British Columbia

Ski group on the hook for $15,000 bill while operator declines refunds and deferrals

When Steve Spencer of Rossland, B.C., and his friends entered a lottery back in May to book a backcountry ski trip in the West Kootenay, provincial COVID-19 case counts were low and staycations near home encouraged. Now they can't get out of it.

The 2021 backcountry trip was booked in May when new COVID-19 numbers were low

The Kokanee Glacier cabin in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park in B.C.'s West Kootenay region is maintained and managed by the Alpine Club of Canada. (The Alpine Club of Canada)

When Steve Spencer of Rossland, B.C., and friends entered a lottery back in May to book a backcountry ski trip in the West Kootenay, provincial COVID-19 case counts were low and staycations near home encouraged.

His 15-member group secured a week-long reservation for Jan. 16, 2021, at the popular Kokanee Glacier cabin, but by autumn B.C. was hit hard by a second wave of the coronavirus. 

Despite repeated attempts since November to cancel or defer the reservation, Spencer says the Alpine Club of Canada [ACC], which administers bookings and payments for the cabin, has refused to budge.

Now, the group faces a bill of more than $15,000 for an adventure vacation they no longer intend to take. 

"We're asking the Alpine Club of Canada to facilitate us doing what we feel to be the right thing and they're just refusing to cooperate and it's become very frustrating," said Spencer.

Steve Spencer is part of a group of 15 people who face a bill of more than $15,000 for a ski trip they no longer feel would be responsible to attend. (Steve Spencer)

Right now in B.C., a provincial health order only allows gatherings between people who already live together.

Group asks for flexibility

The Kokanee Glacier cabin actually belongs to the province of B.C. It was built in 2003 in honour of those who have lost their lives in the park, including Michel Trudeau, who died at Kokanee lake while backcountry skiing. Fundraising campaigns, including one spearheaded by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, helped raise funds for the new cabin.

It is now managed by the ACC, a not-for-profit mountain club with 16,000 members that maintains several backcountry huts across Canada.

The Kokanee Glacier Cabin is among the organization's most popular huts, requiring a lottery system for its coveted ski weeks.

In the winter, guests are flown to Kokanee Glacier cabin by helicopter, which is included in the price of the reservation. Once there, backcountry enthusiasts sleep and eat dormitory-style, while exploring Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park.

Spencer says ever since COVID case numbers began to rise again in B.C., his group has attempted to contact the ACC to figure out an alternative, whether that be allowing a smaller group to visit at a reduced rate, deferring the trip for the following year or even an outright cancellation and refund.

"Universally, we felt it was irresponsible of us to go," he said.

But the ACC declined all those options, said Spencer.

In a statement to CBC News, Lawrence White, executive director of the ACC, said it has required groups to book the entire Kokanee Glacier cabin since June, regardless of occupancy, due to COVID-19.

"The ACC cannot predict what authorities will deem to be acceptable social bubbles which is why we expect users to stay informed, act accordingly, and follow regional legislation," he said. "We eagerly await an update from provincial health authorities in January."

ACC did offer to resell the group's ski week but on the condition that if it hadn't sold by Dec. 1, 2020, the group would still be on the hook for the bill.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit B.C., the ACC cancelled all of its remaining 2020 bookings for its Kokanee Glacier ski weeks offering all its guests deferrals, according to its website.

It also clearly states that the ski week cabins have a 100 per cent non-refundable policy, but Spencer had hoped there would be flexibility given the unpredictable nature of the current pandemic.

In an e-mail exchange, the ACC said the Jan. 16 booking is not currently affected by the public health order.

"I cannot cancel your booking and provide you with a credit at this time. We will need to wait to see what the [public health order] is for the dates of your trip to Kokanee before making any further decisions," wrote the ACC. 

B.C.'s most recent restriction on gatherings is in place until Jan. 8, a week and a half before Spencer's booking. But even if the restrictions were to be lifted, Spencer says many in the group no longer feel it's responsible to go on the trip.

"If it's wise to not go now, it's going to be wise not to go in mid-January," he said.
 

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