Category Archives: Legislative Compliance

Sunshine Village Roof Avalanche Takes Down Guests

LAST SATURDAY A LARGE ROOF AVALANCHE TOOK DOWN GUESTS RELAXING ON A PATIO AT THE SUNSHINE MOUNTAIN LODGE IN BANFF NATIONAL PARK.

It’s not the first time that the Sunshine Mountain Lodge has experienced large damaging roof avalanches.  If the lessons from past incidents had been learned and applied, the latest incident could easily have been avoided.  Rooftop snow removal is not rocket science, it’s basic routine safety management.

On March 16, 2013 an unknown number of Sunshine Village guests were relaxing on the patio outside the Chimney Corner restaurant when suddenly and without warning they were hit by a large avalanche of snow and ice from above.  The incident occurred when a large load of accumulated snow slid off a roof at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge and hit and partially buried the guests who had no time to run or protect themselves.

The Sunshine Mountain Lodge showing the new Chimney Corner roof that avalanched onto guests.
The Sunshine Mountain Lodge showing the new Chimney Corner roof that avalanched onto guests.

Initial reports indicate that none of the guests was seriously injured, but at least one or more required medical treatment.  It could have been worse.

The Sunshine Mountain Lodge has a history of potentially deadly incidents involving large snow slides from roofs and overhanging snow cornices collapsing.  Prior to last Saturday’s incident, the roof avalanches had only caused property damage.  Sunshine Village’s management had been warned in the past that failure to competently manage this type of hazard could very forseeably lead to injuries or even fatalities.  Sunshine failed to heed those warnings in the past, which resulted in documented property damage.   Unfortunately the warnings were also not sufficient to prevent the latest incident either.   

Since at least 2009, rooftop snow removal and related fall protection for workers has been a significant public and workplace safety issue at Sunshine Village.  In 2009 Sunshine Village obtained four separate external consultant proposals for installation of fall protection systems to enable workers to safely remove rooftop snow hazards.  One proposal was chosen but for reasons of insufficient budget the proposal was only partially implemented.

That same year, Sunshine Village added a multi-million dollar new wing to the Sunshine Mountain Lodge.  When installation of a rooftop fall protection was recommended the then GM and VP of Operations Ken Derpak stated that there was no budget for installing fall protection systems on the multi-million dollar new building.  A system was installed on the original hotel roof but during the 2009/10 season the hazard was mismanaged by Sunshine Village and eventually resulted in at least two documented incidents and major property damage.  Despite the obvious need to implement a fully comprehensive control program, Sunshine Village subsequently issued a memo confirming that there was no budget for further fall protection systems.  It is unclear if that budget restriction has since changed but regardless, the incidents keep coming.

Sunshine recently renovated the Chimney Corner restaurant.  The renovation resulted in a new roofline and a new rooftop accumulation of snow.  It’s clear that this created a hazard similar to that which caused the previous incidents and this time the consequences of that hazard impacted Sunshine’s guests, literally.

Last Saturday’s incident proves beyond doubt that Sunshine Village must implement an effective public safety program to control all rooftop snow hazards at the resort. The program must include fully code-compliant engineered fall protection systems, competency-based training and competent supervision for the workers who are sent up on the roofs to do the job.  Bottom line, this incident is unacceptable in a Canadian national park  that prides itself on its public safety record and international reputation as a world class destination.

ROOF AVALANCHE HITS GUESTS AT SUNSHINE MOUNTAIN LODGE. Last Saturday snow on this roof slid onto the deck and into the hot tub, hitting and injuring guests. Sunshine’s management has been previously warned that a failure to manage this type of hazard would result in injuries or even fatalities. (Photo from Sunshine Village Google+)

This photo from Sunshine Village’s Google+ page shows the recently renovated Chimney Corner restaurant. Last Saturday this roof shed it’s snowload without warning onto unsuspecting guests.

Sunshine Village’s Response:

Sunshine Village Watch contacted Sunshine’s lawyer to provide the company a 24-hour pre-publication opportunity (extended to 48 hours) to comment on this story and/or to dispute the information provided.  Here is the company’s responses (edited for relevance):

Prima facie your allegations are defamatory, including those of “a history of potentially deadly incidents”,  “negligent mismanagement”,” failure to heed warnings”, “repeatedly ignoring safety warnings”, etc.You publish this material at your peril. Our client objects to publication of this story and reserves all rights in relation thereto. Be advised that your mere 24 hour time for response will be relied upon by Sunshine as evidence of malice on your part.

… for the record Sunshine Village denies the allegations you propose to make in your story.  Your proposed sub head is inflammatory and it appears that you are taking advantage of one incident to paint an unfair picture of the company.  Sunshine Village is committed to safe facilities for the benefit of guests and workers.

L. Frank Molnar, MIR

Field Law LLP

Further comments by Sunshine Village will be published here if received.

Other Sunshine Mountain Lodge safety posts:

Did you witness this incident?  Do you have additional information, photos or video?  If so please contact Sunshine Village Watch.

Meanwhile, the following video (not from Sunshine Village) demonstrates the harm even a small roof avalanche can do:

 

Sunshine Village Snowmaking Damages Important Fish Habitat

The degradation of the Healy Creek area in Banff National Park continues due this time to negligent Sunshine Village snowmaking operations, which resulted in a large landslip into Healy Creek in December 2012.

Healy Creek and Bourgeau Base Area at Sunshine Village
Healy Creek and Bourgeau Base Area at Sunshine Village

The snowmaking system is used to increase capacity on the lower ski-out near the Bourgeau base area.  The increased capacity is needed because Sunshine Village has increased ski-lift capacity elsewhere on the leasehold as well as expanding parking capacity along the Sunshine access road. The ski-out is used by the thousands of additional visitors as a means of egress from the ski area to the parking lot. So Sunshine has cast aside its former “100% Natural Snow” promise and has implemented snowmaking systems to accommodate the increased traffic.  It’s not just the snow that is no longer natural at Sunshine Village.

As Sunshine just gets bigger and bigger, Parks Canada has repeatedly failed to properly manage the Sunshine Village Lease Agreement and has also failed to restrict Sunshine Village operations within the lease boundary as promised in the 2006 Ski Area Management Guidelines.  As a result, Sunshine Village parking operations now extend almost all the way to the Trans-Canada highway 8 km away and well beyond the lease boundary.  This expansion already causes environmental damage due to garbage left along the roadside for which Sunshine denies any responsibility to clean up.

The Healy Creek valley was already significantly impacted even before the landslip, which caused further environmental damage to an important bull and cutthroat trout habitat.  Sunshine Village also removes water from Healy Creek for snowmaking.  The creek flows right through the base area adjacent to the Bourgeau parking lot which has capacity for up to 1700 vehicles.  Hundreds more vehicles are parked along the public road for an additional 8km along the waterway towards the main Bow Valley.

Parks Canada chose not to fine Sunshine Village for the environmental damage and instead made excuses for excusing the company’s negligence.  Parks Canada has lost sight of its primary mandate and role to protect Banff National Park for future generations.    Violations under the federal Fisheries Act can result in substantial fines and the risk of imprisonment.   For some reason though, Sunshine Village rarely faces proper and adequate enforcement actions by Parks Canada.

This latest incident highlights the multi-faceted environmental pressures and damage being done by Sunshine Village operations but the company wants to increase parking capacity even further and to expand the ski area terrain near Wawa Ridge.  Those plans will add further unsustainable and increasingly intensive impacts in the Healy Creek valley.

Healy Creek is an important watershed and tributary of the Bow River in Banff National Park.  The area is also part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Additional Information:

A Tangled Web !

Sunshine Village’s communications to Parks Canada only serve to further confuse public safety timelines of January 19th, 2011.

When it comes to issues of public and workplace safety comunications at Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort there is no excuse for anything but the truth at all times.    The company should be held to an exacting standard of corporate conduct as a condition of its lease.  This is especially applicable when the issue is about the safety of people’s lives and well-being in Canada’s premier national park.  Not only do park visitors, customers, employees and government agencies deserve honesty but it’s also a legal obligation.  

So has the Sunshine Village management been honest, forthright and truthful with all groups regarding the events and safety issues of January 19, 2011 ?  

hon·est

honorable in principles, intentions, and actions; upright and fair: an honest person.

Lie

To lie is to hold something which one knows is not the whole truth to be the whole truth, intentionally.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lie

On the day in question Doug Firby (Sunshine media handler) spoke to the media about a patrol “walkout” that day and expressed the company’s surprise about the whole thing.  Firby told the media that Sunshine Village had no knowledge of what he termed “morale issues” raised by the patrollers. He said that Sunshine took the patrollers “at their word” (such irony), hoped they all got well soon and came back to work. He encouraged them to speak to management promising they would be heard and all would be well again. The next day, when the patrollers took Firby at his word, two of them were fired when they returned to work and the rest were questioned and threatened.

Sunshine Village Watch has previously shown that at the same time that Doug Firby was presenting this disarming official corporate line to the media, an internal email from Steve Novak (Aramark’s Sunshine Village GM) showed what the management actually knew about the “issues” and instructed the resort’s Food and Beverage staff to lie about it to Sunshine’s paying customers.  Novak attributes this lie to “Sunshine management” (an interesting example of their management and leadership style).  So while many of Sunshine’s professional ski patrollers, in the midst of unprecedented peak-season department changes, were taking desperate measures to get attention to their immediate safety concerns, Sunshine was telling resort staff to lie to Sunshine’s customers  and tell them it’s an “unexpected lift interruption”.  The email claims that Sunshine’s paying guests didn’t need to know the truth of the matter.

Then Parks Canada got involved.  Parks Canada is the federal government agency charged with administering the lease provisions including those that are meant to ensure that public safety requirements are met (paragraph 29).  The expectation of all Canadians is that even if the private corporation is off-track, Parks Canada will ensure safety standards are upheld.  The emails and letters to Parks Canada show that Ken Derpak (then Sunshine Village GM, VP of Operations and acting Mountain Manager) came up with his own version of the timeline of events in his communications to then Banff Superintendent Van Tighem.

In his amusingly petulant letter of March 4th, 2011 Derpak states that Sunshine called Alberta’s lift regulatory agency AEDARSA on the morning of January 19th “prior to opening” and discussed Sunshine’s operating plan with them.  So presumably well before Doug Firby was telling the media his “we know nothing” story later that day, we have Ken Derpak claiming to discuss an alternative, presumably detailed and hopefully written gondola evacuation plan with AEDARSA before opening the gondola to employees arriving for work that morning (usually at 7:30am).  He must have been moving very fast,  very early that morning to ensure that “all necessary safety precautions” were addressed as per the lease requirement, which of course is strange given that Doug Firby said they “knew nothing”  and so consequently would have known nothing until patrollers didn’t show for work (usually around 7:30am).

In the same letter Derpak tells Parks Canada that Sunshine had already made a back-up plan and contracted with Rodney Gair and Lifeskill Rescue Services prior to January 19, 2011.  In his email of January 21, 2011 Derpak included a written note from Rodney Gair that was coincidentally dated January 19, 2011 and stated that Lifeskill had agreed to provide services that week with “immediate effect”.    So is it just coincidence that Derpak had developed an arrangement that very week with Gair supposedly prior to January 19th when Firby later says the company knew nothing of any “morale issues” with the patrollers?

Does any of this really matter?  The answer is YES, it really does!  Very much!   When fully loaded, the Sunshine Village gondola carries more people through the air than many commercial airplanes and there’s plenty that can and does go wrong.  Evacuating the full length of the gondola (both sides) would be an extremely challenging public safety emergency requiring precise site-specific planning, training and implementation.  You don’t make this stuff up on-the-fly on the back of a breakfast napkin.  In his letter, Derpak is making formal representations on behalf of Sunshine Village to a formal inquiry from the federal agency charged with ensuring public safety in Banff National Park.  What Sunshine management knew, when it knew, what actions it took and why it took them all needs to be very clear and transparent.  Under examination here is the ability of Sunshine Village to make appropriate public safety decisions for park visitors even when they may negatively impact the corporations profit and image.  Unfortunately Derpak’s unsubstantive letter only raises more questions about that.

It is appropriate for Sunshine Village to publicly clarify exactly who Derpak spoke to at AEDARSA and exactly when the communication occurred.  This information can then be verified with AEDARSA (surely both sides documented such a discussion?).  Derpak should also provide the written evidence of the comprehensive alternative gondola evacuation plan that he discussed with AEDARSA that morning , which apparently replaced the standard procedure that day, and which was presumably and verifiably distributed to ALL managers, dispatch and key response staff PRIOR to opening the gondola to Sunshine staff that morning (yes even employees on their way to work are people too).  Those documents would begin to support Derpak’s version of events and even explain (maybe) his disrespectful and petulant manner. They would also help to establish Sunshine Village’s compliance on January 19th, 2011 with AEDARSA‘s public safety ski lift regulations (CSA Z98 Code) and the Parks Canada lease obligations.

Without that definitive supporting evidence Derpak has simply added more puffery to a tangled web of words.  However in unexpected balance, the email from Steve Novak to his F&B staff was quite clear.  Sunshine management was certainly lying to their customers that day – Novak, to his credit, was refreshingly honest about that fact.  The question now is, if they will lie to their customers, are they being honest with Parks Canada?

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