The Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) has agreed to refund around half the rental fee to a group that booked a week-long adventure ski vacation at one of its remote B.C. huts, after the group filed a lawsuit over a policy change by the club.
The settlement to repay almost $8,000, prompted by a lawsuit filed by the booking party, comes months after the ACC faced criticism for its refusal to provide a refund or deferral to another ski group that attempted to cancel their booking at the same cabin due to the pandemic.
In November 2020, a group of nine people including Ron Gosney won a lottery to book a stay at the Kokanee Glacier Cabin in the Central Kootenay starting April 10, 2021. The rental fee — which amounted to $15,750 — included helicopter transportation to the hut.
But a change in ACC's policy resulted in a majority of the group not being permitted to attend, and when Gosney tried to reschedule the dates or ask for a refund, he was denied.
In May, Gosney filed a notice of claim in the provincial court of B.C.
"It was really frustrating," said Gosney. "Thank God I was retired so I had time to deal with it."
Change in policy
The Kokanee Glacier Cabin, which belongs to the province, was built in 2003 in honour of those who have lost their lives in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park. They include Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's brother Michel Trudeau, who died in an avalanche while backcountry skiing there.
Fundraising campaigns, including one spearheaded by Trudeau, helped raise funds to build the cabin.
It is now managed by the ACC, a non-profit mountain club with 16,000 members that maintains several backcountry huts across Canada.
The crux of the lawsuit is an updated ACC policy.
When Gosney agreed to the booking, the ACC was operating under a policy that restricted the capacity of the entire cabin to 15 people, and it had to be booked by a single group, according to the notice of claim.
However, by mid-February, after Gosney had paid the final instalment of the rental fee, he claims the ACC informed him of a new policy that restricted transportation to the hut by helicopter to a group of up to six people from the same household.
Gosney says his group of nine come from five different households, and the new policy effectively meant that only two people would have been allowed to go on the $16,000 trip.
The ACC said in its reply to the claim that the policy was adopted to stay consistent with provincial health orders (PHOs) at the time. Restrictions at the time banned social gatherings with anyone outside of one's household or core bubble.
Gosney claimed the ACC breached its contract by refusing to allow the group to use the cabin as originally agreed.
"This imposed condition is not the result of further restrictions to the applicable PHOs, but rather the policy that ACC imposed arbitrarily and for its own reasons," he wrote in his claim.
At no point during the pandemic was the ACC required to shutter the backcountry huts it manages due to COVID-19 health orders.
None of the allegations in the plaintiff's claim or the defendant's reply have been proven in court.
Refunds and deferrals
Gosney isn't permitted to discuss what was said during the settlement conference, but in his claim he says the ACC agreed that if there were a PHO that prohibited the complete use of the cabin, the non-profit would refund the group's payment or defer their trip.
In its reply, the ACC denies this, instead stating that "if ACC was required to close the Kokanee Glacier Cabin and not operate the facility, ACC would discuss with Mr. Gosney a refund or transfer options."
"If Mr. Gosney or any member of the Group suffered loss, damage or expense... then Mr. Gosney and the Group failed to take reasonable steps to mitigate such loss, damage and expense," the ACC added.
It also pointed out that the terms of its agreement clearly states that all payments are non-refundable.
Before cases are heard in small claims court, both parties sit down with a judge to try to agree on a settlement.
The settlement conference is off the record, but an order signed by Judge Kathryn Denhoff shows Gosney accepted payment of $7,875 "in full and final settlement of all the issues raised in this lawsuit," meaning his group lost almost $8,000 on the booking.