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Judge rejects snowboarders’ suit over ban from Utah’s Alta Ski Resort

First Published      Last Updated Nov 25 2014 10:04 pm

A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed snowboarders' claims that Alta Ski Resort banned them because of stereotypes that they are "undesirable people with obnoxious habits and characteristics."

Instead, U.S. District Judge Dee Benson said there are rational reasons for Alta to ban snowboarding, one of only three resorts to do so in the United States.

Benson wrote in a 30-page opinion that federal court was not the right arena for the snowboarders to argue they should be allowed on the Utah resort's famed runs such as Baldy Chutes.

"There are many forums plaintiffs can resort to in an attempt to accomplish their goal of snowboarding down the Baldy Chutes at Alta," Benson wrote in his decision. "Seeking an injunction from this court is not one of them."




The boarders had sued Alta and the U.S. Forest Service in January, arguing they were being irrationally discriminated against and deserved protection under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which historically has been used on cases involving discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation.

Jon Schofield, a Salt Lake City attorney who represented the snowboarders, said he and his clients were evaluating a possible appeal, but "we hope that Alta and the USFS will voluntarily reconsider their policy and provide skiers and snowboarders equal access to public land."

Drew Hicken, a snowboarder who was a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said that Alta allows all kinds of equipment on the slopes but not those of snowboarders, who make up 35 percent of ski resorts' customers.

"It looks a little goofy if you're a ski resort allowing mono skiers, telemarkers, teleboarders — which are on one ski as well — snow blades that you don't use [with] ski poles ... and every other device under the sun except snowboards," he said.

Rick Thaler, a Salt Lake City attorney who represented Alta, said the ban on 'boarders "was simply a business decision that Alta made in order to provide a unique recreational experience for its customers. Its customers have loyally supported this decision for many years."

Benson ruled there was no basis for the lawsuit's claim that the ban was "based on Alta's belief that snowboarders are undesirable people with obnoxious habits and characteristics."

He instead found that the suit could not go forward under the law because the ban was a decision made by the ski resort and not the Forest Service, which leases the land to the resort. And Alta's decision was based on a rational business model that includes its desire to market to skiers only and a belief its terrain is not conducive to snowboarders, he wrote.

"A business, even a skiing business on Forest Service property, enjoys the right to manage its business pursuant to its preferred business model, even if others disagree," the judge wrote.

Because there are rational reasons for the ban and it does not affect people in protected classes such as those based on race or national origin, Benson said the 'boarders could not rely on the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment as they had argued.

The other resorts that ban snowboading are Deer Valley here in Utah and Mad River Glen in Vermont.

tharvey@sltrib.com

 

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