Alta, snowboarders argue in federal court over access to resort
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Alta's policy to keep anyone who uses the words "shred, rip or tear" off its slopes unfairly denies snowboarders access to some of best terrain in the Wasatch mountains, an attorney for a group who sued the skiers-only resort said Monday.
Jonathan Schofield argued in federal court that Alta bans snowboarders simply because it doesn't like them.
"All their reasons for doing it is pure pretext. It comes down to they don't want snowboarders on the mountain," he said. "When you make a decision because you don't like people, that shows how irrational it is."
Four snowboarders and group called Wasatch Equality filed the lawsuit against Alta in January. They argue because of the resort's arrangement with the U.S. Forest Service, it must comply with the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment.
Alta and the Forest Service asked U.S. District Judge Dee Benson to dismiss a lawsuit because the Constitution doesn't guarantee anyone the right to snowboard. Benson heard arguments for nearly three hours before taking the case under advisement. He didn't say when he would rule.
Alta attorney Rob Rice said the 14th Amendment has been "exceedingly well litigated" in cases involving race, gender and marriage.
"This the first opportunity the court has had to opine that the 14th Amendment is a guaranteed right to snowboard," he said.
Rice said the skiers-only policy is not aimed at people who snowboard but at the type of equipment they use.
"They are not barred from Alta because they are snowboarders," he said. "They are as welcome as anybody to Alta as long as they comply with equipment restriction."
Schofield said he recognizes the case is "unusual" but it isn't about equipment or skiing or snowboarding. "This is about whether or not a group of people have been treated differently," he said.
Alta operates under a Forest Service permit that states the public lands "shall remain open to the public for all lawful purposes," according to the lawsuit. The ski area covers 2,130 acres — 1,802 acres or 85 percent of which is on public land.
Acting U.S. Attorney for Utah Carlie Christensen said the Forest Service did not dictate the policy against snowboarding and that decision belongs solely to Alta.
But Schofield argued that Forest Service and Alta are intertwined. "It's hard to imagine that the Forest Service has nothing to do with this," he said.
He pointed to signs where the resort and the Wasatch-Cache National Forest refer to themselves as "partners in skiing." He also cited trail maps that bear the Forest Service logo and state snowboarders aren't allowed.
Jared Bennett, assistant U.S. attorney, said the government has a right to restrict activities on federal land, noting all-terrain vehicles aren't allowed on the Slick Rock Trail near Moab and bait fishing isn't allowed on some rivers.
If the government can't decide what is and isn't allowed, the courts would be flooded with equal protection lawsuits, he said.
Schofield said the Alta ban on snowboarders has "no business" on a public mountain. "It gets more snow than any resort in Utah and they should be able to access it," he said.
Alta is one of three resorts in the country that don't allow snowboarding. The others are privately owned Deer Valley and Mad River Glen in Vermont.
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