Snowboarders Sue Alta for Access

By David Schissler (February 2014) To the best of my knowledge, Alta, Utah, Mad River Glen, Vermont, and Deer Valley, Utah are the only three resorts located in North America that currently ban snowboards from their slopes. Soon, it’s possible there will only be two. In mid-January a group of four snowboarders called Wasatch Equality, […]

By David Schissler

(February 2014) To the best of my knowledge, Alta, Utah, Mad River Glen, Vermont, and Deer Valley, Utah are the only three resorts located in North America that currently ban snowboards from their slopes. Soon, it’s possible there will only be two.

In mid-January a group of four snowboarders called Wasatch Equality, a non-profit group formed solely for the purpose of addressing this issue, filed a lawsuit against Alta and the U.S. Forest Service to open the area to boarders. They claim Alta’s snowboarding ban, as enforced by the U.S. Forest Service, violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and is therefore unlawful. The suit states the plaintiffs bought tickets one Sunday knowing they would be turned away at the chairlifts and could then sue the resort. Later one of them sneaked onto the lift with split boards (snowboards that come apart in two pieces) but he was apprehended and escorted off of the mountain. You’ll find a full copy of the Complaint at: http://wasatchequality.org/lawsuit .

According to the plaintiffs attorney, Jonathan Schofield of Parr Brown Gee & Loveless “Alta is one of only three ski resorts in the United States that does not allow snowboarding, and Alta is the only one of these resorts that is operated on public land controlled by the Forest Service. Because of Alta’s relationship with the government, Alta’s actions must comply with the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. Alta’s prohibition against snowboarders excludes a particular class of individuals from use and enjoyment of public land based on irrational discrimination against snowboarders, which denies them equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.” The area covers 2,130 total acres. 85% or 1,802 acres are on public land.

The U.S. Forest Service Permit under which Alta operates specifically states public lands “shall remain open to the public for all lawful purposes,” yet Alta refuses access to certain members of the public. The Complaint alleges that when Alta enacted its snowboarder ban in the mid-1980s the policy was initiated as a result of animus held by Alta’s ownership, management, and customers towards snowboarders. The plaintiffs believe Alta continues to enforce its ban based on this animus. They further allege the reasons offered by Alta in supporting its policy are a pretext and that there is no legitimate reason for Alta and the Forest Service’s continued denial of access to one group of people (snowboarders) while granting access to a similar group of people (skiers). Thus, according to the Complaint, Alta’s anti-snowboarder policy and snowboarding ban cannot be enforced.

“We feel that it is time for Alta to let go of outdated prejudices that perpetuate a skier versus snowboarder mentality and allow everyone, regardless of whether they are skiers or snowboarders, to share the mountain together,” said plaintiff Drew Hicken. “There is no reason skiing and snowboarding can’t coexist.”

David Quinney, whose grandfather Joe Quinney founded Alta in 1939, and a minority owner of Alta, said his customers prefer the mountain with skiers only. “Alta is forbidden fruit for snowboarders,” said Quinney, “The thing about Alta, so much of it involves hiking, climbing and traversing. That’s not real conducive to snowboarding.” Alta once allowed snowboarding. According to the lawsuit snowboarders could ride its chair lifts in the early 1980s, and Hicken and another plaintiff, Richard Varga, were among some of the first snowboarders at Alta.

Snowboarding is in decline but according to the National Ski Areas Association roughly a third of all lift tickets are sold to boarders.