Submitted by LBill on Sat, 29/01/2011 - 8:19am.
This story is one account of horrific ski area ownership and management:
On December 19th one of Sunshine’s younger patrollers Charlie Hitchman noticed a group of young males in a closed area of the mountain. While getting them to exit the area they became abusive, and belligerent and saying “do you know who I am”. At one point the group actually threatened to do him physical harm. He had them escorted to the village where they were lectured about closures and had their ID’s checked, and VIP passes temporarily taken. It turns out the “don’t you know who I am” person was Thomas Taylor Scurfield son of Ralph Scurfield the owner. Taylor was home visiting from his first year at U Vic. His friends were younger I believe from Calgary. After the talking to they were allowed to return to skiing. This was special treatment, as normally they would have been escorted off of the property.
At no point were they treated in any way badly. In fact if he were not the owners son the group would have likely been escorted off of the property completely.
This obviously got back to Ralph and the parents of the other males.
On December 29th as staff were arriving for work there were extra security and cabs waiting at the Bourgeau Base area. Three of the main mountain operations managers, Chris Chevalier Mountain Operations Manager, Rowan Harper Snow Safety Supervisor, and Ben Chevalier Lift Operations Supervisor, as well as a senior patroller Chris Conway were terminated without warning, and with no just cause, escorted off of the hill into the waiting cabs and sent home.
In total about 88 years of experience was lost in a moment. These were people that dedicated themselves completely to this hill for most of their adult lives. They worked with a dedication and passion rarely seen anymore. They affected change in the industry, and turned Sunshine into the fantastic place it is. In their tenure there they set a work ethic that has shaped many young peoples lives, leading with compassion and by example. Working alongside their staff in any conditions. Countless lives were touched, helped, and saved by these people, and they did it all for the love of the mountain they called HOME. They grew up there, as did their children. They were working towards teaching the next generation to pass the torch to.
In the aftermath of this the remaining staff were left with no leadership, a lack of experience and the feeling they had lost their family. They were given no direction from upper management and no succession plan. Some were asked to take on roles they knew they were not yet ready to fill, and they were worried. The management asked them to trust them, but there was no feeling of trust left and as they waited they felt that there was still no direction, and perhaps more staff positions were in jeopardy.
Management did not seem interested in the safety concerns that they raised with them. They continued on understaffed, overworked, stressed, and just trying to do the best job they could. All of this is in the middle of the most unstable snow pack in decades. Each day they just wanted to make sure everyone got home safe, staff and guests alike.
On January 18th the young patroller that originally pulled Taylor Scurfield out of the closure was let go. He had been asked to write a letter of apology to the Scurfield’s and he did so, with the understanding it would save his job. Although everything he did was following the policies of the ski hill. Management obviously never had any intention of keeping him employed.
This was the last straw for the rest of the staff, and they decided the only way their voice could be heard was by having a one-day one-time protest by not going to work. Some had already been working while they were sick and injured to cover the staff shortages and so they called in sick. They gathered together in Canmore.
This sudden staff shortage left Sunshine with too few staff to operate. They cut some corners against their own safety guidelines, and the advice of supervisors, and opened anyway at a diminished capacity, Strawberry, Standish, and Wawa. They did not initially inform skiers and did not tell the truth to the public as to why lifts were closed. They eventually offered people $20 “gift certificates” for a later date. Not surprisingly people were angry and when it hit the news the rumors started flying.
The press got wind of the “protest” and two patrol staff stood up and became spokesmen for the rest of the staff, at the jeopardy of their jobs. They felt it was a risk that needed to be taken to let the public know the safety concerns they had since the loss of all their experienced leaders.
Sunshine management denied any knowledge of bad morale, safety concerns, or that they knew staff were planning to walk out. But management had started alternate measures for gondola evac staffing the day before. They said they hoped all the staff was ok and hoped they would be back at work the next day. That night they interrogated a supervisor on who was in a picture taken at the gathering with the press. They were preparing for the staff coming back the next day and looking for whom they could blame.
The patrol staff arrived at work on January 20th to Management interrogating them one by one. The spokesmen from the day before were told they could leave then, or work the day and hear their jobs fate at the end of shift. They both chose to work their shift. Management was looking to go after who ever they could.
At the end of the day Craig McArthur, and Jock Richardson the two spokesmen were fired and escorted off of the hill and banned from the property. During the discussion they had with owners and management they asked why Charlie Hitchman had been let go. They were told it was because he showed “bad judgment” in removing Taylor Scurfield and friends from the closed area. The owner also threatened legal action against all the staff that protested.
Now the patrol is more short staffed and have lost another close to 30 years of experience. They are demoralized, devastated, and still in fear of losing the jobs they love. When you see them they look sad. They are trying their best to do their job under exceptionally difficult circumstances.
This is the story without any embellishment or untruths. Management has made up some other reasoning’s for the dismissals, but none of them hold any weight.
Last time Sunshine ever sees me as a customer, and I'm sure I'm not alone in this. The entitlement with which Mr. Scurfield appears to have raised his son and the lesson he is teaching him now by putting his entitlement above the safety and security of the resort (ie. the paying public) and the fact that he is prepared to go to the wall rather than admit a mistake has been made and make it right… well, the only way I can "vote" on what happens with this resort (which I have enjoyed skiing for 30+ years) is with my wallet -- despite the fact that it operates on land that I, as a Canadian taxpayer, owns.