Re: Making Locals Jaded

Dear Editor: Banff's Sunshine Village Responds

Healy Pass, Sunshine Village backcountry, Banff National Park, Alberta. Photo: Ryan Creary

Healy Pass, Sunshine Village backcountry, Banff National Park, Alberta. Photo: Ryan Creary

(Ed's note: After an op-ed posted here, Sunshine Village contacted us requesting the opportunity to respond. In the name of curiosity and equal time, we agreed. Below is the unedited, official response from Sunshine Village. Powder welcomes healthy debate. Readers are welcome to leave their comments below. We ask that you keep them tasteful and avoid intentional inaccuracies.)

July 27, 2011
Powder Online

Dear Editor:

Re: Making locals jaded, July 11, 2011

The opinion article cited above reports on a controversy on the Teton Gravity Research blog site that involves Sunshine Village and some employees who were dismissed in December for cause. In his concluding remarks, the author asserts: ". . . there's no denying that they've [Sunshine] just about fallen all over themselves to look as bad as possible."

Unfortunately, as a popular anger management coach recently wrote in Psychology Today, when "the emotional mind is in charge, rationality goes out the window." It's time to try to bring some rationality to this emotionally charged issue.

The decision to let four senior employees go on Dec. 29, 2010, was not taken lightly, emotionally, harshly, quickly or without considerable review of the valid reasons for the action. It was a difficult one, but had to be done to ensure the safe and proper operation of the resort, including the enforcement of a ban on alcohol in the workplace. It is something we hope will never have to be done again.

The months that followed those dismissals have been very trying for the local family that owns Sunshine Village, as well as its managers and employees, because of the emotion and misinformation that has been spread on the Internet.

Sunshine is by far the most popular skiing and snowboarding resort in the Canadian Rockies. The resort was returned to local, family ownership 40 years ago, when Calgary businessman Ralph Scurfield Sr. purchased it from a corporation. After his untimely death in 1985, his eldest son, Ralph D. Scurfield, assumed principal control and has overseen major improvements to the resort. Some of the major landmarks since then include the opening in 1995 of Goat's Eye Mountain, and the replacement of all lifts as well as the installation of a new, eight-passenger gondola. Sunshine has the newest fleet of lifts in the Canadian Rockies, with eight quads and the gondola. It also has Banff's only on-mountain accommodation, the 84-room Sunshine Mountain Lodge.
All of these investments were done to improve the guest experience. Our goal is, has been, and will always be, to offer our guests a spectacular day on the slopes within one of the most majestic mountain settings on earth, and to do so in an environmentally sound manner.

The difficult dismissals in December were a necessary step in achieving the level of excellence we aspire to. Fortunately, we were able to hire outstanding replacements--people who truly have the guest experience at the forefront of their actions.

That is not the impression that has been created on the Internet. On Jan. 17, 2011, a few weeks after the dismissals, some members of the ski patrol staged a one-day illegal walkout, in which they called in sick. It was an attempt, according to one of the protestors, "to bring the resort to its knees."

Thanks, in part, to the loyal ski patrollers who did report for duty that day, the resort was able to operate four of 12 lifts, but there is no question customers and on-duty employees suffered as a result of this illegal action. For example, food-and-beverage operations were scaled back and ski instructors lost income from paying customers.

The "sick" employees held a meeting at a nearby coffee shop, and invited local and national news media to cover their protest, and several gave interviews. Their stated objective was to raise concerns over working conditions and leadership immediately following the dismissals.

But the story was revised when the terminated employees started legal proceedings, claiming wrongful dismissal. They came out very aggressively with a set of unproven facts based on allegations involving the owner's son--clearly a tactic designed to sway public opinion. In fact, the ex-employees' legal statement of claim was fed to the media before it was given to Sunshine.

Since then, Sunshine has endured a constant, unjustified, and absolutely unfair Internet and social media battering, many from sympathizers for the ex-employees. The vicious attacks have been personal in nature, flung out to create emotional scars, not to reflect what really took place. Rumors are stated as fact, the truth is abused, and the effects are painful not only to ownership and Sunshine's managers, but to all our employees, as well. For example, call center employees, who had nothing to do with the dismissals, have had to endure prolonged verbal abuse on our toll free 1-87-SKI-BANFF line.

Some of the most vicious mob attacks have been against Sunshine's customers. So mean-spirited were the comments, all major Calgary media had to disable their comments links on their web sites because of the vitriol.

Let me give you an example. We received a phone call from the mother of one 12-year-old boy who had a great day at Sunshine (and who was unaware of any dispute) and posted a YouTube video of his day on Sunshine's Facebook site. When he posted the video, anonymous individuals ridiculed him mercilessly, leaving him heartbroken, confused and in tears.

There are many similar examples, as emotion let the story spin out of control. Comments, blogs, and Internet stories came from thousands of miles away, written by people jumping on false rumors and not aware of the truth. Meanwhile, Sunshine was legally unable to tell its side of the story until its statement of defense was filed in Alberta court.

But where were the facts? Your own journalist wrote in Powder: "It's worth noting that the Scurfields may well be getting the short end of the stick here. Maybe all the firings were justified, maybe there were damaging falsehoods on TGR." Sunshine believes the full story will come out at trial.

Although there has been a great deal of misinformation, at Sunshine Village, our guidelines for responses are to stick to the facts, be respectful in replies and try not to get drawn into debates. We have done our best to turn the other cheek, but sometimes when the facts are so distorted, the misinformation so intolerant and personal, we ask for retractions or the removal of the offending falsehoods. Others, both people and companies, facing the same humbling experience would probably do the same.

Deciding how to react is often a very tough judgement. We do so with a focus on integrity and ethical behaviour--not with a goal to deny legitimate free speech.

By seeking a cease-and-desist order on the TGR material, we were accused of censorship. But anyone knows that the freedom of speech has never included the right to incite hatred. Libel and slander laws continue to exist in the Internet age. Those who spread hatred on the Internet behind an anonymous identity are no more defenders of free speech than vigilantes are defenders of civil rights.

Sunshine Village is a premier world-caliber ski resort. We became the best in the Canadian Rockies because of the experience we offer, from the mountains of natural snow to the scenery that leaves guests in awe. Our employees are integral to that success.

Doug Firby
Associate Director, Communications
Sunshine Village Ski & Snowboard Resort