SALT LAKE CITY – A reignited culture clash between snowboarders and skiers didn’t get an immediate resolution Monday after boarders suing one of the last ski resorts in the country to prohibit their hobby argued in a Utah courtroom that the ban is discriminatory and based on outdated stereotypes.
U.S. District Judge Dee Benson didn’t rule on the resort’s request to throw out the lawsuit, and there’s no deadline for him to do so.
The Alta ski area, which sits on mostly federally owned land in the mountains east of Salt Lake City, said a snowboarder-free mountain is safer for skiers. The sport is a choice so boarders shouldn’t get special protection under the Constitution, resort attorney Robert Rice argued.
Alta says it is a private business and its permit with the U.S. Forest Service allows it to restrict ski devices it deems risky. Resort attorneys contend snowboarders can be dangerous because their sideways stance leaves them with a blind spot.
But snowboarders claim the resort bans them because it doesn’t like their baggy clothes, overuse of words like “gnarly” and “radical,” and perceived risky behaviour on the slopes.
“This case is not about equipment, it’s not about skiing and snowboarding,” attorney Jon Schofield argued. “It’s about deciding you don’t like a group of people, you don’t want to associate with that group of people, and you’re excluding them.”
Under questioning from the judge, Schofield conceded that there is little legal precedent for the case but said the lawsuit should have a chance to be heard.
Outside the courthouse, plaintiff Rick Alden said the ban inflames tensions between skiers and snowboarders in a way that doesn’t exist elsewhere.
Ten years ago, Alden said an Alta ski patrol officer used an expletive toward him in front of his then-12-year-old son when Alden tried to cross onto public land leased by the resort without using Alta’s chairlift, something he thought was legal.
“It sounds silly to come here and try and argue about a different way to recreate, but at the end of the day there really are people who are hurting by just simply being talked bad about,” Alden said.
The Forest Service agrees with the resort about the risks of snowboarding and says the suit could open up the floodgates for people who don’t like recreational rules on public lands, including sometimes controversial all-terrain vehicle laws.
The four plaintiffs bought tickets to Alta knowing they would be turned away and could then sue, which they did in January. One even sneaked onto a lift using “split boards” — a snowboard that resembles skis — but was intercepted and escorted down the mountain.
Two other U.S. resorts, both on private land, ban snowboarding: Deer Valley, also in Utah, and Mad River Glen in Vermont.