News

Not so sunny times at Sunshine Village

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To all skiers and snowboarders, the allure of a slope blanketed in fresh powder cannot be denied, sometimes even when those first tracks and blissful turns lay just beyond the ski area boundaries. At the popular Banff ski area Sunshine Village, a number of veteran patrollers were abruptly dismissed soon after they caught the owner's son ducking into a closed-off area in December.

Labour and employment lawyer Andrew Robertson took up the patroller's case. A wrongful dismissal suit was filed through the Calgary Court of Queen's Bench.

"On or about December 17, 2010, the Defendant Taylor Scurfield attended the Sunshine Village Ski Area," states a document filed by the patrollers. "While skiing in the Ski Area [they] proceeded to duck under a well-marked closure rope to the left of Boundary Bowl and entered into a closed area."

The patrollers who arrived at the scene confiscated Taylor Scurfield's passes. Scurfield is the son of Sunshine Village owner Ralph Scurfield.

The patrollers claim the situation became hostile.

"Suddenly and without warning the Defendant, Taylor Scurfield, began to act aggressively and threaten the ski patrolmen," explains the statement made by the patrollers.

Amongst other things, the patroller's statement claims Scurfield said he "had the right" to ski wherever he liked because of his family connections and that he would leave "when he was good and ready to, so on his time."

Sunshine Village associate director of communications Doug Firby said the patrollers acted with too much haste.

"The typical response would have been what we call an 'educational discussion,' elaborated Firby. "Making the skiers or snowboarders aware of the policies around closures and why they're in effect."

Sunshine Village said the patrollers violated Sunshine policies by confiscating Scurfield's VIP guest passes without justification.

Firby also pointed out what Sunshine saw as an "extremely aggressive" response to the situation on the part of the patrollers.

"While being confined in the Infirmary, [Taylor Scurfield and his friends] were subjected to further abusive and intimidating conduct," states the Sunshine Village defence.

None of the allegations from either party have been proven in court.

Several days later a number of veteran staff involved in the incident were dismissed, including long-time risk manager Chris Chevalier. Sunshine Village insisted the incidents are unrelated.

"The incident involving the son of the owner, the son of Ralph Scurfield, was not the cause of the four dismissals," said Firby.

Firby referred to a long list of alleged breaches of contract by the patrollers outlined in the Sunshine Village statement of defence.

A Facebook page to rally support for the patrollers had over 8,000 fans at press time. Supporters have organized a website to share the patrollers' story and garner support for the legal battle by selling T-shirts.

"I support the fired staff's decision to take legal action. They have to stand up for themselves and their wellbeing," said Drew Wittstock, a Golden, B.C. resident and ski pro.

"A patroller should always have the authority to make judgment calls regarding avalanche safety. That is not the job of the resort administration," said U of C ski club president Dylan Heerema.

Sunshine Village hopes the matter is resolved soon.

"We feel the campaign of misinformation that is being carried out, primarily in the social media, is actually harming our reputation," said Firby.

Sunshine Village took steps to address safety concerns raised after the dismissals.

"Ski patrollers are the most important part of any ski area," said Wittstock. "They are the only reason there is any safety at a resort, without them, there would be no first aid at all."

This importance is also echoed by the Sunshine Village administration.

"The resort could not operate on a daily basis without a full complement of ski patrollers," said Firby. "[There are] minimum numbers of rescue staff who must be on duty when our lifts are in operation. We fully comply with those guidelines."

Despite the resort's compliance with regulations, members of the ski community were still wary over Sunshine's safety.

"In the first couple weeks after the dismissals went down, I would have been hesitant to ski any of the avalanche prone slopes at Sunshine," said Heerema.

To remedy the safety concerns and fill holes in their patrol staff, Sunshine Village turned to a familiar face.

"It's important to note that we still have some very experienced staff on duty," said Firby. "Our new mountain operations manager Al Matheson is also highly experienced. He first joined Sunshine Village in 1987 and has worked at several ski resorts around the world since, as well as at Parks Canada in a safety role."

Correction: The original version of this story stated that patrollers were selling T-shirts, not their supporters.

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Comments

\"We feel the campaign of misinformation that is being carried out, primarily in the social media, is actually harming our reputation,\" said Firby\"
Maybe the fact that your fired four employees right after this incident and the fact that the owners son posed a threat to their lives (had they had to go in closed terrian to perform a rescue) is still riding the moutain with no consequenses, is harming your reputaion....just a thought

The U of C, & it\'s ski/snowboard clubs need to disassociate themselves from SSV.

\"We feel the campaign of misinformation that is being carried out, primarily in the social media, is actually harming our reputation,\" said Firby.

News Flash Doug. Whether it is misinformation or not(And more than likely not). There are enough of us out there in the real world that know all to well what the real story is in the head office at the hill. So if you have not noticed, that is the whole point behind this social site. Destroy all the credibility that your hill may have once had.

Before everyone continues to regurtitate 2 months of what the ski patrols have said, maybe someone (skiclub, a reporter, etc) can go to the court in calgary and view the public documents, my feeling is that there is more to the story which will be outlined in those documents. Also funny how all the die hard ski people (employees) assume they know the full story. We all know there is a mountain culture and these people heard from a friend or a friend of a friend what REALLY happened. Well the truth will be in that courthouse so go find out. Until then quit chirping!!

As former staff having worked with most involved can say it\'s a croc. Never had the \"pleasure\" of meeting little scurfield but on more than one occasion had his sister telling me \"do you know who I am\" while she attempted to access lifts not open to public. Seriously, unbelievable to hear it is still happening and has progressed to this. Sad to say I won\'t go back up there unless I\'m being paid by someone else.

the fact that the kid did duck under a rope is indeniable however the only danger we was in was perhaps destroying his skiis on rocks as the snowpack was very low at the time. it was NOT an avalanche closure! it was closed only due to marginal conditions. the patrol did act like power drunk zealots.

If Taylor Scurfield hadn\'t made a stupid choice by going into a closed run (not out of bounds or an avalanche area) ((Ski patrol didn\'t follow them into the closed run. When he stopped them, they removed their skis and climbed back up to the patroller.)) then the public would see the real problem here.

Senior staff and managers were stealing from the company and clients, drinking while on duty and while operating machinery, endangering the public, and demanding and then pocketing cash from clients and guests. Over $12,000 was discovered in their \"Patrollers Benevolent Fund\" which was made up of selling booze, charging guests for medical supplies, and teaching avi certification courses for cash, while they were supposed to be working for the hill!?!

Copies of the Statements of Defense can be found here:
http://ramzee.net/Files/SSVDefence.pdf
http://ramzee.net/Files/TTSDefence.pdf

Of course, even though the Support Ski Patrol group has lambasted Sunshine for not commenting before this, the terminated employees are glorified because their own legal council has advised them not to comment publicly.

Chris MacRae...

Please point out to me where in any of the court documents it has been stated that any of the staff were drinking on duty or drinking while operating machinery.

Are you spreading mis-information too?

\"We feel the campaign of misinformation that is being carried out, primarily in the social media, is actually harming our reputation,\" said Firby.

Come on Doug, you make it sound as if there\'s an orchestrated campain. Is that what you think? Do you think there is a little office out there with a team of workers dreaming up the next slur?

No, the court of public opinion is based on what has been made available publicly in the media and from the courts.

SSV Corporation could have prevented a lot of this \"mis-information\" had they have had a decent social-media plan in place.

WTF \"Fred Smith\"? Wouldn\'t workers interested in safety and fairness prefer to prevent \"mis-information\" by avoiding potentially dangerous incidents at SSV in the first place, rather than to debate SSV executives in public forums?

What are your true motives here?

Chris has been very vocal across many forums representing SSV\'s side of the argument.

Up until now he has tried to inform people that there may more than meets the eye and to wait until both sides of the story are heard.

I may not be on the same side as him but have respected where he is coming from.

However, now he is starting to add details to the story that have not been included in the statement of defense.

No-where does it state that any of the four workers were under the influence of alcohol while on duty.

No where does it state that any of the workers operated any vehicles or machinery while under the influence of alcohol.

It alleges they were not helpful when it came to emptying the fridge in the trail crew room.

It alleges they allowed drinking in company vehicles... This could have been passengers, this could have been while the vehicle was parked (i.e. tail-gate).

If a safety worker had been drinking on the job he would have been fired on the spot, not days or weeks later.

Mr. MacRae would do well to follow his own advice and stick to the facts as reported in the documents submitted to court.

Come on Fred Smith,

The Mountain Op\'s use of alcohol on duty, and their crying foul over the loss of \"Mountain Culture\" on their beer cooler door is in the statement of defense. It has also been outlined in other articles, including Adventure Journal.

But keep waving the Taylor flag wildly... Its the only way the plaintiffs will be able to win their case.

Quoted from the statement of defense:

\"b) undermining and resisting efforts by senior management to remove alcohol from the workplace, including consumption of alcohol in Sunshine vehicles, and thereby creating safety and regulatory risks for Sunshine;
c) challenging Sunshine\'s decision and efforts to remove alcohol from the workplace by allowing the display of the following sign on the fridge in the trail crew locker room: \"20 years tradition gone WTF\";\"

...

Whether Chris Chevalier and the other managers/supervisors were partaking or not, it is their departments and it is their job to follow company directives. If that means that there is a duty-of-care policy that is to be followed by all staff (patrol, trail crew...) then it is their responsibility to do so. If they disagree with a policy, then it is their right to question and debate it with their own supervisors, but they are obliged to follow corporate directives, or they can find other employment.

Either way, it is illegal in Alberta to have any open alcohol in the vehicle. And, the corporate liability is not the same as the criminal limits on the road.

If a safety worker had been drinking on the job, he SHOULD have been fired on the spot. And if that employee\'s supervisor or manager was aware of that worker drinking on the job, and condoned it (either actively or passively) then the supervisor or manager should be fired!!!

Fred, you can\'t have it both ways. You cannot claim that these four were terminated immediately leaving Sunshine to operate in an unsafe capacity, and then turn around to claim that, since they were not fired immediately that Sunshine is falsifying the entire situation.

Up until the statement of defense, Sunshine has said precious little about their reasons and cause. On the other hand, the \"Support Ski Patrol\" camp has earnestly spread the four\'s accusations against Sunshine as gospel fact... Without fact or proof...

I for one cannot wait for discovery, when Sunshine will release their evidence to back up their position.

No where in the Statement of Defense does it claim \"On Duty\". That is all i\'m saying.

There may have been alcohol in the workplace that was consumed off duty, but that is not in the statement either.

You are assuming \"At the workplace\" means \"on duty\".

The statement does not allege drunk driving either... it alleges drinking in company vehicles. Could it be possible this was off duty sat in the back of the truck in the parking lot, tail-gate style?? Who knows, this is not in the Statement either.

I am only following YOUR advice and going by what is included in the statement of defense.

It doesn\'t matter whether you are on duty or off duty. If you are operating a company vehicle, on private or public roads, or off roads, then you are representing the company and you have to abide by their policies.

When I am driving in a company vehicle, with my company\'s name on it, I am a public representation of that company whether I\'m on the job or not.

Just because the \"legal limit\" is .08, that doesn\'t mean that Sunshine\'s own company policy is superseded.

In addition, I\'m fairly certain that a company\'s business and/or operations licence would be at stake if an employee is caught with any amount of alcohol in their system.

Once again.... The statement alleges that there was consumption of alcohol in company vehicles.

It does not state they were being operated at the time.

It does not state that any one was operating a vehicle under the influence.

You have assumed this to be the case.

Is it not possible that some employees were sitting in the back (tailgate party style) having a drink? Vehicle parked and later driven by a non-drinking individual?

We do not know just yet.

Chris - I am confused...where did you get the figure of $12,000 from that was allegedly in this fund? I can\'t recall seeing it in the defence documents...

Well well well....................it has taken over twenty years for SSV management to come to their senses and fire that group led by the out of control Chevy. I watched this with great delight and soon will be back to ski there now that he has gone along with his corrupt crew. If the media wish to get a real look at their values and traits open the the door to the \"Beaver Den\" , an illegally built club house under the top of the lift on Divide!
Down with Chevy!!!

Rob - are you saying that the owners of Sunshine built (or allowed to be built) an illegal structure in the National Park?