A bid by a group of snowboarders to force Alta Ski Area to open its rugged skier-only slopes to the single-board set hit a roadblock on Tuesday when a panel of judges from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver upheld a lower court ruling and dismissed the case.
The court found
that the plaintiff, Wasatch Equality, failed to establish that the ban of snowboarders by Alta constituted an action by the state. Because Alta leases more than 80 percent of its resort from the National Forest Service, Wasatch Equality maintained that the ban violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which provides equal protection under the law.
But just because the Forest Service annually reviews Alta’s lease and operations plan, does not mean the state is forbidding snowboarders, the court found.
“In granting Alta’s and the Forest Service’s motions to dismiss, the district court found that the Forest Service did nothing to influence Alta’s decision to ban snowboards and the Forest Services’ receipt of a usage fee each year didn’t sufficiently involve the government to otherwise attribute the ban to the government,” the ruling states.
After the ruling was issued, Jonathan Schofield, the attorney for Wasatch Equality, told City Weekly
that the Forest Service has complete discretion over the lease permit it issues to Alta, and that he wishes he’d have had the chance to obtain discovery from the Forest Service to “see the level of Forest Service involvement in those decisions.”
“At this point, we can only hope that Alta will one day voluntarily join the vast majority of ski resorts by lifting its snowboarding ban and providing both skiers and snowboarders the opportunity to recreate on public land regardless of whether people choose to slide down the mountain on skis or a snowboard,” Schofield wrote in a prepared statement.
Rick Thaler, an attorney for Alta, said the lease between the Forest Service and Alta grants the ski resort leeway to make business decisions.
“Alta is pleased with the decision and thinks that the court got it right,” Thaler said.
Of Alta’s 2,130 acres, 1,800 are leased from the Forest Service. The court’s ruling notes that 120 other ski resorts across the country have similar arrangements with the Forest Service, where ski resorts rent the land. The price is calculated through a formula determined by Alta’s lift ticket sales and use of the resort’s ski school. The ruling states that between 2009 and 2012, Alta paid the federal government from $304,396 to $473,792.
Schofield said a decision has not been made on whether or not his group will appeal.