Court hears icy feud between snowboarders, skiers
Denver — It’s a mountain-bound battle between those who want to whoosh and those who want to shred.
A group of snowboarders argued Tuesday for the right to rip down the slopes of a Utah ski resort. Federal judges from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver are facing an icy culture clash between the boarders and Alta Ski Area, which wants to keep its runs reserved for skiers.
The four snowboarders, who say the ban is based on incorrect stereotypes that cast them as reckless and inconsiderate, appealed after a federal judge in Utah threw out their lawsuit.
That judge said snowboarders don’t have a constitutional right to practice their sport and that allowing the lawsuit would be a slippery slope for others to claim discrimination against private companies.
Only two other U.S. resorts ban snowboarding: Deer Valley in Utah and Mad River Glen in Vermont.
The lawsuit, filed in early 2014, brought renewed attention to a feud between skiers and snowboarders that seemed to have thawed as snowboarding dipped in popularity over the last five years.
The judges gave no timetable for when they might rule.
A look the issues in the case:
SNOWBOARDERS: UNFAIR BAN
The four snowboarders and their attorneys have said that Alta does not have the right to keep snowboarders off public land designated by Congress for skiing and other sports. They point to 119 other ski resorts that operate on public land and allow snowboarding.
One of the three judges hearing the case interrupted the snowboarders’ lawyer to ask about Alta customer surveys showing that the skiers don’t want snowboarders around. The lawyer bristled.
Attorney Jon Schofield called the surveys a “pretext for taking a group of people and deciding they were undesirable and banning them for no reason.”
THE BLIND SPOT
Central to the case is the snowboarders’ sideways stance, which leaves them with a blind spot. Alta claims that the blind spot gives skiers a legal reason to keep them out.
Judge Harris L. Hartz asked the snowboarders why the argument isn’t valid.
Schofield didn’t say snowboarders could prove the blind spot doesn’t exist but argued that snowboarding is safer than skiing, making the argument irrelevant.
“They may say it’s a safety reason. But we can disprove that,” he said. “There are no safety issues here.”
The original lawsuit argued that Alta dislikes snowboarders for supposedly reckless moves, inconsiderate attitude, baggy clothes and their overuse of such words as “gnarly” and “radical” when describing difficult terrain.
SKI RESORT: EQUIPMENT, NOT PEOPLE
Lawyers for Alta Ski Area argued that they’re allowed to discriminate against equipment — just not the people using it.
Alta lawyer Rick Thaler suggested a hypothetical customer who shows up with a snowboard, a pair of skis and a snow trike, which is a sort of tricycle designed to ride down snow.
The resort said that despite the customer’s appearance, he or she would be welcome to use the mountain using the skis — just not the snowboard or snow trike.
If snowboarders have a right to bring their equipment to the resort, Thaler argued, resorts wouldn’t be allowed to ban toboggans or even snowmobiles from the slopes.
“This case is about equipment, not people,” Thaler argued. “It’s about a board, not the person using it.”
GOVERNMENT BACKS RESORT
The U.S. Forest Service, which approved a permit for Alta, has backed the ski area in the court battle.
Forest Service lawyer Jared Bennett pointed out that his agency has approved hundreds of permits for snow areas allowing snowboarders, making a discrimination claim flimsy.
He also doused the snowboarders’ premise.
“This equipment restriction does not violate the Constitution,” Bennett said.