Ski trip highlights liability issue

The Dalhousie Ski and Snowboard Society found an alternative to the student union's liability requirements.

Students say the Tiger Society website fails at reaching out to newcomers. Photo: Sergio Gonzalez
The Dalhousie Student Union supports over 250 student societies, including the Dalhousie Ski and Snowboarding Society. Photo: Sergio Gonzalez

Since its establishment in 2010, the Ski and Snowboard Society at Dalhousie University has found the student union’s liability waiver too difficult to work under when arranging trips for its members to ski trails outside Halifax and Nova Scotia.

Instead, the official Dalhousie University society found its own group of people willing to transport the students.

“It’s a way to work within the system,” says Plant, who founded the society, as well as the Dalhousie Real Estate Society and the Dalhousie Chess Society.

The decision highlights the differing expectations involved in running a student society under the regulations of an academic institution.

When students join societies like the Ski and Snowboard Society, where physical harm is clearly a possibility, the Dalhousie Student Union requires them to sign liability waivers. The societies themselves are insured under the student union.

To be able to transport more than 100 students to the slopes at once, the Ski and Snowboard Society has to rent multiple buses. They also have to make sure someone in the group is CPR certified and they have to submit new insurance paperwork and liability waivers for every trip they make.

If the students wanted to take their own cars, “each driver is required to have a minimum of $1 million in coverage,” says Holly MacDonald, Member Services Co-ordinator at Dalhousie Student Union.

“Usually we say ‘whatever insurance the rental company offers, take that’,” MacDonald says.

Plant thinks this red tape gets in the way of what the society is trying to accomplish.

“We’re not a bunch of kids going on a field trip,” says Plant. “We are adults trying to have some fun.”

Going unofficial

Plant says the society reached out to a group of people from Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S. to act as a third party and transport the students to the slopes.

“It was just so much easier to deal with the individuals directly,” says Plant.

Plant says the third-party transportation system worked out so well that the Dalhousie Ski and Snowboard Society profile page on the student union’s website became just a way to attract students who were interested in the activity and recruit them into what had become an unofficial group.

MacDonald says students are allowed to have their own unofficial events. However, if a student group is using the DSU societies’ resources (such as the society’s webpage) and is bypassing its liability requirements, then that group could be reported to the DSU’s Society Review Committee. This is a student union body that reviews and approves student societies and has the ability to sanction infracting societies.

If the offences by the society surpass the sanctioning scope of the council, then the university is called to review the case.

The Dalhousie Ski and Snowboard Society has not been sanctioned for operating outside regulations. Plant says the trips organized by the third party society were so well-received by the students that the idea quickly became into a business.

Michael Craig, one of the people from Acadia with whom Plant worked to bypass Dal’s red tape, created Roxbur Trips, a student travel company specializing in ski and snowboard trips.

A new season

Plant has since relinquished the Ski and Snowboard Society to Dal students Justin St-Laurent and James McIntyre. Their first session will begin in the winter semester.

St-Laurent said they have no comment on how the society will operate this year.

“We really hope to bring together like-minded skiers and snowboarders, as well as offer opportunities for these people to get out the hill this season,” says St-Laurent.

Darcy Plant, creator of three student societies. Photo:Sergio Gonzalez
Darcy Plant, founder of the Dalhousie Ski and Snowboard Society. Photo: Sergio Gonzalez

Despite problems Plant had working with three different societies, he says they should stay in place. For him, they allow people to get together with those who shares similar interests but might not interact with on a day-to-day basis.

“[Societies are] a good way to meet new friends and improve yourself and challenge yourself,” says Plant. However, in the case of the Dalhousie Ski and Snowboard Society, working under all that red tape “was just too much of a headache.”