Snowboarders sue Alta
Ryan Summerlin January 18, 2014
A group organizing itself under the name Wasatch Equality filed a lawsuit in Federal court Wednesday seeking to open up Alta Ski Area to snowboarders. Alta is one of only three resorts in the country that restrict their slopes to skiers only.
"Alta’s snowboarding position was initiated as a result of animus held by Alta’s ownership, management, and customers towards the type of people they believed to be ‘snowboarders,’ and Alta continues to enforce its anti-snowboarder policy and snowboarding ban as a consequence of this animus towards snowboarders," reads the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs’ are making a constitutional argument – that their equal protection and due process rights are being violated for no "rational basis" other than "animus" towards snowboarders. It’s a clever argument, and one that can only be made with respect to Alta — not the other two skier-only resorts in the United States, Deer Valley and Mad River Glen — because Alta "is the only one of these resorts that operates on public land controlled by the [U.S. Forest Service]," according to the lawsuit.
"Alta claims that it is attempting to maintain a ‘skiing culture,’ that its terrain is not conducive to snowboards, and that its business model caters to a skier-only market," according to the lawsuit.
Drew Hicken, a founder of Wasatch Equality and one of the plaintiffs in the suit, doesn’t buy Alta’s reasoning.
"That is just ridiculous," he said. "They’re all talking about traversing. If you need to have a lower traversing line for snowboarders, so be it. Sometimes that’s how it is at Snowbird, and everyone gets along fine."
"We don’t think that any of the reasons we’ve heard articulated from Alta are legitimate," said plaintiffs’ attorney Jonathan R. Schofield of Parr Brown Gee & Loveless. "The fact that a snowboarder can’t do a traverse doesn’t mean they can’t use other parts of the mountain. There’s a lot of terrain on Alta that can be accessed just fine by snowboarders."
Schofield said Alta’s stance is insulting even to non-expert skiers. "It’s almost like they’re saying ‘Alta should only be for expert skiers.’"
The lawsuit states that it is brought "on behalf of all snowboarders who are currently prohibited by Alta," but also "on behalf of all skiers who wish to ski with family and friends who snowboard."
The "family and friends" factor is an important one for Hicken, and he said that Wasatch Equality takes a positive stance in its efforts.
"A real important part of Wasatch Equality’s program is that we’re not going to antagonize Alta or be rude or provoke anybody in any way, shape or form or call them Nazis or any of this [stuff] that’s been going on for years. I am over that. I have kids," he said.
"That’s not going to help our fight," he continued. "If we can stay strong and just be professional and just be positive about it, the negative comments that come from that small group of skiers [that oppose snowboarders at Alta] — it will only make them look worse."
Notably, there’s a chance, according to a clerk at the district court where the case was filed, that the case could end up in front of now-famous judge Richard Shelby, who put Utah in international headlines last month when he ruled on another case involving equal protection and due process rights when he declared Utah’s ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional.