Snowboarders sue for access to Alta, claim ban on boarding is unconstitutional

SALT LAKE CITY – Four snowboarders and a Utah nonprofit corporation have filed a lawsuit against a Utah ski area that doesn’t allow snowboarders at the resort.

Wasatch Equality Utah and the individuals in the lawsuit filed in the United States District Court allege that Alta Ski Area violates rights guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.

“Just because they lease the land doesn’t mean that they can go out and discriminate and say who can come here and say who can’t come here,” said Jonathan Schofield, an attorney at Parr, Brown, Gee & Loveless in Salt Lake City.

Because Alta sits on U.S. Forest Service land under a special use permit, the suit alleges that resort’s policy, “excludes snowboarders from use and enjoyment of the public land on which Alta operates, unlawfully discriminates against snowboarders, and denies snowboarders equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

“They’re violating the equal protection clause of the United States in so doing,” Schofield said, “We’re going to tell 40 percent of the skiing population that they can’t come here because they choose to stand on a snowboard sideways, rather than putting two skis on and facing forward, and we think they’re treating two different classes of people differently.”

The plaintiffs are asking the court to permanently enjoin Alta from enforcing their ban on snowboards and snowboarding at the ski area.

“My biggest gripe with that is that if you were to look at five of the best resorts in the entire world, Alta would probably be in the top three,” said Drew Hicken, president of Wasatch Equality and one of the plaintiffs.

Hicken used to snowboard at Alta in the early eighties, before he said the mountain started prohibiting them.

“It’s one of the world premier resorts with some of the best snowfall and best snow quality in the world,” Hicken said.

He and his co-plaintiffs claim Alta is one of only three ski resorts in the country that has a ban on snowboarding, as well as the only such resort to be located on land controlled by the U.S. Forest Service.

Alta has long prided itself on being for skiers only, but not everyone who uses it minds making room for boarders.

“They’re great. They add a whole different aspect to riding the mountain. So, it doesn’t really matter, skiing, snowboarding, it’s just all the same fun feeling,” skier Taylor Richards said.

According to Schofield, “Alta operates under a Forest Service Permit, which specifically states that the public lands ‘shall remain open to the public for all lawful purposes,’ yet Alta refuses to allow certain members of the public from using its land.”

FOX13 reached out to Alta Resort and the U.S. Forest Service on Wednesday night. Both declined to offer any comment until their respective lawyers had reviewed the lawsuit.

The lawsuit is available in its entirety by clicking here.

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24 comments

  • Mist Form

    If they operate on Federal lands then they must uphold the constitution set in place to protect our rights. Until now I didn’t know that Alta was not on privately owned land. The only way I can see them keeping the ban is by purchasing the land from the government if that is an option.

  • N J

    It’s not a ban an any particular group of people, just a ban on the type of equipment they can use. I don’t think the Constitution has an equal protection clause for snowboards.

  • yewtaw kid

    Even if they prevail for equal access to the land, Alta does not have to allow snowboarders to use the lifts.

  • Josh

    Lets pretend that Rick and Bjorn prove that there is sufficient entwinement here which effectively will make Alta a government actor. It will be pretty hard for the snowboarders to argue that there is no rational basis related to a legitimate government interest here. All Alta has to do is say that they have the rule in place to increase customer satisfaction and profits. The higher the profits, the more money the USFS gets. Therefore, allowing Alta to act this way increases revenue for the government. Because snowboarders are not a protected class, this is all the court will ask. Of course, Alta could also argue that it does not allow “snowboards” themselves at the resort, but otherwise anyone is welcome. This would be similar to the forest service allowing certain types of guns for hunting on government land while not allowing other types of guns for hunting (even if they are all traditionally used in hunting) – the discrimination would not be against any class of persons – just against the equipment that can be used on that land.

    • Eric Anderson

      The law DOES say what kind of guns you can and cannot hunt with. Try getting caught with a rimfire .22 on public land during the deer hunt, even if you’re not hunting deer.

      • Josh

        You missed my point completely – I am not saying that the government does not regulate which guns you can and cannot use.. i am saying that hypothetically if nationwide is was customary to use two specific models of guns, but in one area the USFS only allowed you to use one of those models of guns … there would be no discrimination against persons

    • Josh

      They don’t have to be a protected class – any class can sue.. but if they are not protected then they have to prove to the court that Alta and the government are not acting with a rational basis to act this way (meaning most of the time if you are not in a protected class you lose)

      • Eric Anderson

        You’re correct in that anyone can sue anyone else for any reason, at any time, but that doesn’t mean you’ll win….or that a judge will even agree to hear the case.

        The Court would have to agree that a snowboarder’s Constitutional rights are being violated. That’s a stretch, to say the least.

        We have a massive sense of entitlement in this country, and a belief that the law is designed to force others to comply with our every whim. That’s how how it was intended to work.

    • Ned Baughman

      Ever been to Brighton Amanda? Standing in line with a group of snowboarders is enough to run anyone off.

      • Mick

        I’m sure you are referring to the Crest lift at Brighton and the area surrounding the terrain park at Brighton Ned, am I right? Well as a snowboarder I hate the park rat snowboarder AND skier kids as well, yes, I said skiers as well. Ever since this year when they installed the RFID cards there are hardly any park rats since the kids can’t ride for free because of their lifty friends and not having to buy a pass. But that’s fine Ned, stay over in Congested Cottonwood Canyon and ski the dirty bird and alllllta with the rest of the world that piles in there to basically ski on top of each other, ill ski AND snowboard epic untouched terrain even days after a storm instead of just hours.

  • syth

    Boarders would not even enjoy alta b/c you need to traverse to the good terrain. They would be doing a lot of walking around the mountain

  • Traci

    I think it should be up to the resort. There are so many resorts that do accept snowboarding, they should just go there. Everyone is so sue happy now days.

  • kendall

    “excludes snowboarders from use and enjoyment of the public land on which Alta operates, unlawfully discriminates against snowboarders, and denies snowboarders equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

    I’m pretty sure the 14th amendment doesn’t say anything about equal protection for snowboarders, just for blacks

  • Adam

    The rule doesn’t say they cant go into the resort, the rule only says you can’t snowboard on the mountain. They are welcome to ski on it. This is going to get laughed out of court.

  • Mick

    upright covered by flesh and the only difference is what the article said, we choose to SKI sideways on one board instead of two between our feet. I grew up skiing as soon as I could fit in the smallest boots and switched to snowboarding when in was 13(26 now) and just started to do both this season. All I have to say is I love to do both but won’t support a resort who can’t/won’t do the same. Maybe if they opened up the resort up to everyone I might go check it out(meaning more revenue and I know I’m not the only one wo skis and snowboards) but until then I have absolutely no interest in skiing at Alta. keep your ban and ill keep my money.

  • Greg

    Alta’s excuses for banning snowboarding are silly, elitist and make them look like out-dated conservative dopes. However i say they should keep the ban going so the stereotype of Utah stuffiness lives on. I live in Canada and would just drive on by like my son and I did last spring and SNOWBOARDED at Jackson Hole instead.

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