Snowboarders appeal ‘skiers only’ Alta case

Photo taken by Marvin Kimble of Robbie Preece at Alta, January 31, 2007. Snowboarders have recently taken up a lawsuit against Alta for discrimination.

Alta Ski Area, one of only three skiers-only resorts in the country, defended itself in a federal appeals court at the end of June as snowboarders persisted that the ban violates their constitutional rights.

Four snowboarders with a group called Wasatch Equality appealed their case with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, asking to reinstate the case, which was dismissed by a federal judge last year. Wasatch Equality has claimed that by banning snowboarding, Alta has violated the 14th Amendment. It believes Alta is only enforcing discrimination between snowboarders and skiers.

“You can’t draw the line between a person’s equipment and themselves,” said Benjamin Pellegrino, owner of Milosport in Orem and one of the four snowboarders involved in the case. “Whoever walks into the ticket office and is riding a safe object to go down the hill should be allowed on the lift, just like it is in every other ski resort in the world.”

The 14th Amendment ensures citizens’ rights as well as equal protection under the law. Wasatch Equality believes Alta has to comply with the 14th Amendment because the majority of its property is on public land that is leased from the U.S. Forest Service. U.S. District Judge Dee Benson threw out the case last year because Wasatch Equality didn’t prove that the U.S. Forest Service proposed Alta’s ban on snowboards.

Despite the setback last year, snowboarders remain confident that the case will hold its ground in Denver.

“We’re confident enough that we went to appeals,” Pellegrino said. “Judge Benson has a lot of pressure because he’s got a lot of old-schoolers around him. The court in Colorado seems to be a younger, more open-minded court. They don’t have personal connections to our case.”

A skiier produces powder while skiing at Alta.
A skiier skis on powder while skiing at Alta. Alta has a “skiers only” policy at the resort.

Alta continues to argue that it is completely within its rights to exclusively allow skiers on its slopes. It maintains that it only discriminates against the equipment snowboarders use, not the snowboarders themselves.

“It’s been a really interesting process because I think a lot of people misunderstand what the rights are of a private company who actually leases from the federal government as we do in our case,” said Connie Marshall, director of marketing for Alta. “We’re just like a renter who rents an apartment from somebody; you can let certain things in or not.”

For Wasatch Equality, the court case is also about sharing the beautiful resorts of the Wasatch Mountains, especially with a new plan in the works to connect all seven resorts in the mountain range.

“Our gripe is that Alta is the jewel of the Wasatch at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon in between Snowbird, Solitude and Brighton,” Pellegrino said. ”And now with the idea that they’re going to connect all the resorts, we snowboarders will not be able to use that because we can’t go through Alta.”

Both Alta and Wasatch Equality have asked for the opportunity to orally express their arguments with the court this fall, although no official date has been set.

“The silver lining is that it’s been good to get some of the facts and the conversation out on the table,” Marshall said. “The challenge is that all the time, energy and resources we are spending on the defense are time and resources that can’t be used to continue to make our product shine.”

Wasatch Equality remains hopeful that public support for its argument will continue to propel it forward. Wasatch Euality hopes that because of this long process Alta will finally see the light.

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