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$5K refund ordered for group trip booked at B.C. ski lodge that was shut down by government

The Cariboo Mountains, located in the B.C. Interior, are seen in an undated image. The Cariboo Mountains, located in the B.C. Interior, are seen in an undated image.
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A man who booked a group trip to a B.C. ski lodge last year is entitled to a $5,000 refund – because the people he paid for the accommodations were not “legally entitled” to provide them, the province’s small claims tribunal has ruled.

Graham Underhill told the Civil Resolution Tribunal that when he planned the five-day outing to Snowy Mountain Lodge – located near Blue River, in the Cariboo Mountains – he had no idea the backcountry property was at the centre of an ongoing legal battle with the B.C. government.

The tribunal heard that Underhill received an email two days before his Feb. 19, 2023, trip from someone who mentioned that the lodge had been "officially closed by the province."

“Nothing has been conveyed to me by the owners,” Underhill replied.

Lodge on Crown land

Dana Desiree Foster and Stephen Ludwig previously operated the Snowy Mountain Lodge with permission from the province – as the site is located on Crown land – but are no longer licenced to do so.

The government's refusal to renew their tenure is the subject of an ongoing B.C. Supreme Court case, and Foster and Ludwig argued that Underhill's complaint should be put on pause until that matter is decided.

Tribunal member Kate Campbell disagreed.

"Regardless of the outcome of the ongoing BCSC proceeding, the respondents had been served with a Notice to Vacate, Notice of Seizure, and Notices of Trespass related to the lodge before the applicant booked his trip," Campbell wrote in her decision, which was posted online Wednesday.

“Those notices were in place and legally in force at the time of the booking, and at the time of the scheduled trip.”

'Disagreement' on departure day

The tribunal heard Underhill paid a $5,250 deposit in two installments in the months leading up to his group trip, which covered several people for whom he would be acting as a guide.

The booking fees were to include transportation to Snowy Mountain Lodge – but when the group arrived at the arranged meeting place on departure day, there was a "disagreement," according to Campbell's decision.

"The respondents did not transport the group to the lodge, and the trip did not occur," she wrote. "The parties disagree about why."

A member of Underhill's group provided a statement saying the guide asked Foster at that meeting place whether the government had closed the lodge, and that she refused to answer.

Foster and Ludgwig told the tribunal they had already informed Underhill about their ongoing court case, including in an email weeks before the scheduled trip – though Campbell noted that no such email was presented to the tribunal as evidence.

The pair also alleged that Underhill was not certified to lead a guided trip, hadn't told them he planned to do so at Snowy Mountain Lodge, and showed up with a larger group than he had paid deposits for.

Underhill disputed some of those claims, but Campbell said "nothing in this dispute" turned on any of those arguments anyway.

The crux of the case, she wrote, was that the operators "were not legally entitled to rent out the lodge or host any guests."

October 2023 court injunction

The tribunal heard that Foster and Ludwig had been served a Notice to Vacate the Crown land in November 2020, a Notice of Trespass in December 2020, another Notice of Trespass in January 2021, a Notice of Seizure in June 2021, and another Notice of Trespass in April 2022 that included a $1,000 administrative penalty.

In October 2023, the government was granted a court injunction barring the lodge operators from accessing the property.

"The land is Crown land. They are not allowed to use or occupy those lands without permission or licence to do so," reads a portion of the B.C. Supreme Court order, which Campbell quoted in her decision.

"I acknowledge that the respondents dispute the province’s position in the BCSC proceeding, and argue there that they have an ongoing right to use and occupy the lodge," Campbell wrote.

"(But) when the applicant’s trip was supposed to occur, the respondents did not have the province’s permission to use the lodge, and had been repeatedly ordered not to do so."

She ordered the pair to pay Underhill a refund of $5,000 – the most that can be claimed through the tribunal, outside of strata disputes – plus $307 in pre-judgment interest and $175 in tribunal fees.

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