LAST SATURDAY A LARGE ROOF AVALANCHE TOOK DOWN GUESTS RELAXING ON A PATIO AT THE SUNSHINE MOUNTAIN LODGE IN BANFF NATIONAL PARK.
It’s not the first time that the Sunshine Mountain Lodge has experienced large damaging roof avalanches. If the lessons from past incidents had been learned and applied, the latest incident could easily have been avoided. Rooftop snow removal is not rocket science, it’s basic routine safety management.
On March 16, 2013 an unknown number of Sunshine Village guests were relaxing on the patio outside the Chimney Corner restaurant when suddenly and without warning they were hit by a large avalanche of snow and ice from above. The incident occurred when a large load of accumulated snow slid off a roof at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge and hit and partially buried the guests who had no time to run or protect themselves.
Initial reports indicate that none of the guests was seriously injured, but at least one or more required medical treatment. It could have been worse.
The Sunshine Mountain Lodge has a history of potentially deadly incidents involving large snow slides from roofs and overhanging snow cornices collapsing. Prior to last Saturday’s incident, the roof avalanches had only caused property damage. Sunshine Village’s management had been warned in the past that failure to competently manage this type of hazard could very forseeably lead to injuries or even fatalities. Sunshine failed to heed those warnings in the past, which resulted in documented property damage. Unfortunately the warnings were also not sufficient to prevent the latest incident either.
Since at least 2009, rooftop snow removal and related fall protection for workers has been a significant public and workplace safety issue at Sunshine Village. In 2009 Sunshine Village obtained four separate external consultant proposals for installation of fall protection systems to enable workers to safely remove rooftop snow hazards. One proposal was chosen but for reasons of insufficient budget the proposal was only partially implemented.
That same year, Sunshine Village added a multi-million dollar new wing to the Sunshine Mountain Lodge. When installation of a rooftop fall protection was recommended the then GM and VP of Operations Ken Derpak stated that there was no budget for installing fall protection systems on the multi-million dollar new building. A system was installed on the original hotel roof but during the 2009/10 season the hazard was mismanaged by Sunshine Village and eventually resulted in at least two documented incidents and major property damage. Despite the obvious need to implement a fully comprehensive control program, Sunshine Village subsequently issued a memo confirming that there was no budget for further fall protection systems. It is unclear if that budget restriction has since changed but regardless, the incidents keep coming.
Sunshine recently renovated the Chimney Corner restaurant. The renovation resulted in a new roofline and a new rooftop accumulation of snow. It’s clear that this created a hazard similar to that which caused the previous incidents and this time the consequences of that hazard impacted Sunshine’s guests, literally.
Last Saturday’s incident proves beyond doubt that Sunshine Village must implement an effective public safety program to control all rooftop snow hazards at the resort. The program must include fully code-compliant engineered fall protection systems, competency-based training and competent supervision for the workers who are sent up on the roofs to do the job. Bottom line, this incident is unacceptable in a Canadian national park that prides itself on its public safety record and international reputation as a world class destination.
This photo from Sunshine Village’s Google+ page shows the recently renovated Chimney Corner restaurant. Last Saturday this roof shed it’s snowload without warning onto unsuspecting guests.
Sunshine Village’s Response:
Sunshine Village Watch contacted Sunshine’s lawyer to provide the company a 24-hour pre-publication opportunity (extended to 48 hours) to comment on this story and/or to dispute the information provided. Here is the company’s responses (edited for relevance):
Prima facie your allegations are defamatory, including those of “a history of potentially deadly incidents”, ”negligent mismanagement”,” failure to heed warnings”, “repeatedly ignoring safety warnings”, etc.You publish this material at your peril. Our client objects to publication of this story and reserves all rights in relation thereto. Be advised that your mere 24 hour time for response will be relied upon by Sunshine as evidence of malice on your part.
… for the record Sunshine Village denies the allegations you propose to make in your story. Your proposed sub head is inflammatory and it appears that you are taking advantage of one incident to paint an unfair picture of the company. Sunshine Village is committed to safe facilities for the benefit of guests and workers.
L. Frank Molnar, MIR
Field Law LLP
Further comments by Sunshine Village will be published here if received.
Other Sunshine Mountain Lodge safety posts:
Did you witness this incident? Do you have additional information, photos or video? If so please contact Sunshine Village Watch.
Meanwhile, the following video (not from Sunshine Village) demonstrates the harm even a small roof avalanche can do: