Alta ski area says snowboarders' lawsuit demeans Constitution

Tuesday , March 25, 2014 - 6:25 PM

Brady McCombs

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah ski area that is one of the last U.S. ski resorts to prohibit snowboarding says a lawsuit challenging the ban demeans the Constitution and should be thrown out.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in January, four snowboarders claimed discrimination on national forest lands that make up most of the Alta ski area in the mountains east of Salt Lake City. Their attorneys argued that the ban violates the 14th Amendment’s promise of equal treatment.

“It demeans the Constitution to suggest that the amendment that protected the interests of former slaves during Reconstruction and James Meredith and the Little Rock Nine must be expanded to protect the interests of those who engage in a particularized winter sport,” Alta ski area lawyers wrote in a rebuttal filed late last week.

The attorneys later added: “There is no authority holding that the zone of interest created by the Fourteenth Amendment protects those who stand sideways on snowboards.”

Alta also reminds the court that it is a privately-owned business with the right to make decisions it determines are best for the corporation. Their permit with the Forest Service allows them to restrict any type of skiing device that creates an “unnecessary risk to other skiers.”

The snowboarders contend in the lawsuit that Alta dislikes them for their allegedly reckless activity on the slopes, inconsiderate attitude, baggy clothes and their overuse of such words as “gnarly” and “radical” when describing difficult terrain.

Alta attorneys acknowledge in the brief that they promote the snowboarder-free experience to lure skiers. They say that skiers find the slopes at Alta more peaceful, safe and enjoyable because they don’t have to worry about being hit by snowboarders whose sideways stance leaves them with a blind spot that can make their wide, sweeping turns a danger to others on the slopes.

Skiers, in contrast, don’t have any blind spots because the face forward as they speed down the slopes.

The other two resorts that ban snowboarding are Deer Valley, another Utah resort, and Mad River Glen in Vermont. Taos in New Mexico relented in 2009 and allowed the practice.

The lawsuit has reignited a long-festering culture clash on the slopes between skiers and snowboarders.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit — Rick Alden, Drew Hicken, Bjorn Leines and Richard Vargas — bought tickets to Alta in January knowing they would be turned away at the chairlifts and could then sue the resort. One of them later sneaked onto the lift using “split boards” — a snowboard that splits apart and resembles skis — but was intercepted and escorted down the mountain.

The lawsuit concedes that snowboarders were “perhaps rightfully” stereotyped as riffraff decades ago by more sophisticated and affluent skiers, but times have changed.

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