Snow-Cat Tours to Rock Isle Lake

Update: April 27, 2011 – BC Parks states that a permit has not been issued for this type of activity.

Sunshine Village is again operating snow-cat tours to Rock Isle Lake in Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park, British Columbia.  A large tracked snowcat with passenger box is being used to transport Sunshine Village guests from the Village area out beyond the Sunshine Village lease and across the park boundary to the shores of the pristine alpine lake adjacent to the world-famous Sunshine Meadows.  On arrival at Rock Isle Lake the Sunshine staff are reportedly lighting a fire in a burn pan for the guests.  These commercial tours were operated as recently as Easter weekend 2011

Rock Isle Lake Either Sunshine Village is conducting this commercial venture without a proper permit, or BC Parks has allowed a new permit in contravention of the 2006 Draft Management Plan and the stated submissions of major environmental groups.  Either way Sunshine Village Watch wants to find out why these commercial snowcat tours are being allowed into one of Canada’s premier provincial parks.  We also want to know what contingency plans for fuel spills are in place (it’s not uncommon for snowcats to break hydraulic hoses or leak fluids)  and if an environmental impact assessment and public consulatation process has been properly carried out.

Rock Isle Lake The draft 2006 BC Parks Management Plan for Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park states as follows:

The management vision for the future of Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is to see that it continues to stand as an international symbol of the pristine scenic grandeur of the British Columbia wilderness and the heritage of recreational enjoyment it offers.

The draft management plan identifies the Sunshine Meadows as among the largest alpine meadows in the Canadian Rockies and their feature significance is enhanced by the presence of several adjacent water features including Rock Isle Lake.

Key elements of the draft management plan includes prohibiting all forms of motorized access into the park except for management purposes and as provided for in the management plan .  This exception includes helicopter access and Sunshine Village access to water supply and downhill ski facilities as currently approved.  The downhill ski facility referred to is the Continental Divide Chairlift.  The water access is to maintain a pump facility and buried pipeline from Rock Isle Lake to Sunshine Village.

Notably there is no mention of allowing commercial snowcat tours to Rock Isle Lake or of lighting fires at that location.

The Sunshine Village Resort adjacent to the north park boundary holds a water license on Rock Isle Lake and has downhill ski facilities (a lift and runs) and a water supply system, all of which predate park designation in 1973.

As part of the draft plan development the Federation of BC Naturalists submitted that there “should be no exception for Sunshine Village permit areas regarding motorized access” and that BC Parks should “keep ATVs, ORVs, motorcycles and snowmobiles OUT”.

The BC Wildlife Federation indicated support for the draft management plan, especially in regard to keeping Sunshine Village operations under existing permit only with “no increase and review of permits”. The BC Wildlife Federation bills itself as BC’s original, largest and oldest conservation organization with 38,000 current members.

BC Parks has responded to these subnissons that the use of mechanized access by Sunshine Village to service its water supply facilities and downhill ski area is a legitimate exception as both tenures pre-existed the park’s establishment in 1973.

So the questions here are:

  • Why are these snowcat tours happening?
  • Is BC Parks aware of them?
  • Is a permit in place for commercial snowcat tours?
  • Has an Environmental Assesment been done?
  • Have the public been consulted?
  • Why are the wishes of major environmental groups being ignored, either by Sunshine Village or BC Parks or both?
  • If this commercial operation is permitted, what will happen next?  Will we be looking at snow-cat skiing on Quartz Ridge in the future?

The current Park Management Plan has been in effect since 1989.  The draft process has been in place since 2006.  Clearly it’s time this process was concluded and tightened up.

Sunshine Village Watch is making inquiries with BC Parks, the BC Wildlife Federation, the BC Federation of Naturalists and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS).  We intend to obtain copies of the actual permits currently issued to Sunshine Village and post them on this site.  Please subscribe to this blog to be informed of future updates on this issue.

In the meantime interested persons can obtain more information or make their views known by contacting the BC Environment regional office as follows:

Environmental Stewardship Division (ESD)/ Parks and Protected Area Division (PPAD)
205 Industrial Rd. G
Cranbrook,B.C. V1C 7G5
Phone: (250) 489-8540

or by contacting the BC Ministry of Environment

Enquiries regarding Sunshine’s position may be submitted to:
Ken Derpak
VP, Operations & General Manager
Sunshine Village Corporation
P.O. Box 1510
Banff, AB
T1L 1J5
Ph: (403) 762-6500

Parking Operations on Access Road

On a busy day at Sunshine Village, the parking operations staff will park vehicles along the side of the road almost all the way to the Trans-Canada Highway.  The Sunshine Access Road is a public road in Banff National Park. It accesses the Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort however it is not within the lease boundary. Safety, legal and environmental concerns have been raised regarding this routine operational practice by Sunshine Village.

Sunshine Access Road

These concerns include the following possible issues:

Sunshine Access Road

We will provide more information on these concerns and this issue as it becomes available.

In the meantime, for more information, contact:
The Superintendent
Banff National Park
Box 900
Banff, Alberta
T0L 0C0
Telephone: (403) 762-1500
Infocentre: (403) 762-1550
Fax: (403) 762-1551

“We don’t know of any morale issues”

“Most of us apply filters to to the things we say, and, most of the time, that’s a very good thing.But we become so skilled at censoring ourselves and filtering our thoughts that we can lose site of our ability to be frank and honest – sometimes even with ourselves. That’s not so good. “  ~ Doug Firby “Unfiltered”  (from – which has been password protected since this link was made)

On January 19, 2011  some Sunshine Village ski patrollers chose to not show up for work in protest of the firing of another patroller, concerns over loss of senior staff and resulting perceived safety issues that they felt were not being heard by Sunshine Village management.  As a result of the walk-out only three lifts were operating that day at Sunshine Village.  By late morning, the walk-out had garnered immediate and massive media interest and coverage.

Doug Firby is Associate Director, Communications, Media and Marketing, for Sunshine Village Corporation. He reports directly to John and Ralph Scurfield.  Firby made the following statements to the media that day:

“We don’t know of any morale issues,”  ~Doug Firby (Calgary Herald January 19, 2011)

(Firby) said he hopes the sick patrollers are feeling better and back at work on Thursday. “We’re taking them at their word on that,” he said. “I mean the best thing would be for them to just talk directly to us about whatever issues might be on their mind.” (CBC January 19, 2011)

Doug Firby, a spokesperson for Sunshine Village, questioned the authenticity of the calls to the media, telling Fast Forward Weekly, “We actually don’t know whether these people are actually Sunshine staff or not.” Management, he added, has not heard of any of the allegations firsthand, nor can it discuss any personel issues publicly. (FFWD Weekly – Jan 19, 2011)

The following internal Sunshine Village email from that day was sent out at 10:03 AM well before any patroller or Doug Firby spoke to the media and shows that Sunshine already did in fact know the real nature of the walk-out and the reasons for it.  The email refers to known “internal issues” with staff and directs front-line workers on what to say to customers who apparently, so it states, didn’t need to know the truth of the matter.  The email makes  it clear that the request comes directly from Sunshine Village management.

So when Doug Firby told the media later that day that Sunshine Village was completely surprised, had not heard the allegations, did not know of any morale issues and was not sure these were even Sunshine Village staff – either he wasn’t in the loop or he simply wasn’t telling the unfiltered truth to the reporters.

Despite Firby’s assurances to the patrollers that they should “talk directly” to management, two more patrollers were  fired the following day for expressing their safety concerns on camera.

Many more senior staff have left since and are continuing to leave.

Here’s the “unfiltered” internal email that shows what Sunshine management knew that day and when they knew it!

From: Steve Novak
Sent: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 10:03 AM
To: All Aramark
Subject: Happenings today

Good morning,

With todays lift interruptions I want to ensure that we stay focused on serving our guests with nothing but the best quality product and attention. Any guest who paid for a lift pass today should have received a $20.00 voucher from guest services. If they did not on their way up they may pick it up at the end of their day. The only guests who do not receive a voucher will be season pass holders.

It is important that we help communicate this message as much as possible.

Our guest does not need to know about the internal issues Sunshine is having with its staff so please use the response of “unexpected lift interruption” when people ask why we are only running with 3 lifts. This is the request of Sunshine management.

If you have any questions about today please do not hesitate to contact me directly.

Skier count may get just over 1000 today so please be diligent with staffing levels. Remember, do not sacrifice the guest experience!


 Stephen Novak
General Manager – Food & Beverage and Retail
Aramark Sports, Entertainment & Conventions West Region
Sunshine Village Ski & Snowboard Resort
p 403 762 6584 | c 403 431 4331

PPlease, consider the environment before printing this e-mail