Judge dismisses lawsuit demanding snowboarders access to Alta Ski Resort

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SALT LAKE CITY — Snowboarders don't have a constitutional right to the slopes of Alta Ski Resort, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Dee Benson rejected arguments from four snowboarders and a group called Wasatch Equality that Alta's arrangement with the U.S. Forest Service requires it to comply with the equal protection guarantees in the 14th Amendment.

In throwing out the lawsuit, Benson said the plaintiffs made no allegation and presented no evidence that the Forest Service had anything to do with the Little Cottonwood Canyon resort's ban on snowboards.

"The decision was Alta’s, and Alta’s alone, operating as a private business. The Forest Service did not encourage the rule, discourage the rule, agree with the rule, or disagree with the rule; nor was the Forest Service consulted on the appropriateness of the rule," the judge wrote.

Alta and the Forest Service asked Benson to toss the lawsuit because the Constitution doesn't guarantee anyone the right to snowboard.

Benson dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning the plaintiffs can't refile it in federal court. They could appeal the decision to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

The snowboarders' attorney, Jonathan Schofield, said they're evaluating the court's ruling and their appeal options.

"We continue to believe that the case has merit," Schofield said, "and regardless of the ultimate outcome, we hope Alta and the Forest Service will voluntarily reconsider their policy and allow skiers and snowboarders access to public lands."

The resort operates under a Forest Service permit on 2,130 acres — 1,802 acres or 85 percent of which is on public lands.

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.

–Judge Dee Benson, ruling

Schofield also argued that Alta bans snowboarders simply because it finds them obnoxious and doesn't like them. He said the case isn't about equipment or skiing or snowboarding but whether a group of people are being treated differently.

Benson said those allegations were based on second- and third-hand hearsay from YouTube videos with virtually no direct evidence linking Alta management to hostility toward snowboarders.

"It is undeniable that Alta’s snowboard policy bans only snowboards from Alta, not people. It is an equipment restriction only," he wrote.

Benson said the case failed because there is no law to support it, and the plaintiffs' view of the 14th Amendment is "misplaced and mistaken."

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

"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."

Acting U.S. Attorney for Utah Carlie Christensen said she was pleased that Benson found the federal government has the discretion to make decisions on public lands use.

"Land management agencies simply could not function if every land-use decision gave rise to an equal protection claim under the Constitution," Christensen said in a statement.


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Dennis Romboy


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