Ski Resort Allowed to Exclude Snowboarders

     DENVER (CN) – A Utah ski company did not violate snowboarders’ equal-protection rights when it banned them from its resort, the 10th Circuit ruled.
     The Alta Ski Area in Salt Lake County, Utah, operates on a special-use permit from the U.S. Forest Service and prohibits snowboarders from using their trails with a ski-only policy.
     A group of four snowboarders, along with Utah nonprofit Wasatch Equality, argued in Utah Federal Court in January 2014 that the resort was violating their equal protection rights by expressly banning snowboarders from the mountain, which is located in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest. Alta operates on federal land under its permit.
     According to court records, the ski rangers working at the resort are instructed to only take skiers up the mountain, and the trails are marked with signs that clearly say: “No snowboards.”
     The district court dismissed the lawsuit, saying Wasatch had failed to identify a state action in the resort’s policies. Wasatch and the snowboarders appealed the decision in the Tenth Circuit last November.
     Jonathan Schofield, of Parr, Brown, Gee & Loveless, argued on their behalf.
     “There was no rational basis for the ban,” Schofield told 10th Circuit Judges Harris Hartz, Gregory Phillips, and Nancy Moritz.
     Schofield argued that the resort was “targeting a group of people who were undesirable on that mountain.”
     However, in a 15-page opinion released Tuesday, the 10th Circuit sided with Alta, with the three-judge panel affirming the lower court.
     “The complaint at best establishes that the Forest Service knows about the snowboard ban (through, e.g., Alta’s signage and trail maps) and continues to approve its permit each year notwithstanding the ban,” Moritz wrote for the panel. “Wasatch nonetheless argues this is enough involvement by the Forest Service to constitute state action, because the snowboard ban ‘exists only because the government either approves or ignores it when reviewing and approving each annual plan, which must be prepared in consultation with the government to become part of the permit.'” (Emphasis and parentheses in original.)
     But the panel agreed that the Forest Service seemed to do little more than allow Alta to enforce safety regulations, which involved protecting skiers from more dangerous equipment, like a toboggan — or snowboards.
     “The complaint doesn’t plausibly establish that the Forest Service ‘approves or ignores’ the ban itself as Wasatch seems to now argue,” Tuesday’s ruling states. “Rather, at best [it] indicates that the Forest Service annually approves a winter site operation plan that, in part, authorizes Alta ‘to exclude any type of skiing device that [it] deem[s] creates an unnecessary risk to other skiers and/or the user of the device, or any device [it] deem[s] causes undue damages to the quality of the snow, or is not consistent with [its] business management decisions.'”
     The 10th Circuit panel agreed that this didn’t count as state action, and didn’t respond to the rest of the snowboarders’ counts.
     “Because this conclusion controls all issues on appeal, we decline to address Wasatch’s challenges to the district court’s alternative rulings,” Moritz wrote.
     The plaintiffs in the case included professional snowboarder Bjorn Leines.
     A study by Mpora magazine found that, while snowboarders are 50 to 70 percent more likely to be injured than skiers, the number of annual ski accident fatalities were three times higher than those of snowboarders in the 2011/2012 winter season.

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