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Alta ask court to toss snowboarders' lawsuit

Published March 25, 2014 7:20 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Alta ski resort has asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by snowboarders seeking access to the mountain, arguing that the snowboarders' claim of a rights violation "demeans the Constitution itself."

The snow sports advocacy group Wasatch Equality in January joined four boarders in suing Alta, claiming its no-snowboards policy is the result of hostile attitudes toward snowboarders and violates boarders' constitutional rights under the 14th Amendment.

"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's attorney's wrote in Friday's brief. "There is no authority holding that the zone of interest created by the Fourteenth Amendment protects those who stand sideways on snowboards."

They also argued that Alta is a private resort operating on federal land, so its rules don't amount to state action.

"The permit and the plan [approved by the U.S. Forest Service] are utterly silent on Alta's business decision regarding the use of snowboards," Alta's attorneys wrote. "The decision about permissible equipment at Alta was made by Alta, not the Forest Service."

Even if the snowboarding ban were a government policy, Alta argued, it is not a result of animus but rather of business motives. Alta points to claims in the snowboarders' complaint that the snowboarding ban conforms to Alta's attempt to cater to a skier-only market and "maintain a skiing culture." Alta's attorneys also argue that snowboarders have a "blind spot" due to traveling sideways down the mountain, which poses safety concerns.

The ban also keeps snowboarders off Alta's "long, high mountain traverses, which are difficult on a snowboard," attorneys wrote. "It is not irrational for state actors to determine that some winter sports equipment is more suitable than others on certain terrain."

Alta's attorneys did not address whether snowboarders actually are subject to hostility from the resort or its patrons, but they argued that snowboarders are not marginalized by unpopularity.

"Those who snowboard can hardly claim they represent the kind of politically unpopular community that the Constitution was designed to protect," attorneys wrote.

Snowboarders Rick Alden, Drew Hicken, Richard Varga and snowboarding pro Bjorn Leines filed the lawsuit Jan. 15.

On Jan. 12, a group of snowboarders, including Alden, Hicken and Varga, bought tickets at Alta and tried to ride the Collins lift with their boards; instead ski patrol escorted them away, the lawsuit claims. When Alden got onto a lift using a split board — a snowboard that separates down the middle for cross-country travel and reattaches for downhill travel — patrollers intercepted him at the top of the lift.

Meanwhile, an array of ski equipment was allowed, including one mono-ski.

The lawsuit noted that three resorts in North America ban snowboarding: Alta, Deer Valley and Mad River Glen in Vermont. But only Alta is on public lands.

The ban "excludes snowboarders from use and enjoyment of the public land on which Alta operates," the lawsuit claimed.