Delirium Avalanche Offers a Lesson for Sunshine Village

An in-bounds avalanche occurred today at Sunshine Village Ski & Snowboard Resort near Banff, Alberta.  The avalanche caught and injured two guests skiing in the Delirium Dive area

An avalanche occurred around 2 pm this afternoon (Monday March 31st). The avalanche took place in a run called “Milky Way” in the freeride zone of Delirium Dive. Milky Way is located on the far side of Delirium Dive. Two Skiers were caught in the avalanche. Both skiers have suffered injuries. Our thoughts and prayers are with the skiers who were injured; and with their families and friends. The skiers have been rescued by emergency crews and have since been transported to the hospital in Banff. We wish the skiers well. The avalanche broke in an area of the resort that requires all riders to carry an avalanche beacon, a probe, a shovel and to ride with a partner. An investigation into the incident is currently underway. No additional details are available at this time. We’d like to ask all skiers and snowboards to take extra precautions when riding in the backcountry and when riding in our freeride zones. – See more at: http://blog.skibanff.com/?p=155#sthash.EopFTfwj.dpuf

A little over a year ago in January 2013, Sunshine Village spokesperson Crosbie Cotton argued that parking restrictions should be removed for major avalanche zones on the Sunshine access road.  Sunshine Village had taken legal action against Parks Canada to force Parks Canada to allow parking in the avalanche zones.  Sunshine Village has been using the access road for excess parking since 2006.  The safety restrictions were imposed after a large avalanche hit the road in an area where Sunshine Village had been parking customer vehicles.  Sunshine wants to use that area to park vehicles again and Sunshine wants the safety restrictions removed.

“Cotton said the parking protocol in place since 2006 – which allowed for parking in certain areas in the top three kms depending on the snow conditions – worked. He argued the parking restrictions could have been lifted over the Christmas period. “It hasn’t snowed for six days, Parks Canada has undertaken all the necessary avalanche precautions, many of the signs could have been covered up, especially within the leasehold, because there was no danger,” he said.”

http://www.rmoutlook.com/article/20130103/RMO0801/301039974/judge-upholds-sunshine-parking-ban

Sunshine Village appears to have a very confusing approach to managing avalanche hazard.  On the one hand Sunshine is asking people to use “extra precautions” in the back-country and within its own freeride zones in-bounds.  On the other hand Sunshine tries to use lawyers to remove Parks Canada avalanche safety policies so that the company can park more vehicles along the access road.

The truth is that avalanche hazard is not a black and white issue.  There are many shades of grey.  The laws that apply to avalanches are the laws of physics, not the laws of Sunshine’s high-priced lawyers.

Marc Ledwidge, Parks Canada’s visitor safety manager, said the Class 4 [access road] avalanche  highlighted the uncertainty of forecasting large avalanche paths and was a “huge wakeup call for all us.

“It is unreasonable for people to park there and have pedestrians standing there. The only reason we’re doing this is we’re very concerned about the safety of people while accessing the ski area,” he said. “This incident last year shows the unpredictable nature of avalanches and the potential catastrophic consequence of a large avalanche on that road, and we’re not prepared to accept that risk for the public.”

http://www.rmoutlook.com/article/20130103/RMO0801/301039974/judge-upholds-sunshine-parking-ban

As today’s incident proves, avalanches can occur when they are least expected.  Avalanches can even occur within open areas, in-bounds where Sunshine Village presumably thought there was no danger and it was safe enough to open to its guests.  An avalanche zone is no place to deliberately park vehicles.  Parks Canada is responsible for avalanche safety on the Sunshine access road and Parks Canada says parking in avalanche zones is not safe.  If there is no guarantee within the ski area’s open runs there is sure no guarantee on the avalanche paths that threaten the Sunshine access road. Maybe today’s in-bounds avalanche at Sunshine Village will give the company reason to pause and re-think its attitude to avalanche hazard.  Time will tell.

Access Road Parking – Avalanche Path Public Safety Decision by Federal Court

In December 2012, Sunshine Village Corporation filed an application for an injunction against Parks Canada.  The application sought to overturn Parks Canada’s public safety prohibition regarding Sunshine’s parking operations in the vicinity of the large avalanche paths along the access road, including the avalanche path that hit the road in March 2012.

Sunshine’s application was denied by the Federal Court for reasons of public safety and the public interest.

The December 21, 2012 decision of the Federal Court may be found here.

This video (below) shows the disputed area of road hit by the March 2012 avalanche and the location of Sunshine’s previous parking operations in the avalanche path.

Post-avalanche clean up of road(below). The area of avalanche debris in front of the loader is an area where parking had been permitted prior to the Parks Canada prohibition.

This video (below) shows the congestion and public safety issues caused by Sunshine’s parking operations elsewhere on the access road.