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Growing Up On A Ski Hill: The Scurfields of Sunshine Village

By Lori Knowles

Kendra Scurfield loves Sunshine. Not the kind that brightens a cloudy day, though that one is nice, too. Kendra’s brand of Sunshine comes with 35 feet of annual snowfall, 12 lifts, and more than 3,000 acres of terrain so natural — bumps, gullies, glades, powder — it makes manufactured terrain parks appear odd and redundant. Kendra — and her family — own Banff’s Sunshine Village.

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Life on the Slopes

Kids in Canada grow up in different ways. City streets, small towns, large farms, suburbia: their surroundings shape them. Curious as to how growing up on the slopes of a major Canadian ski resort could shape a person, we asked Kendra, now age 30, what her young life was like at Sunshine Village.

She describes a magical world freeskiing Wawa, Wolverine, and Tin Can Alley, riding rope tows and t-bars, racing with the Banff Alpine Racers. Her childhood passed wondrously with little supervision, her two brothers in tow, her parents often occupied with work — her mom a Banff doctor, her dad Sunshine’s president and CEO.

It was a way of life that honed her technical skills as a skier and snowboarder, to be sure; one that ingrained respect for high-alpine terrain and taught her some hard lessons, including the perils of playing in the Canadian Rockies. Yet the lessons she treasures most are those of imagination. Freeriding Sunshine’s trees, skipping over its rocks and powder-filled gullies, Kendra let her imagination carry her away. She slayed Sunshine’s fictional goat chickens, ski raced against an abominable snowman, fed the giant all local kids know lives in iconic Delirium Dive — the one with an insatiable appetite for peanut-butter-and-jam sandwiches. “My life,” she says, “is so different because I grew up on a ski hill.”

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Bringing Family Together

That life was made possible by her grandfather, Ralph T. Scurfield. A ferocious business leader in an age of ferocious business leaders, Ralph T. earned a fortune in Calgary. Through the 1970s he grew the Nu-West Group into one of Canada’s largest homebuilding companies, with nearly 4,000 employees and diversified asset holdings of $1.9 billion. He helped establish the Faculty of Management at the University of Calgary, where Scurfield Hall has been named in his honour. And he was a founder of the Calgary Flames, helping bring the NHL franchise from Atlanta to Alberta in time for the 1980-81 season. Kendra’s grandmother, Sonia Scurfield, became the second woman — and the first Canadian woman — to have her name engraved on the Stanley Cup.

Ralph T. Scurfield’s other major acquisition in 1981 was Sunshine Village. “My grandpa was an entrepreneur; he saw the value in things before it was apparent.” Kendra adds: “He saw the purchase of Sunshine as a way to bring the family together.”

All this spells wealth, privilege, and a great deal of luck on Kendra’s part, being born into a family replete with opportunity. But it hasn’t all been sunshine and roses; the Scurfields have shared controversy.

In 1985 at the age of 57, Ralph T. was killed in an avalanche while heli-skiing near Blue River, BC — a court case followed: Scurfield v. Cariboo Heli-Skiing Ltd.. Then in 2011, more trouble: The Calgary Herald reported a lawsuit that alleged, in part, a young male Scurfield skiing near Sunshine “was caught in a closed area with four other skiers and acted aggressively.” What’s more, through the years, Sunshine Village has been pitted against Lake Louise Ski Area in a battle to claim the title as the local favourite. It’s a war that can never be won, but it’s as much a part of Kendra’s upbringing as fighting off fictional goat chickens.

When asked what advice he’d give his kids if they choose to carry on the Scurfield ski legacy, Kendra’s father, Ralph D. Scurfield, says: “That it’s a hard business.”

 

Hard Business

Ralph D.’s advice doesn’t appear to have dissuaded his daughter. With a degree from Gonzaga University and an MBA from the University of Calgary, Kendra is now employed as Sunshine’s social media manager, bringing to life to the resort’s digital platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Instagram Stories. “At present,” she says, “we have the largest social media following on Facebook of any Canadian resort.” Roughly the same age now as her father was when he took Sunshine’s reigns, Kendra’s long-term goal is to run the resort one day. “My dream,” she says, “is to take over the company.”

As is the “millennial” way, Kendra is well-educated, ambitious, civically minded, and tech savvy. As a kid, she followed her father around his office, doing odd office tasks and faxing snow reports. “I learned at a young age if you want something to happen you have to be willing to do it. There is no job too small for a person, nor too big for a person. Working at a ski area, you learn to fail and then pick yourself up. You learn to build upon your failures. You learn to be resilient.”

“The ski business is a hard business,” she adds in response to her father’s advice. “There are days when I think it would be a lot easier to work elsewhere, to work for something I didn’t love quite as much as I do. But then I quickly remember just how much the mountain means to me. I don’t doubt that the ski industry is tough; I am prepared for tough work.”

 

How do Mountains Shape You?

Now back to our original question: How does growing up on the slopes of a major Canadian ski resort shape a person?

“The mountains have shaped the adults my children have become,” Kendra’s father says. “The Canadian Rockies are a place of unparalleled beauty. The mountains can serve as a reminder to let go, and to focus on the bigger picture.”

“Every day you go to work at a place that’s bigger than you, more famous than you,” Kendra says. “It’s humbling and it’s awe-inspiring.” After some thought, she adds: “Eventually, everyone falls in love with Sunshine.”