Discrimination? Banned snowboarders take Utah ski resort to court

A ski resort in Utah that bans snowboarders in favor of skiers is being taken to a federal appeals court on charges of discrimination under the 14th Amendment.

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Renee Stein rides her snowboard down a tube at the Boreal Mountain Resort near Donner Summit, Calif., Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015. At least three ski resorts have opened early in northern California. Snowboarders are fighting a legal battle with a Utah resort that bans them.

A special-interest group in Utah is taking the struggle for its constitutional rights to court, calling on the 14th Amendment to seek redress for discrimination.

It isn’t a religious group, or Equality Utah, though. It’s a loose coalition of snowboarding enthusiasts.

The 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals is set to hear debate in Denver Tuesday between the snowboarding group Wasatch Equality and Alta Ski Area, a ski resort near Salt Lake City that advertises, “Alta is for skiers,” on its website.

The snowboarders are attempting to use the US Constitution to claim their day on the slopes, Michael Schrantz wrote for Curbed Ski, an online ski magazine. They argue that under the equal protection clause, the ski resort cannot ban snowboards because it operates under a US Forest Service permit on public land designated “for skiing and other snow sports.”

Utah government officials said this line of reasoning would be unenforceable, Dennis Romboy reported for the Deseret News.

“Land management agencies simply could not function if every land-use decision gave rise to an equal protection claim under the Constitution,” wrote acting US Attorney for Utah Carlie Christensen.

The case draws lines in the culture clash between those who ski and those who board, and Wasatch Equality relies on YouTube videos to demonstrate that Alta banned snowboarders because skiers think they are obnoxious, the Deseret News reported. 

Lawyers for Alta have argued the skateboarding ban was a savvy business decision that bans equipment, not people, according to the Deseret News. US District Judge Dee Benson threw out the case in September 2014, saying the ban had nothing to do with the Forest Service:

The equal protection clause is not a general fairness law that allows everyone who feels discriminated against to bring an action in federal court. 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.

Commenters on the Deseret News story all criticized the lawsuit, with some suggesting the snowboarders should be penalized for a frivolous lawsuit.

“Maybe they'll have time now to go after other offending businesses,” one wrote from Spanish Fork, Utah. “Why should a bowling alley be allowed to restrict their lanes only to the usage of bowling bowls? I'd kind of like to roll a pumpkin.”

Curbed Ski urged reconciliation among the winter sports enthusiasts.

"Frankly, Curbed Ski is tired of the whole thing," Megan Barber wrote. "Can't we all just get along?"

Only two other American mountain resorts ban snowboarders: Deer Valley in Utah and Mad River Glen in Vermont.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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