Forest Service says Alta has rational reasons for snowboard ban
Published: March 31, 2014 08:31PM
Updated: March 31, 2014 08:41PM
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Steve Griffin | Tribune file photo Alta ski area

The U.S. Forest Service has asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit that alleges Alta’s ban on snowboards is unconstitutional, saying the ski resort’s approved operating plan gives it the right to exclude any “skiing device” deemed a risk, harmful to snow quality or not consistent with its business decisions.

The Forest Service also said due to federal immunity, the court does not have jurisdiction to hear the case. Nor have the snowboarders who brought the suit stated a claim on which relief can be granted, the agency said in a motion filed Monday.

Snowboarders Rick Alden, Drew Hicken, Richard Varga and Bjorn Leines, joined by the snow sports advocacy group Wasatch Equality, filed the lawsuit on Jan. 15. Three days earlier, the snowboarders were turned away from Alta after attempting to board the Collins lift.

They claim the ski resort’s no-snowboards policy is based on a hostile attitude toward snowboarders and is unconstitutional. They have asked U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson to require the resort to open to snowboarders.

The Forest Service said the plaintiffs failed to show that the agency had a “symbiotic relationship” with Alta and played a role in the decision to exclude snowboarders that amounted to a state action.

The plaintiffs “cannot establish a common goal between the Forest Service and Alta to allegedly violate snowboarders’ purported constitutional rights because the Forest Service has merely acquiesced to Alta’s no-snowboard policy,” the motion states. It also said claims of an “anti-snowboarding” policy were disproved by the fact that “apparently” only Alta, out of more than 100 ski resorts in 13 states operating on Forest Service land, prohibits snowboards. Alta, it added, has rational reasons for its ban.

In addition to its approved operating plan, the Forest Service said Alta has properly paid fees — a total of nearly $1.7 million between 2009 and 2012, less than 0.1 percent of the agency’s annual budget.

Last week, Alta asked Benson to find there is “no authority holding that the zone of interest created by the Fourteenth Amendment protects those who stand sideways on snowboards” and toss the lawsuit. Alta’s attorneys also said the U.S. Forest Service permit to use the federal land leaves the private resort free to make business decisions as it sees fit, and it considers snowboarders a hazard to skiers because of a “blind spot” as they travel sideways down ski runs.