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 Canada.com, 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.
WHY THE MRA WAS FORMED
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.
MOVING FORWARD, HOW CAN WE PREVENT THIS FROM HAPPENING IN THE FUTURE?
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