Judge Rules Tosses Out Snowboarders' Suit Against Alta; Fight Will Likely Continue
“We are not at all dissuaded,” said Rick Alden about yesterday’s ruling in U.S. District Court. The legal war against Alta Ski Area last season for refusing to allow snowboarders on its lifts came to a head when Wasatch Equality (Alden, Drew Hicken, Bjorn Leines, Richard Varga) had their day in court.
Judge Dee Benson not only decried that snowboarders are not a protected class, but said that they had a “misplaced and mistaken” view of the 14th amendment. The Equal Protection Clause is not a general fairness clause, he said, and concluded that the plaintiffs failed to show the Forest Service had anything to do with the Little Cottonwood Canyon resort's policy prohibiting snowboards.
“They didn’t really go after the public lands issue but instead claimed animus [towards boarders] and whether we questioned their ability [to ride safely],” said Alta General Manager Ono Wieringa. “That doesn’t have anything to do with public lands.”
Alta’s permit with the Forest Service allows it to make its own policies. “It’s a business decision (to ban snowboards) and skiing works really well there,” he added. “Public lands are riddled with separating users for the betterment of other users.”
‘Bifftacular’ commented on the Deseret News website: “Why should a bowling alley be allowed to restrict their lanes only to the usage of bowling balls? I'd kind of like to roll a pumpkin. "No shirt, no shoes, no service?” Not anymore. Those restaurants should have to serve us even if all we are wearing is a diaper. Why only golf carts allowed on a golf course? That seems rather discriminatory to real cars. I'd like to drive my Honda hole to hole. Only ice skates on the community skating rink? How backwards. Where are the rights for toboggans, sleds, and snowmobiles?”
Alta has maintained that they have never discriminated against snowboarders, only snowboards. The court affirmed this choice. Benson wrote in his ruling that there’s “a common-sense recognition that all laws discriminate in one way or another, which is the very nature of laws and regulations. All that is required for (USFS) to be found in compliance with the Constitution is that the government has a rational basis for its actions.There are many forums Plaintiffs can resort to in an attempt to accomplish their goal of snowboarding down the Baldy Chutes at Alta. Seeking an injunction from this court is not one of them.”
But Alden doesn’t see it that way. “Alta is just plain wrong and unfortunately they are wrong on public lands. Let the snowboarders decide what public lands they want to ride,” he said. “We are 100 percent committed to the appeal process.”
As to whether Alta will have to allow snowboarding in the future to be part of One Wasatch, Wieringa said those decisions are far enough away that they don’t have to think about that. “I’d say it’s just like always; it’s part of a business decision that we always make about our market. If we’re going to do things differently we’d have to look at all the parts and see what makes sense.”
WHAT IT MEANS: It doesn’t look like the fight is over. Here's how Alta's Wierenga puts it: “They probably have some legal recourse to appeal or reshape the case so I doubt that it’s over. [Alden’s] not happy with our stance. We’re not worried. I would like to spend the money on the ski area instead of lawyers but life goes on.”
Photo: Alta's ban on snowboards (not snowboarders) holds up in court (Alta Ski Area)