SALT LAKE CITY (CN) – Snowboarders claim they’ve been barred unconstitutionally from a ski resort on federal land in Utah, treated like “second-class citizens” based on outdated stigmas that snowboarders are “immature” and “out of control.”
Wasatch Equality, professional snowboarder Bjorn Leines and three others sued Alta Ski Area, the U.S. Forest Service and its Wasatch-Cache National Forest Supervisor David Whittekiend, in Federal Court.
Alta, in the Wasatch Mountains near Salt Lake City, has prohibited snowboarders for nearly 30 years. It’s one of only three ski resorts in that North America prohibit snowboarding, according to the lawsuit. The others are Alta competitor Deer Valley, in Utah, and Mad River Glen in Vermont.
Alta is the only one of the three that operates on public land, controlled by the Forest Service under a winter site operation plan reviewed by Whittekiend, and an annually issued ski area term special use permit.
Of Alta’s 2,130 acres, 1,802 are on public land.
“Alta’s anti-snowboarder policy and snowboarding ban is therefore enforced on federally owned land, operates to exclude a particular class of individuals from use and enjoyment of this public land, and is reviewed and endorsed annually by the USFS [U.S. Forest Service] in approving Alta’s permit and/or plan as well as under the terms of its contract with Alta,” the 26-page complaint states.
The snowboarders claim the Forest Service entered into a “joint enterprise” and a “symbiotic relationship” with Alta; they say the resort should be operated like others on federal land – namely, nearby Snowbird and Brighton.
Alta did not always shun snowboarders, they say. Co-plaintiffs Drew Hicken and Richard Varga say that in the early 1980s they were allowed on Alta’s lifts.
However, “By the mid-1980s, Alta summarily decided it would no longer allow snowboarders to access its terrain or ride its chairlifts and instituted its anti-snowboarder policy and snowboarding ban,” the plaintiffs say.
Alta’s former general manager Chic Morton said snowboarders would not be allowed at Alta “as long as [he was] alive,” according to the complaint.
“On information and belief, when efforts were being made to grant snowboarders access to ski resorts in the late 1980s, various individuals contacted the general manager of Alta at the time, Chic Morton, to discuss the possibility of opening Alta for snowboarding. Mr. Morton responded to these requests by declaring that ‘anyone who uses the words rip, tear, or shred will never be welcome at Alta’ (a reference to the vocabulary used by snowboarders at the time). On another occasion, Mr. Morton stated that ‘as long as [he was] alive snowboarders will never be allowed at Alta.'”
Leines – a longtime professional snowboarder whose sponsorships include Volcom, DC Shoes and Oakley – claims he is unable to snowboard at Alta with his two children or his parents, who live in the town of Alta.
The plaintiffs say the ban “flies in the face of Utah’s family values.”
“Alta’s anti-snowboarder policy and snowboarding ban is based on antiquated stigmas and stereotypes that snowboarders are immature, inexperienced, reckless, disrespectful, and/or ‘out of control.’ …
“Alta’s anti-snowboarder policy and snowboarding ban hurts Utah tourism and, by excluding mixed-skier/snowboarder families, flies in the face of Utah’s family values,” the complaint states.
Plaintiffs Rick Alden, Hicken and Varga tried to board an Alta lift with snowboards on Jan. 12, but say they were denied access and escorted away from the line.
The men say they were told by the resort’s general manager, Otto Wieringa, that the ski-only rules were “really just a business decision.”
The complaint adds: “Mr. Wieringa further stated that Alta ‘can make enough money to be sustainable by just offering skiing, not getting into tubing, not getting into ziplines and bungees and snowboarding.’ When plaintiffs asked what harm would result from allowing snowboarding, Mr. Wieringa responded that Alta’s policies work for Alta because ‘we like it, our skiers like it, our owners like it, and the Forest Service says it’s OK.'”
The plaintiffs say they watched skiers on a variety of equipment – including “alpine skis, wide powder skis, twin-tip free-ride skis, telemark skis, alpine-touring skis, and even a mono-ski” – board Alta’s lifts that day.
Signs in ticket windows at Alta declare in large, bold letters: “No Snowboards.” The resort’s trail map, next to Alta and Forest Service logos, states: “Alta is a skiers’ mountain, Snowboarding is not allowed.”
“Alta’s anti-snowboarder policy and snowboarding ban, as well as Alta’s advertising and marketing of the same, perpetuates stereotypes and prejudices, creating a division between skiers and snowboarders and demeaning snowboarders as second-class citizens not worthy of accessing Alta’s terrain. All of this is to say that Alta’s anti-snowboarder policy and snowboarding ban is based on, creates, facilitates, endorses, and promotes animus towards snowboarders,” the complaint states.
Wasatch Equality, a nonprofit, was formed to promote “equality and harmony among skiers and snowboarders, as well as promoting equal access and fair use of public lands by the public, regardless of whether snowboarding or skiing,” the complaint adds.
The plaintiffs seek declaration that the ban violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, plus an injunction and costs.
They are represented by Jonathan Schofield with Parr Brown Fee & Loveless.
Snowboarding became a Winter Olympics event in 1998. It has been treated as a poor country cousin to skiing, much as skateboarding is disdained in some parts, for reasons uncertain.
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