Evyn Dinn at Mount Sima. PHOTO: Action North Productions

The Yukon’s Freestyle Ski History

Back in 2013, it was hard to believe that Mount Sima had much of a future.
“The Mountain was bankrupt,” said Tyler Nichol, the Mount Sima Terrain Park creator and builder. “I thought I was going to have to move away. But the community got together and through meetings and lots of hard work, we saved it.”

The rocky past since Mount Sima hosted the 2007 Canada Winter Games has seen the hill open only for three days in 2008 due to lack of funds and in 2010 there was an electric failure and a major lift rescue was undertaken, when it stalled on opening day and stranded skiers were evacuated off the lift using rope.
However, today, Mount Sima has one of the most reputable standings in Canada for its ski hill and park capabilities according to Patrick Breault, competition manager for Freestyle Canada.

“Yukon has created a great strategy utilising the climate. By far, they have built the best venue in the country. Sima has an amazing park builder and we will see a large number of great Yukon skiers as a result.”

How did it change? In addition to the many involved over the years, two key people were Nichol and Lynda Harlow, president of Yukon Freestyle Ski Association.
Nichol, originally from Dawson City, has been building parks since he was a kid on the Dawson hills. From gold miner to nationally-renowned park creator in Canada, Sima wouldn’t have the reputation without his skillset.

After his park building experience during the 2007 Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse, Nichol was invited to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver to work on their parks for the competition. From there his reputation exploded and he was offered the park manager job at Mount Seymour in North Vancouver. He now runs his own park building company Transition Industries and has created and designed Mount Sima’s park since 2013.

According to Nichol, many international athletes utilise the park as they get quality pre-season training in November.
“It’s an easy flight, close to town, accommodations, nearby is a great post training venue like the Canada Games Centre, plus we can make early snow,” Nichol said.
In 2014, Jess Kimura, pro snowboard athlete from Vernon, B.C. came to experience Mount Sima.
“The park at Sima is next level, especially for somewhere that isn’t a major corporate resort,” Kimura said. “It definitely stands up there with the best. Tyler is an amazing builder with a real eye for transition and properly built features.”Nichol’s experiences Outside are a key part of attracting visitors like Kimura. She had a couple of private days riding in the park and then rode with the public, particularly the younger skiers, when it opened.

“I asked if Jess wanted to come up, as she had a huge following,” Nichol said. “It was great to have her here and have the kids involved. Especially inspiring the younger girls to encourage them into the park. After that we got lots of phone calls about pre-season training from everywhere.”
Not only was the creation of the park key, but also having athletes, local coaches and continuing to add to the the park have been important.
Harlow became involved with Yukon Freestyle Ski Association and has been part of this development. She has two boys Josh (now 21) and Steven (now 24) who were involved in freestyle skiing.
“Josh went down in 2011 to Momentum freestyle ski camp in Whistler and when he came back, he was hooked,” Harlow said. “I didn’t even know there was a freestyle club here!”

The Yukon Freestyle Ski Association (YFSA) was founded in 2006 in preparation for the 2007 Canada Winter Games.
“Year after year, it’s just gotten bigger, especially since the Olympics” Harlow said. “In 2012 we received funding to purchase an Ample Air Bag and shortly thereafter started seeing podium finishes.
“In 2016, we also built a dry slope, which was a multi-year project completed in 2016. This provides the opportunity for year-round training for the athletes.”
Although her kids have long left the sport, she continues to be the driving force through organising athletes, coaches, and competitions for Yukon athletes and the Yukon through her work as president of the YFSA.
“We are looking to the future by developing coaching for the future by providing opportunities for those older athletes interested in coaching and supporting them in the certification process,” Harlow said.
“Its one of those sports where the comradery among all ages is amazing. The dynamics between athletes transcends age gaps.
“I’ve been involved in many sports from figure skating, hockey, soccer, but this sport is truly incredible for athletes. They compete individually, but train and work together as a team.”

What is Freestyle Skiing?
Freestyle skiing made its Olympic debut as a demonstration sport in Calgary in 1988. As the sport has evolved over the years, there are now two main events: Big Air and Slopestyle.
“Skiing is something Canada has dominated for over a decade in competition like the Olympics,” said Breault.
“In Canada, freestyle skiing isn’t as mainstream as other places in the world… freestyle is expressive and it’s still progressing and as younger generations come through, it continues to evolve – almost yearly it changes.”

Big Air sounds exactly as it is, competitors take two or three runs over a single jump performing their best tricks while ensuring a smooth landing. It may sounds easy to land one jump, but try turning multiple times or back flipping off a jump 55 feet high, sometimes landing backwards.
Slopestyle is one of the most accessible snow sports, as most ski resorts have a terrain park. The course can encompass jumps, pipes, rails and is up to the park creator’s imagination and the athlete’s creativity.
The sport has experienced massive growth worldwide. Since establishing the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association in 1995, the sport has grown to more than 50 freestyle ski clubs across the country. Since its debut as a demonstration sport at the Calgary Olympics in 1988, it an official sport at the Lillehammer Olympics in 1992.
“It’s the most exciting sport you could ever watch,” Harlow said. “Watching the kids do what they do. It’s a sport that allows them to be creative with slopestyle.”

Ample Air Bag at Mount Sima, Whitehorse, Yukon. PHOTO: Isaac Pumphrey

Canada Cup 2017
The Canada Cup started in 2014 and it is Yukon Freestyle Ski Association’s second time hosting the event at Mount Sima. It is the first event on the Canadian freestyle skiing tour calendar and brings in 70 to 90 athletes ranging from 15 to 20 years old. Most athletes belong to a provincial team; they are one tier below National level.
The Canada Cup and tour has been a welcome addition for Canadian athletes.
“Being a young sport, 10 years ago athletes in Canada had to travel to the States to bigger resorts,” Breault said. “Now athletes don’t have to go to the States, they can do it in Canada.”

Mount Sima’s park expands freestyle skiers’ opportunities to train.
“Mount Sima opened up a new training window for athletes,” Breault said. “They have really taken advantage of the climate; it’s like a training venue in February in Ontario, but instead it’s November. Normally we have to wait until January to host an event.

This year the Yukon will have three athletes competing in the events, all hoping to medal in the sport. Young Canadian athletes will descend upon Whitehorse and, as Patrick Breault said, “What I like about the Yukon is they support the event, which isn’t always the case. There is a big hospitality culture up there and the community really gets behind the event.”
The Yukon Freestyle Ski Association hosts the Canadian Cup November 23 to 26 at Mount Sima. For more information, email the YFSA at [email protected].