Latest Article About Sunshine Village

Skiing Magazine just published the latest developments on the Sunshine Village Firings.

The article is written by Jeremy Evans, author of In Search of Powder:A Story of America’s Disappearing Ski Bum.

When four patrollers were dismissed with no explanation, the resort community in Sunshine Village came together to support them. Now, the patrollers are engaged in a lawsuit with the resort owner, Ralph Scurfield. Here are the details as they unfolded.

Click here to read the whole story.


Picture of the Week

Craig DePietro this week at Snowbird, Utah. Photo by Brent Benson.

The New Zealand Nut Cracker

Imagine a lift that is low-impact, inexpensive to construct, easy to repair or dismantle and flexible on location. Introducing the “The Nut Cracker”. Used in the ski club fields of New Zealand, this minimalistic approach to getting skiers up the mountain offers a sustainable, eco-friendly lift option.

Ski Roundhill, New Zealand, recently installed the world’s steepest and longest vertical surface lift, with a rise of 2,053 vertical feet. It requires 90 Kilowatts of electrical service.  Also helping to bring down electrical consumption, there is an on/off button for real-time usage.

Not only easy on Mother Nature, it’s also quick as well: the surface lift can operate at 6 meters per second. For reference, a high speed chairlift operates at 5 meters per second. There are a few more positive aspects to this type of system. It can climb up a 40 degree slope.

The safety systems of nutcracker rope tows in New Zealand vary depending on the ski area. Many tows have a safety trip wire running up the lenght of the tow between the up and downhaul ropes. This wire is then attached to several trip boxes on many of the posts on the way up the tow in even intervals. If the wire is pulled in at any point the nearest trip box sends a fault to the system and the tow comes to a stop. There are also safety stop buttons normally placed in other areas, like the loading area which can be used to trip the top and make it stop if it was needed.

According to New Zealand Ski Club executives, there has not been a serious accident requiring hospitalization in at least the last 20 years. And it’s easy enough for the whole family to use, like shown below at Mt Olympus, New Zealand.

So what’s the deal? How does it work? The Nut Cracker has a special clamp system that connects people to a ride up the mountain:

Here are some of the pros of the New Zealand Nutcracker:

-As a surface lift, maintenance and repairs are at ground level making access much easier.

-The tow is basic. Repairs can be made without advanced engineering knowledge.

-Most of the parts are common and can easily found and replaced.

-In the event of being damaged by heavy snow or avalanche, the tow can be quickly repaired. Video of an avalanche at Cragieburn, New Zealand that damaged the tow. It was repaired the following day.

-Nut Crackers can run in high winds.

-A Tow can climb a steeper than normal pitch in comparison to other surface lifts, such as a T-Bar or Poma.

-A Tow has an easy ability to alter direction midway up the line. To do so with a chairlift is quite expensive.

-Tows can be operated by either electric, diesel or bio diesel.

-If run by electric, an on/off button can be used by anyone. This feature is used at some New Zealand club fields to further save energy.

-Towers could be utilized for placement of solar panels and/or wind turbines.

-A tow does not require a groomed track.

-Nut Cracker energy consumption is a fraction of chair lifts, trams, gondolas, etc.

-Tows run at 80% the speed of a high speed lift

Here’s an overview of a Nut Cracker in Craigieburn, New Zealand

Here’s a video of a skier loading a Nut Cracker

Special thanks to John Mletschnig for the photos and to Glacier Dye Works for the audio and video.

Thoughts on Sunshine Village’s Troubles and How We Can Move Forward

An opinion piece by Jamie Schectman, co-founder of Mountain Rider’s Alliance

As a result of the brewing controversy over the firings of seven Sunshine Village Ski Patrol, I felt it was important to discuss the situation and hopefully take something positive out of it.


First let’s bring everyone up to speed on what has been widely reported in the local Canadian newspapers. According to Calgary Herald, on December 17th, several skiers were skiing in a closed area, close to Boundary Bowl, at Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort. Waiting at the bottom was a 22 year old  ski patrol to apprehend the group. What followed is a reported tongue lashing from the group of skiers, including a “Do you know who I am?” attitude. The patroller then called for back-up and along with some colleagues, escorted the skiers to the base where it was revealed the owner’s son was one of the poachers.

On December 29th, reported by the Rocky Mountain Outlook, the mountain operations manager, snow safety supervisor, lift operations manager and a senior patroller arrived to work to find taxis waiting for them and their jobs terminated. Together the 4 had 88 years of combined experience. As a result, according to, close to 30 Sunshine Village employees staged a one day protest by calling in sick to work. GlobalTV BC reported that the following day two more senior patrollers involved in the protest the day prior were fired.
According to Adventure Journal, the young patroller who originally busted the poacher was also let go, bringing the total firings to seven.


The Mountain Rider’s Alliance was created as a result of growing concern with the direction our beloved sport is going. We believe that many ski resorts operate with a profit over people mentality. Books like Downhill Slide, Why The Corporate Ski Industry is Bad for Skiing, Ski Towns and the Environment and In Search of Powder: A Story of America’s Disappearing Ski Bum, plus the documentary Resorting to Madness:Taking Back Our Mountain Communties are fine bodies of work that illustrate many of the problems we face in our ski communities. For many of us, skiing is not only a sport, it is our life. We believe that without a values-based ideology within the ski industry, ski area employees will continue to be treated unfairly.

For me personally, I moved to Lake Tahoe in 1987 at the age of 18. I was a lift operator for two weeks and skiing on my lunch break when I got caught up on some cliffs and had to be rescued by ski patrol. My “hang time” on the rock caused me to be late getting back to my lift station. When I arrived back to my lift, I was quickly asked to hand my pass over and told I could get it back in two weeks.  Since the entire reason I moved to the mountains was to ski, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I gave them my notice and got a night job. I am confident many others who have worked for ski corporations have stories of their own.

From those early days being mistreated, I began thinking how cool it would be to own a ski area with like-minded mountain enthusiasts. Fast forward 24 years to 2011 and Mountain Rider’s Alliance has been established. For us, what matters most are the Environment, Community and Riders.

The incident at Sunshine Village hits hard with two of our three values: Community and Riders.

When I first heard about what happened at Sunshine Village, it brought up some old feelings from my early Tahoe days. I remembered the feeling of being under-valued and mistreated. I had an accident and instead of management being concerned if I was OK, I was disciplined. However, I was just a young, top-ramen-eating ski bum at the time. For the Sunshine Village employees that were fired, many of the men have families to feed and big bills to pay. They risked their lives for their employer and kept the mountain safe for everyone . They invested their lives into their work and their dismissals will negatively affect their life immensely.

Any way you slice it, the firing of the most senior patrol can’t be construed as good. Anyone that has spent time around a ski area knows that the ski patrol plays a pivotal position for the safety of everyone. Factor in that the Banff area is experiencing a sketchier-than-normal continental snowpack this year, and it’s downright alarming.


So how do we move forward and make this a positive for the future of the ski industry? A Facebook Fan page titled Support Ski Patrol wronged by Sunshine Village Ski Resort has been launched and has quickly gone viral; over 1,000 fans joined in 24 hours, 2,000 by 48, and 72 hours in over 4,000. Links to newspaper articles and strong comments have been occurring around the clock from all over the globe. Four of the patrollers have filed a case and will have their day in court. It’s safe to say the management’s reputation has been negatively affected.

But what can we do — as a ski and snowboard community — to protect against this kind of behavior in the future? Should we begin forming ski industry employee unions? Will future ski resorts be deterred from misbehaving for fear of a far reaching and powerful Facebook page? One thing’s for sure, based on everything flying through cyber space regarding the incident, many people are fed up with the ski resort status quo.

MRA would love to hear what you think …

FEBRUARY 5, 2011 UPDATE Skiing Magazine Article, Sunshine Village Ski Patrol vs Resort Management

Picture of the Week

Matt Reardon in Chamonix, France. Photo courtesy of John Norris.

Forward Thinking Copenhagen Architect Bjarke Ingles Combining Energy Plant with a Downhill Ski Resort

A forward thinking plan for a ski-energy center has been unveiled by Copenhagen’s star architect, Bjarke Ingels. The following article — originally published by Fast Co Design and written by Suzanne Labarre — shows another example of how to combine skiing and energy…

Just when you thought Bjarke Ingels had conquered every last corner of his native Copenhagen, the 36-year-old starchitect has gone and unveiled plans for yet another building on home turf, this one even wilder than the last: It’s an energy plant that doubles as a downhill ski resort.

The Waste-to-Energy Plant rises up over Copenhagen like a hulking mountain, its winding roof transformed into a 333,700-square-foot artificial ski slope, multiple runs all. The structure will incorporate the “the latest technologies in waste treatment and environmental performance,” the press release from Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) says, and replaces the 40-year-old Amagerforbraending energy behemoth next door. “Instead of considering the new Amagerforbraending as an isolated architectural object,” the release says, “the building is conceived as an opportunity to create a destination.”

The absurdity of the notion — of converting an epicenter of waste into a happy funzone — takes on epic proportions when you consider this: Copenhagen is dead flat. The only skiing to be done there is cross country. So Ingels is simultaneously introducing an entirely new form of entertainment (sure to draw at least a few curious tourists away from Tivoli) and giving Danes what they’ve perhaps always secretly wished for: a taste of the highlands across the North Sea.

BIG won the 3.5 billion Danish crown (about $644 million) project in a design competition against foreign heavyweights like Wilkinson Eyre Architects and Dominique Perrault Architecture, and Denmark’s own rising star 3XN.

This isn’t BIG’s first time throwing up mountains in Copenhagen. Nor is it the architects’ first time wrapping environmental conscientiousness in playful packaging. “The new waste incineration plant is an example of what we at BIG call Hedonistic Sustainability – the idea that sustainability is not a burden, but that a sustainable city in fact can improve our quality of life,” Ingels says. “The Waste-to-Energy plant with a ski slope is the best example of a city and a building which is both ecologically, economically and socially sustainable.”

And yet, it’s unclear exactly how green the whole thing will be. Artificial ski slopes are notoriously energy intensive. That said, this one has the benefit of being completely outdoors, which slashes cooling loads, plus the slope itself will be made from a recycled synthetic that’s kinder to the environment than your average fake ski run. The building’s exterior is billed as a “vertical green façade” with planters stacked like bricks (see below). The surrounding land will be turned into a recreational park.

As for the energy plant: The press writeup describes a modified smokestack that’ll emit smoke rings every time 1 ton of fossil CO2 is released “serving as a gentle reminder of the impact of consumption.” Aside from that, the writeup is short on specifics that support the idea of the plant as a model of hedonistic sustainability, though if Ingels says it’ll be green, we’re inclined to believe him. The guy’s awfully good at getting his way.

The Waste-to-Energy Plant is slated for completion in 2016. For more Co.Design coverage of BIG, go here.

Simple Switzerland: The Pays Du Saint-Bernard complex of ski areas lacks frills, but offers up big time skiing by Tom Winter

Tom Winter has been published in every major ski publication over the last 20 years. Here is an account of his trip earlier this month to the European Alps.

The base of Champex-Lac, Switzerland is nothing special. No large condo complexes or million dollar ski-in, ski-out homes. There isn’t even a restaurant or bar. An old double chair climbs up into the sky, as the bullwheel slowly does the hard work.

But if you’re an expert skier or snowboarder, you probably won’t notice the lack of amenities. Rather, your eyes will be drawn upwards, to the terrain that the lift accesses, and your mind will start to race at the potential. Because the front face of Champex-Lac is all steep trees and avalanche chutes, challenging lines and deep powder insanity. And as you look, and stare and wonder if what you’re seeing is true, it’s hard not to turn your eyes away and look behind you. Not to see if anyone has caught the drool spilling from the corner of your mouth, but to remind yourself that there are only five cars in the tiny parking lot. That’s right, five. The joint is empty.

Champex-Lac is part of a group of tiny ski areas that eke out an existence in the shadows of one of the planet’s mega-resorts. Verbier is world famous, and justly so. The terrain is massive and there is a menagerie of every kind of lift available – from huge trams to gondolas to high-speed quads – to access that terrain. At night, the village pulses to the thump of discothèques and tourists swarm through the streets. Condos, private ski-in ski-out chalets and pricy hotels are around every corner. And the skiing is very, very good.

Down the road at Champex-Lac, though, there are no discos. There are no tourists and there are no sushi bars. But the mountains are the same. And this is the secret that makes Champex-Lac and the other small ski areas that comprise the Pays Du Saint-Bernard special. Turn off the static that surrounds Verbier and you’ll end up with something like Champex-Lac: world-class terrain, one lift and hardly anyone to share it with.

This recipe is used by the other ski areas that comprise the Pays Du Saint-Bernard: La Fouly, Vichéres, Bruson Les Marécottes and Super Saint Bernard (which, sadly, is closed for this winter as the ski area sorts out improvements to its main lift, a gondola that accesses an 850 meter vertical drop). We’d end up sampling all of them, with the exception of Marécottes. And each mountain would end up surprising and delighting us, as well as offering up rowdy terrain. Big faces, hidden chutes, steep trees and insane couliors all either reached via short traverses out of bounds or via short hikes or ski tours. Tour a bit farther and you’d end up going deep, coming face to face with terrain so committed and intense that it makes Jackson Hole look like the sissy hill.

The locals are humble, but they know what they have, and aren’t afraid to tell you about it. On a day when the sun played hide and seek in fog banks we skied creamy crud with Alain Darbellay, the director of La Fouly. He was apologetic about the conditions, but he needn’t have been. Fat skis and rocker have a way of turning wet junky snow into blissful smeary turns, and we spent our day chasing each others wraiths through the mystical environment, the fog limiting visibility but the committed pitch telling us everything we needed to know about the skiing right off of the lift. On our next lap, when the sun made a brief and stunning appearance, the backcountry potential of the mountain slapped us in the face: a massive wall of couliors stood in front of us there for the taking.

Vichéres shares the unique Pays Du Saint-Bernard vibe. A small restaurant at the base, a slow double chair complimented by a couple of surface lifts and then a rowdy ridge with wild pillow lines and tubes that sits just above the ski area, and which boasts a perfect north face exposure, keeping the snow soft, light and cold.

Or Bruson, perhaps the most developed of this collection of gems, with a bit more lift served vertical and several chairs, rolling tree skiing with rocks and playful gullies and the same intensity just off piste.

As compelling as these mountains are, you probably still should go experience Verbier if you find yourself in this slice of Switzerland. But if your goal is to ski powder and get to sleep before midnight, the Pays Du Saint-Bernard offers committed skiers and riders a small slice of heaven, with untracked lines, rowdy terrain and a vibe that’s focused on what matters most: the skiing and riding, and the local communities that they serve.