3 Ways Sunshine Village is Trying to Grab More Protected Parks Land

Sunshine Village is apparently not content to operate within the well-defined confines of its lease and permit agreements. The ski resort’s insatiable appetite for more and more of Banff National Park and Mt Assiniboine Provincial Park land is clearly evidenced.  Here’s 3 ways that Sunshine is taking more than it should.

3 Areas of Sunshine Village Expansion

  1.  Wawa Ridge – Wawa Ridge is well beyond the lease boundary of Sunshine Village and yet it is the location of four radio repeaters that are owned by the company.  On a regular basis Sunshine Village employees leave the ski area lease boundary and use snowmobiles and occasionally helicopters to maintain and service the radio-communications installations.  Below Wawa Ridge is Wawa Bowl and the two out-of-bounds runs known as back-door and side-door that are so well used they become packed and bumped.    As always – giving Sunshine an inch leads to trying to take a mile.  Sunshine’s recent internal planning includes expanding the lease boundary to include Wawa Ridge and Wawa Bowl and possibly placing a lift from Bourgeau parking lot to the top of Wawa Ridge.  This lift line would be in full view from Banff.  Already Sunshine Village has extended its operations beyond the lease boundary through installation of the radio-communications repeaters.  Attempts by SSV Watch so far to find reference to a public consultation process and issued permits for these installations have turned up nothing.
  2. Sunshine Meadows and Rock Isle Lake.  During the winter season of 2010/11 Sunshine Village operated commercial snow-cat tours beyond its permit boundary with BC Parks.  These tours were operated mainly for the benefit of paying guests at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge.  Hotel customers were driven by snowcat into the world-famous Sunshine Meadows and to the shores of Rock Isle Lake where a fire was lit for their private enjoyment.  Sunshine only recently concluded a renewal of its permit with BC Parks and must have been fully aware that the only activity permitted in this area was for search and rescue and late-season cross-country ski team training.  They went ahead and did it anyway and in so doing seemingly breached the BC Parks Act.  BC Parks put a stop to the activity but so far Sunshine Village has not been charged even though the activity was unlawful and an offence under the Act.  It appears the owners and executive managers responsible for this have been given a free pass to avoid prosecution.
  3. The Sunshine Access Road.  For years now Sunshine Village has regularly overflowed it’s parking capacity with the lease area boundary at the Bourgeau base area.  Sunshine’s answer to this is to just keep parking cars all the way down a public road well outside the lease boundary.  Hundreds of cars are now routinely parked under direction of Sunshine employees along 8km of narrow, winding avalanche threatened public road with insufficient regard for public safety, environmental protection, wildlife and the legal limits of the lease boundary.  Parks Canada lets it happen and apparently does not even charge Sunshine Village a fee for the land use.

Until recently one Sunshine Village senior manager has been directly responsible for all three examples of Sunshine Villages expansionist conduct.  Ken Derpak has held the position of VP Operations and General Manager for the last six years.  During his time in this position Derpak directly oversaw the operations that include the Wawa Ridge repeaters, the Rock Isle Lake snow-cat tours and the overflowing parking operations on the access road.  In a recent press release, Sunshine Village announced that Derpak has now assumed the role of Senior Vice-President Planning, Development, Government and Regulatory Affairs.  

There was a time when environmental interest groups such as the Canadian Parks & Wilderness Society (CPAWS) took a very close interest in the affairs of Sunshine Village.  Lately however Sunshine Village has been flying under the radar and pushing it’s operational and environmental impact boundary with little regulatory or public oversight.  That needs to change.  Sunshine Village operates in Banff National Park and Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park which are both part of a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.  We really need to start taking that fact seriously when it comes to commercial activity within the parks.  A good way to start is by holding Sunshine Village accountable to the provisions of its lease and permits and by demanding that Parks Canada and BC Parks do their job to regulate the company’s operations properly.

Do your part to protect our national and provincial parks – please share this information with everyone you know across Canada and internationally including environmental movements, politicians and media.  And let’s all keep a close eye on Ken Derpak in his new role with Sunshine Village.

What’s Good For The Goose Should Be Good For The Gander !!

An “off-roader” has been arrested and charged for driving on ski runs at Sunshine Village according to a news report in the Rocky Mountain Outlook.  The irony is priceless because just a few months ago Sunshine Village was doing much the same thing running commercial snow-cat tours  in an area beyond their boundary in pristine Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park.  Sunshine Village was ordered to stop by BC Parks but has not been charged.  The off-roader isn’t so lucky.

The off-roader would not even have gained access to the ski runs if Sunshine Village was properly controlling the access road.  There is a single point of access how difficult can it be to prevent the public from driving a vehicle beyond that point?  Notably Sunshine Village part-owner and VP of Marketing John Scurfield ordered summer manpower to be trimmed to a skeleton crew this summer - is the breach of security a consequence of Scurfield’s cutbacks?

A more important question however is why did Sunshine Village get a “Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free” card on very similar and recent type of conduct? Sunshine’s unauthorized commercial snowcat tours were in BC Parks jurisdiction while the recent off-roader was in Banff National Park’s jurisdiction.  Is BC Parks just more lax when it comes to enforcement of environmental protection laws?  Or does Sunshine Village get different treatment than individual members of the public ?

The question must be asked, can Sunshine Village be trusted to properly manage and protect the pristine environment within and around its operational lease and permit areas?  These incidents indicate there is a problem.  A higher standard of transparent oversight, inspection and enforcement by Parks Canada and BC Parks is necessary immediately.  The public should demand it.

It should also go without saying that if it’s appropriate to charge individuals for breach of environmental protection laws then it’s appropriate to charge Sunshine Village also.  What’s good for the goose is good for the gander – or it should be!

2011 Summer Garbage Clean-Up Cutbacks

A full winter of ski area operations requires a full summer of garbage pick-up

“start looking at the litter in healy creek at the base parking lot.  ssv does little about it year after year.  it’s hung up in the bushes, washed downstream, accumulating under gravel, etc.” – from “Caveman” (email to SVW – May 06, 2011)

“Caveman” hits on a vital issue at Sunshine Village in his email – that is the summer garbage clean-up.  As the snow melts away in the summer a huge amount of garbage becomes visible all over the Sunshine Village leasehold.  This clean-up is a major job for summer staff and it’s not easy to get it all done in the short summer season.  Each year literally hundreds of bags of garbage are collected by Sunshine Village trail crews over the course of the summer.  Much of this garbage is generated by the operations of Sunshine’s food and beverage partner, Aramark Canada.

Unfortunately the usual clean-up may be about to end this summer.  John Scurfield (SSV part-owner and VP of Marketing) has issued an internal email dated April 05, 2011 telling managers there will be a major cutback in summer staffing levels to save the company money.  Scurfield attributes the company’s need for cutbacks to a flyer distributed in local communities in early April.  The flyer was allegedly critical of Sunshine Village.  Scurfield’s email encourages cut-back affected staff to express their “gratitude” to whoever distributed the flyer.  One of the hardest hit departments is expected to be the Mountain Operations department headed up by the recently hired new Mountain Manager, Al Matheson. The summer trail crews normally work for Mountain Operations.

The real impact of thousands of skiers and snowboarders becomes apparent each year when the snow melts.  If the garbage is not picked up it will only accumulate until it is.  If there are insufficient summer crews out doing this vital job, the entire area will look like a garbage dump.  The question is – with only a cost-saving skeleton summer staff on the mountain, who will clean up the huge amount of garbage, not just around Healy Creek at Bourgeau and up at the Village but everywhere else including the farthest reaches of the ski area where people like to hang out and leave a mess on sunny ski days?  This includes portions of Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park as well as the Banff National Park leasehold.  Prevailing winds can carry loose garbage into the neighbouring pristine and ecologically sensitive Sunshine Meadows and Rock Isle Lake.  Garbage can also be an attractant and hazard for wildlife, especially bears – which can then present a public safety hazard for summer visitors.

These parks are the crown jewels of the Canadian Rockies visited by millions of Canadians and international toursists each year.  What will these protected areas look like after this summer and even more so – what will they look like next summer after two winters of garbage accumulation?  Should Parks Canada and BC Parks permit Sunshine Village to cut costs at the expense of the environment and wildlife?

The Sunshine Village “Environmental Mission Statement” makes the following bold claim:

“At Sunshine Village Ski Resort, we bring spectacular alpine sport experiences together with the awesome beauty of nature to create a unique relationship between our resort and the natural environment.”

That’s a nice sounding statement but empty words don’t pick up empty beer cans and neither do absent summer work crews.   Environmental integrity in Banff National Park should not play a secondary role to Sunshine Village’s cost-saving measures and profit margin. Parks before profit!

As the snow starts to melt, Sunshine Village Watch encourages spring riders and summer visitors to photograph and document garbage anywhere around the  Sunshine Village lease and adjacent areas of Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park.  Send the photographs and your opinions to SVW , Banff National Park  and to BC Parks