unresolved personally-focused anger issues — looks like we got us an issue!
Let’s, just for argument’s sake, take this to a higher plane. As difficult as it is, leave the money aside for now, forget there’s a Hougen involved, let’s say Sima is not boring and ask ourselves the essential question: does my Whitehorse have a ski hill in it?
I believe it does; I believe it would be a reflection of our brand values and I would love to hear a city councillor say so. Maybe then we can start looking at the other stuff.
What do you say, is there a ski hill in your Whitehorse?


by Linn

I struggle with the argument that Sima closing equates to everyone staying indoors for the winter.  Sima is a minute part of a much vaster winter infrastructure.  The closure of the hill (or even the closure of the hill as we know it), does not mean the end of winter opportunities.  It means different opportunities.


by Al

Of course you’re right Linn — it doesn’t mean everyone staying indoors. But for many of those who are passionate downhill skiers or boarders, it may as well. It would be the end of winter opportunities. Ask Geof, above. Of course, if you’re not in that demographic, the hill is meaningless. But ask a x-country skier what she’d feel if the trails in Whitehorse were closed. It would be the end of their winter opportunities. Ask a snowmobiler what shutting down his access would signify. Ditto. Politics always comes down to the personal and for me it’s this: when it opened, Mount Sima also opened my teen-age children’s eyes to winter activity opportunities in Whitehorse. It made Whitehorse not just bearable, but desireable, summer or winter. It provided a huge boost for healthy outdoor activities for youth. I know many other beleaguered parents who felt the same and I believe it still provides that benefit for thousands of citizens today.


by Scott

Al.  Money cannot be removed from the discussion since GNSS has made it the heart of their arguement.  You are attempting to boil this discussion down to a simplistic level that was left behind years ago when GNSS saw fit to request year-over-year Capital Funding in the multi-millions of dollars.  Does such a large and disproportionate amount of spending on one piece of infrastructure not worry you?  It should, and I suggest it would if it were for something like a city marina/yacht club.

This is a user pay endeavor, like the golf club.  There I pay $800 for the privilege of utilizing the course.  maybe that is what GNSS should be charging.


by Geof Harries

You don’t run a small town ski resort to get rich. In fact, you (likely quite unintentionally) do so to be poor and in a constant state of extreme stress and worry.

Thus, it’s my belief that anyone arguing the Hougens are attempting to keep Sima open because it benefits their various businesses is sadly misinformed. Sima barely makes any money (as we all know) and the number of boards & skis sold by Hougens’ shops doesn’t add up to much. The majority of the money in sporting good stores comes from clothing and fashion, very little of which even touches Sima’s slopes. There’s also very poor margins in gear and equipment. The stores’ money is generated, again, is in what you wear, not what you ride.

Something else: I’ve worked at four different small town resorts, just like Sima, since I was a teenager, in positions at the rental shop, teaching lessons, building parks, ski patrol and driving snow cats. All of these resorts were constantly in a state of near-bankruptcy and shutting down. Insurance costs a fortune, is always increasing and you’re daily worried that the next on-slope accident will result in a lawsuit that will close your doors.

Ever wonder why so many resorts sell to Intrawest, RCI and other big resort corporations? Because when they do, they tap into a sea of lawyers, systems and administrators who will take these burdens off their shoulders and just let them run the resort as they always hoped they could, as long as you play by the corporations’ rules. Less freedom, but hey, you get to keep your job.

Could Sima be better managed? Sure, any business can be streamlined and improved, but I truly believe it’s not for a lack of good will and intentions that GNSS is failing and Sima needs the government’s help.


by Al

Hey Scott, the reason money needs to be set aside for a moment, is that it gets in the way of the essential question and, indeed, becomes the only question.
Sure, we’ve made a remarkable investment over the years in Sima, but now what?
Do we want to benefit from our appreciable investment?
Or kiss it goodbye?
The essential question remains, do we want a ski hill in Whitehorse?
I’m not alone in believing that Whitehorse needs the facility, and I’d love to hear our politicians say the same. Then maybe we can talk about user fees, restructuring and how we’re going to make it all happen.


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