After months of silence over the firing of ski patrollers, Banff-area Sunshine Village ski resort is finally speaking up about the incident that spawned one of the biggest mountain controversies in recent years — and it’s speaking up in a big way, accusing fired employees of safety lapses, fraud, theft, allowing alcohol while on duty, misogyny, and shaking down injured skiers to pay for bandages. Mountain and Risk Manager Chris Chevalier “built a culture of corruption, antagonism, intimidation, and confrontation within the Mountain Operations group, which he described as “mountain culture,” the resort claims.
The messy affair began on December 17, when Taylor Scurfield, son of Sunshine Village owner Ralph Scurfield, was caught by patrol skiing with friends in a closed area. Scurfield was accused of saying he would make the patrol “pay”, and 12 days later four mountain safety employees were fired: Chevalier, Rowan Harper (Snow Safety Supervisor), Chris Conway (Ski Patroller), and Ben Chevalier (Supervisor Lift Operations). They responded with the lawsuit, and the public rallied around patrol with a vitriolic anti-Sunshine campaign.
Sunshine had little comment until a few days ago, when it filed “Statements of Defense” with the Court of Queen’s Bench in Calgary, which said that the terminations were for cause and that the incident with Scurfield didn’t play out as patrollers said.
“The incident involving the son of the owner, the son of Ralph Scurfield, was not the cause of the four dismissals,” resort spokesman Doug Firby said.
Specifically, Sunshine Village accused Chris Chevalier of:
“Failing to engage in proper risk and safety management and, thereby, exposing Sunshine and its officers to potential statutory liability under federal and provincial statutes and regulations and to potential civil liability.
“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.
“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.’
“Resisting the removal of pictures that were denigrating to women from the workplace on the basis that removal of such pictures was a ‘loss of mountain culture.’
“Charging members of the skiing public for tensor bandages and other medical supplies and soliciting unauthorized payments from members of the skiing public at Sunshine or accepting payments from members of the skiing public at Sunshine and funneling the proceeds into undisclosed funds and bank accounts, which Ski Patrollers referred to as the “Patrollers’ Benevolent Fund”, all without the knowledge and approval of executive management.
“Soliciting gifts and/or benefits from suppliers.”
He was also accused of harassing women and giving season passes to non-employees. Rowan Harper gave a season pass to his girlfriend and others, Sunshine said, engaged in fraud, and was antagonistic.
Sunshine also filed a statement of defense regarding the Scurfield’s poaching incursion. Scurfield acknowledged skiing in the closed area and being caught by patroller Charlie Hitchman, but denied becoming aggressive or threatening the patroller with his job.
Hitchfield called to Scurfield and his two companions from above, Sunshine says, and ordered them to climb back up the hill. By the time they arrived, Chris Conroy was also waiting for them.
“When Conroy saw that the Defendant and his two friends were skiing on VIP passes…he stated ‘Oh, look what we have here, VIP passes’ and commenced a pattern of rude, condescending and aggressive conduct towards the Defendant [Scurfield] and his two companions…once Conway and ski patroller Hitchman learned that the Defendant was a member of the family that owned Sunshine they became aggressive with the Defendant and his two companions and engaged in abusive, aggressive, condescending, threatening and intimidating behaviour, including but not limited to the following (a) verbal abuse; (b) calling in reinforcement Ski Patrol members as a means of physical intimidation; (c) without lawful authority, refusing to return their driver’s licenses after being requested to do so and despite having been offered replacement photo identification; (d) without lawful authority, refusing to return the VIP guest passes after being requested to do so; yelling at them to “shut up” when they asked for the return of their driver’s licenses; threatening that they would be kicked off the mountain and that Sunshine would charge them with trespassing; and without lawful authority, arresting or, alternatively, confining them.”
Comparing Sunshine’s statements of defense with the patrol’s arguments of wrongful dismissal, it’s impossible not to think of the old saying about fights between a man and woman, that there are three sides to every argument: his, hers, and the truth. Ultimately, the Queen’s Court will decide.