Switchback-Should Snowboards be Allowed at Alta?
Alta is one of three resorts in the US that denies access to snowboarders. Earlier this winter a lawsuit was filed against Alta Ski Lifts and the US Forest Service to force the resort to open its boundaries to snowboarders, who have long been forbidden on the hill during the normal operating season. As the case stands now, Alta and the Forest Service have until March 24th to respond to the suit. In the meantime, a debate to the questions- Should snowboards be allowed at Alta?
Open it Up!
On January 15, 2014, Wasatch Equality, a Utah non-profit corporation dedicated to equal access for snowboarders and skiers, filed a lawsuit against Alta in federal court, challenging Alta’s snowboarding ban under the US Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. While the issues will ultimately be decided by the court, the public debate over Alta’s policy has been reinvigorated. Wasatch Equality provides the following responses to some of the arguments that have been raised in opposition to the lawsuit and in support of Alta’s ban:
“The lawsuit is frivolous.” – We don’t think so and neither do our lawyers. Some argue that our Constitutional challenge is doomed to fail because snowboarders are not a “protected class.” According to our attorney, Jonathan Schofield of Parr Brown Gee & Loveless:
The Constitution guarantees fairness under the law and requires that the government treat similarly-situated people alike, regardless of whether or not the party being discriminated against is a member of a protected class, unless the discrimination is, at a minimum, rationally related to a legitimate interest. Because of Alta’s relationship with the Forrest Service, Alta must follow the same rules as other government actors. On its face, Alta’s snowboarding ban treats snowboarders differently than skiers by denying snowboarders equal access to public land. While Alta has a legitimate interest in operating a ski resort safely and effectively, there does not appear to be any rational relationship between its snowboarder ban and these interests. And, evidence shows that the reasons offered to justify the snowboarding ban are mere pretext for animus (dislike) of the type of people believed to constitute snowboarders. Animus is inherently irrational and can never justify governmental discrimination.
Wasatch Equality has retained one of the most highly-respected law firms in Salt Lake City. Our lawyers would not have brought this case if it lacked merit.
“Alta is a private business and can run its business however it wants.” – Not true. While private businesses can usually operate their business as they please, Alta operates on public land in partnership with the Forest Service. Thus, they cannot discriminate irrationally.
“If Alta must allow snowboards, then tubes, sleds, and snowmobiles must be allowed too.” – Wrong again. Tubes, sleds, and snowmobiles are not in the same class as a skis or snowboards. Snowboarders and skiers coexist at nearly every ski resort in the world. Alta already allows a variety of “skis,” including skiblades, monoskis, and even teleboards. Banning snowboarders unless the snowboarder uses “skis” is not only silly, it’s irrational.
“Snowboarders can go somewhere else” – Perhaps, but this should be the snowboarders’ choice, not Alta’s? Alta is on public land, and the skiing public (40% of which are snowboarders) should be able to enjoy it equally. Alta is a unique mountain with world-class terrain, and it receives more snow than any other resort in Utah. Snowboarders want to ride this terrain just as much as skiers. If skiers want to ride a mountain without snowboarders, they can go somewhere else, like Deer Valley, which is not on public land.
“Snowboarders can come to Alta if they just put on a pair of skis.” – Thanks, but no thanks. Imagine how Alta skiers would feel if they were banned from Alta unless they used a snowboard. Just as Alta skiers view themselves as skiers, many snowboarders identify themselves as snowboarders. For many, snowboarding is a way of life. Some snowboarders, including Plaintiff Bjorn Leines, even make their living snowboarding. Some have gained Olympic fame through snowboarding. Yet, even Olympic athletes, such as Sage Kotsenburg and Kaitlyn Farrington, Utah’s own gold-medalist snowboarders, cannot enjoy their sport at Alta.
“Snowboards are not suited for Alta, given the many traverses” – Seriously? Most ski resorts have traverses, and snowboarders navigate them just fine. If the ban had anything to do with the terrain or snowboarder ability, Alta would also be banning other equipment and low-ability skiers from certain terrain. Instead, Alta allows “skiers” (including monoskiers and teleboarders) of any ability to use the public land without question.
“Snowboarders are more dangerous. “ — False. Too often a skier says something like “I was hit by an out-of-control snowboarder!” Not only is this purely anecdotal, it also is contradicted by the actual statistics showing that, while skiers and snowboarders have similar injury rates, skiers are more likely to get hit by other skiers than by a snowboarder. Some claim snowboarders have a blindspot. Unless they know something we don’t, skiers and snowboarders are both human with the ability position their head in the direction they are traveling. Consequently, snowboarders can see downhill just like skiers do. Regardless, even at Alta, where skiers are allowed to ski backwards and everyone must abide by the skier safety code (mandating that uphill traffic must yield to those downhill), the blindspot argument makes no sense.
In sum, we see no rational reason to exclude snowboarders from having equal access to the public land at Alta. Alta’s snowboarder ban promotes a divisive skier-versus-snowboarder mentality. It’s time to get along and coexist regardless of how you choose to slide down a mountain.
Alta is for Everyone,
Leave Alta Alone-
By Ray Grass
Be careful what you wish for. Or, in this case, sue for.
Case in point: Snowboarders versus Alta.
It’s a hot topic. An earlier opinion piece I wrote for the Deseret News/KSL Outdoors received nearly 20,000 hits and more than 160 comments before the line was closed.
I read some, but not all. Most supported Alta’s policy, even several snowboarders sided with Alta. More interesting, however, was a point I hadn’t considered.
The suit by Rick Alden, Drew Hicken, Richard Varga and Bjorn Leines, and filed by lead attorney Jonathan R. Schofield, claims Alta and the U.S. Forest Service violate their “constitutional rights.’’ It goes on to say they are discriminated against because they are snowboarders.
And it cites language in the USFS permit requiring “lands and waters covered by this permit shall remain open to the public for all lawful purposes.’’
As several comment writers asked: Does that include snowmobilers? Should Alta’s slopes be open to snowmobilers and tubers and hikers and bikers?
All are lawful and, according to the suit, and are discriminated against because of “animus’’ attitudes. Cross country skiers have nothing good to say about snowmobilers and visa versa; tubers and hikers do nothing but litter some charge; and mountain bikers mark up the landscape and are a nuisance on the trails claim hikers.
Going one-step further, does this mean motorcycles should have access to hiking-only trails or four-wheelers to closed USFS roads or ATVs to wilderness areas? All are lawful. All have their rights.
The tone of the suit suggests, and would want you to believe, all skiers despise snowboarders, which is simply not the case. I’ve heard as many disparaging words from snowboarders against skiers as I have skiers against snowboarders.
And it may seem like I hate snowboarders. Not the case. I was outdoor editor for the Deseret News and oversaw the Deseret News Ski School, which was to become the Deseret News Ski/Snowboard School. I brought snowboarding into the school in 2000 and over the next 10 years was responsible for introducing more than 4,000 students to the sport of snowboarding. The program was closed after 63 years in 2010.
I have snowboarded and skied. My wife has snowboarded and skied. My three children snowboard. Some of my grandkids may choose to snowboard and I’d be happy for them and will encourage them to do so if they wish.
The suit claims there is no rational reason for banning snowboarding on Alta’s slopes. “The only difference between (skiing and snowboarding) is the orientation of a person’s feet on the skis or board,’’ it claims.
How about the fact snowboarders face across the slope and skiers face down the slope. There is one undeniable fact: Snowboarders have a blind spot.
Does it bother me? No. But it’s something I watch for when I’m skiing. It does bother some, however, which is why they feel more comfortable skiing at Alta or Deer Valley.
There are some other troubling points in the suit.
It says Alta’s snowboard ban “hurts Utah tourism. . .” Go to Alta or Deer Valley and see how many visitors are there because of the resorts’ policy.
Also, it claims Alta’s policy “flies in the face of Utah’s family values.’‘ That, I’m afraid, is a real reach. Families that ski and snowboard together have 12 world-class resorts to ski and board together. Or, I’ve spoken with many parents who drop off the boarders and then go to Alta or Deer Valley, and then pick up the kids at the end of the day. Never heard complaints from either side.
Do I think snowboarders have a place in the winter scene — yes. There are 12 world-class areas in Utah that welcome snowboarders and with cooperative passes added this year by resorts and there are another dozen or so in neighboring states. Do I believe skiers should have a place free from snowboarders — yes.
I think this suit isn’t so much about snowboarding as it is about entitlement, and that’s what bothers me the most. The four men somehow feel entitled.
And, it’s not Alta’s policy that drives the wedge deeper and deeper between skiers and snowboarders. It’s frivolous lawsuits that will cost Alta and the USFS thousands of dollars, filed by four men who somehow think they are entitled.
And again I say- if there were a resort closed to skiers, I’d wish it and snowboarders only the very best.
Ray Grass is a Former outdoor editor for the Deseret News and is now a contributor to Deseret News/KSL Outdoors.