Fresh accusations hound controversial sports boss
Snow Sports New Zealand boss Ross Palmer faces fresh allegations of lying over a violent skifield set-to with a queue-jumping school student.
Palmer and Mt Aspiring College pupil Sam Lee – then 17 – had to be separated by Cardrona skifield staff after ending up on the ground in a lift queue on August 7.
Embattled Palmer, who back in June apologised to parents after a 13-year-old boy on a SSNZ snowboard camp ended up in an alcohol-induced coma, also faces a new allegation he swore at two 15-year-old school girls up at Cardrona the same day he had his run-in with Sam.
Sam, a promising skier, was competing in a secondary schools competition.
Palmer was in the queue with his young son aged 7. They started arguing when Sam – queue-jumping to join mates – went across the top of Palmer’s skis.
At the time, Palmer admitted to Mountain Scene that he pushed Sam first, claiming the schoolboy had sworn at him and given him the finger.
He repeatedly denied his push knocked Sam to the ground.
But Sam’s father Rob Lee has now written to SSNZ’s board alleging Palmer’s account to Mountain Scene “varies considerably” from admissions by Palmer at a mediation meeting held at Mt Aspiring College days after the fight.
Lee’s August 25 letter to SSNZ – obtained by Mountain Scene – says at that meeting, school deputy principal and mediator Greg Thornton clearly summarised what happened and Sam and Palmer each agreed.
“Sam apologised for provoking the incident by queue-cutting and Ross apologised for starting the swearing and for starting the physical altercation where Sam was either pushed or punched with enough force that he ended up on the ground,” Lee writes.
An eyewitness to the fight – and Sam himself – have also told Mountain Scene that Palmer knocked Sam to the ground.
Lee’s letter demands that SSNZ undertake an independent review of the incident, saying he believes Palmer’s actions on the day were “highly inappropriate”, brought SSNZ into “disrepute” – and “he is not being truthful in his account to the newspaper”.
SSNZ chairman Rick Pettit wrote back to Lee on September 4, saying his board wouldn’t do a review but would establish a “code of conduct” within SSNZ.
“This includes times when skiing/boarding privately – particularly while wearing Snow Sports NZ clothing,” Pettit writes.
Lee tells Mountain Scene he’s sent another letter this week repeating his call for an independent review and expressing dissatisfaction at Pettit’s refusal.
“I think it shows a lack of judgement, smacks of questionable governance and it has a complete lack of transparency,” Lee fumes.
“I’ve written to [SSNZ] calling into question the standard of behaviour of their CEO.”
Pettit tells Mountain Scene he still doesn’t think a review is warranted and his board has discussed the question at length.
“The only independent review that has any validity is a police investigation.”
Asked if he condones Palmer’s behaviour, Pettit admits: “Yes, I do. If I didn’t, I would be having a formal investigation.
“You’ve got to put it into context. I guess when someone is standing in your face yelling ‘F..k you, f..k you’, and putting your finger up somebody’s nose, you do take that as an affront to your personal space.
“I wonder how anybody would react under those circumstances,” says Pettit, adding Palmer was “black and blue” from the fight when he saw him next day.
Pettit retains full confidence in Palmer, praising him for achieving an incredible amount in his 18 months at SSNZ.
Mountain Scene quizzed Palmer this week on whether Sam fell. “From my and my board’s perspective, this issue was resolved in August.”
Told Lee’s letter claims Palmer apologised at the school meeting for pushing or punching Sam with enough force to put him on the ground, Palmer says: “Well, that’s Rob Lee’s recollection, isn’t it?”
Ski Racing NZ chairman Tony Oxnevad, involved in merger talks with SSNZ, says Lee should continue trying to resolve the matter directly with SSNZ.
“But if not, we’ll be happy to raise the matter with SSNZ ourselves. It involved a ski racer and is a concern to us,” Oxnevad says.
They’re at odds over biffo story
The Cardrona skifield scrap was Mountain Scene’s lead story on August 13 – now it’s led to the bitter dispute flaring up all over again.
Sam Lee’s father Rob accuses Snow Sports NZ boss Ross Palmer of admitting at a peace-making meeting to starting the physical stuff which ended with his schoolboy son on the ground – but telling Mountain Scene something different.
Here’s a verbatim transcript from part of Palmer’s interview for that August 13 story:
Mountain Scene: Did Sam Lee end up on the ground?
Palmer: “I don’t believe so.”
MS: You were right there.
Palmer: “No, I don’t think he did.”
MS: You don’t think he did? Did he or not?
Palmer: “Not from my recollection.”
MS: Ross, did he end up on the ground or not?
Palmer: “I just said no.”
MS: He didn’t?
Palmer: “Not from my recollection, no.”
MS: You’re not being very specific. It’s pretty obvious if someone is on the ground or not. Did he end up falling on the ground?
Palmer: “I don’t believe so.”
MS: Why can’t you say he didn’t – categorically?
Palmer: “My recollection is that he didn’t.”
MS: Why is your recollection hazy?
Palmer: “It’s not hazy.”
Later in the same interview, Palmer admitted he got physical first, pushing Lee because he’d “exploded into a rage in my face, dropping the F-bomb, screaming at the top of his lungs, ‘F..k you, f..k you’, sticking his middle finger in my face and I felt threatened.
So I pushed him away from me and then he set upon me.”
Again asked if Lee fell over, Palmer replied: “No.”
It felt like you punched me – no I certainly did not
Asked this week by Mountain Scene to clarify how the physical part of the altercation started, schoolboy Sam Lee emails:
“Ross Palmer started the fight.
I was hit on the right side of my head by what I believe to be a punch from him.
It felt like a fist and had enough force to knock me to the ground. If you are going to go around hitting people then you should expect them to react.”
In response, Palmer first says: “This issue was resolved in August.”
Hours later, the Snow Sports boss emails: “You said you have a statement from Sam that I punched him in the head.
“I categorically deny punching him in the head or anywhere else.”
‘It definitely knocked him over’
A fellow Mount Aspiring College student about a metre away from queue-jumping Sam Lee alleges Snow Sports boss Ross Palmer gave the schoolboy a “pushing punch”.
“It definitely knocked him over,” says the eyewitness, who knows Sam from school.
“It wasn’t just like a push just to keep him back, it was a push to try to push him over.”
The eyewitness says Palmer was repeatedly telling Sam to go to the back of the line at the Whitestar Express lift when Sam started swearing at him and giving him the finger.
“Sam tried to ski across and as he was doing that Ross gives him like a pushing punch.
“Sam’s quite taken aback, stumbles over and puts his hand down to keep himself up and then just lunges at Ross and decks him.”
The eyewitness says both could have dealt with it “way better”.
“It could have been easily resolved with Ross saying ‘Sure, you can move through’ and Sam being like ‘Oh thanks’.”
Asked to clarify where Palmer’s “pushing punch” hit, the eyewitness alleges: “Upper chest. It could have been neck and face as well.
“I didn’t see it that clearly – [Palmer] had gloves. From what I saw, the likely places would be upper chest, neck and maybe chin.”
Palmer dropped F-bomb on us, says schoolgirl
A 15-year-old Mt Aspiring College student claims Snow Sports NZ boss Ross Palmer verbally abused her and a female friend at Cardrona on the same day as Palmer’s fight with fellow student Sam Lee.
The girl, who claims Palmer wore a SSNZ jacket, says: “He just told us to slow down – and swore at us a couple of times.
He was just like ‘Oh, f***ing slow down, it’s not a f***ing racecourse’.”
Mountain Scene: Exact words?
Schoolgirl: “Yeah. I’m pretty sure the liftie was like ‘Just calm down’.
“We are kind of shocked that he would act like that because he’s meant to be the top [SSNZ] guy.
We were just like ‘What a retard’ and left.”
The girl, who’s been on skis since the age of nine, says they were “just cruising” and the run was fairly open.
“We were in control of our speed, we can see everyone and we’re not stupid enough to hit them.”
Palmer denies dropping the F-bomb.
“I didn’t swear.
Asking people to slow down in a congested area is an everyday occurrence on ski mountains.”
CEO’s other sorry tale
Snow Sports NZ boss Ross Palmer’s apology to Sam Lee after their skifield set-to is the second time this winter he’s had to say sorry.
Back in June, SSNZ hit national headlines when a 13-year-old Wanaka boy on a SSNZ training camp was found in an alcohol-induced coma and admitted to hospital – after downing a bottle of Jagermeister in about 30 minutes.
Palmer wrote to parents later that month offering his “deepest apologies” to all the families whose children took part in the SSNZ camp.
“We could have done more to help ensure a safer and more disciplined environment for young people who were in our care.”