Every October, Mount Sima starts snow production and welcomes hundreds of athletes from all over Canada for pre-season training in November.
Whitehorse, Yukon, is the perfect location and climate to have early snow production to build the national-level freestyle park terrain and have runs open for athletes to practice ahead of the winter competition season.
Pre-season means training outside of the regular competition season for alpine sports. Because Mount Sima is located in the Yukon, winter arrives sooner than on most other mountains. This means they can make snow sooner and have better weather than most for training.
“Copper Mountain in the U.S. had always been where most alpine teams would go for training; and Austria for Park and Freestyle,” said Sam Oettli, operations manager at Mount Sima. “With the low Canadian dollar this is very expensive, and with climate change, they are no longer able to have training as early as us in November.
“Now teams come to us as the cost is better and they get to stay inside Canada with a more reliable product. It comes down to performance advantage. The earlier teams and athletes get on snow, the better they perform.”
Months of preparation are required to make Mount Sima a nationally renowned pre-season training venue. “For the entire month of September, my crew is clearing all the runs of willows and tall grass, and insuring the runs are ready for snow. This also included dirt work and drainage prep,” said Oettli. “During the summer, all the snowmaking equipment [nine fan guns, six air water sticks, 15 water sticks, three generators, air compressors, the water line and pumping station] are checked, repaired and tested so they are ready to go in October.”
October is when Sima starts making snow. “We are ready by the first of October, but really get going by the fifteenth, when cold arrives. Operations at this point are 24 hours and go until the end of November,” said Oettli during his brief free time for this interview. “Run-building and grooming of the man-made snow starts as soon as there has been enough made,” he explained. “First is the base of the mountain, bunny hill and Dan’s Descent. Then we move to Gold Rush, Terrain Park—and Hailey’s is last.”
Lift operators start work at the beginning of November, along with the Ski Patrol who set up all the signs, fencing and safety equipment, right after a run had been produced by the grooming team. This all crams into a six-week time frame of countless hours of work.
“I am always amazed by the skill and dedication of our crews as they push to make our deadlines,” said Oettli. “It truly is a Herculean task.”
Since its inception in 2015, pre-season training has seen strong, steady growth in the participants; from 13 teams and 181 athletes and coaches in 2015; to 19 teams and 257 participants in 2016; and 27 teams and 314 athletes and coaches in 2017.
“We have been very pleased with the growth of the pre-season training program at Mount Sima,” said Scott Casselman, president of Friends of Mount Sima. “Last year, the program resulted in 2,479-person days for the athletes and coaches in Whitehorse. That translates into hotels, airfares, restaurants, visits to the Canada Games Centre and local shopping venues. Not only does the preseason program bring revenue to Mount Sima, it also brings a significant economic opportunity to the Whitehorse business community.”
The Canadian Para-Snowboard National Team train at Mount Sima every year, and last year they had the Alyeska Alpine Ski Team from Anchorage, Alaska, as well as teams from Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and B.C. Nationally, Sima has hosted the Canada Snowboard National Team, the Canada Snowboard Alpine Development Team and the Canada Freestyle National Team.
“The feedback we have received from the teams has been great. Every year, the teams that have trained here have come back, and they have come back with greater numbers of athletes,” said Casselman. “The word is out that Mount Sima has great early-season training. In fact, last year we were contacted by Canadian snowboarder, Max Parrot, who was looking for a place to train because the hill he was supposed to train at did not have snow. He arranged his way up here and hired a snow machine to do “sled laps” on our Big Air jump, squeezing in training between our regularly scheduled teams. He went on to win a silver medal at the PyeongChang Olympics in South Korea.
“We are very proud that Mount Sima was able to play a role in his success.”
Each year, Mount Sima has grown its pre-season training (and the numbers illustrate this), but its impact on the rest of Whitehorse has also been positive. “The growth has been amazing. I hear in town, all the time, how much local businesses are excited to be a part of this program during a normally slow time of year,” said Oettli. “It has not only helped us get a bit closer to full sustainability, but [it] has introduced a new market to Whitehorse that was not there before.
“I knew that, if it worked, this would be great for Mount Sima and would open new doors for us—and it sure has. We now employ more people, for weeks longer than ever before. I never really realized how it would affect the towns economy having all these beds filled, meals cooked and recreation activities booked. It’s been truly a success.”For more information on Sima’s pre-season program, visit www.MountSima.com.