Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Snowboards at Alta?

Recently a suit was filed by a group called “Wasatch Equality”  against Alta in order to force the (very much) “ski” resort to allow the long-banned snowboards, with the fundamental argument that because Alta operates on public lands they therefore have an obligation to not “discriminate” against snowboarders. I’ve been a little surprised that most of my peers have not expressed support for this concept, and I think that it’s an interesting, fairly complex case that brings enough of a local bearing on a landmark constitutional amendment that it begs a bit of blawgage. 

According to The Wiki, “The Fourteenth Amendment (Amendment XIV) to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments. The amendment addresses citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws, and was proposed in response to issues related to former slaves following the American Civil War”,

It’s a pretty incredible amendment, actually, with lots of components that affect our lives every day:  Due process, the concept of citizenship, congress’ ability to enforce laws, and the limits of local governments that were the basis for both Roe v Wade and Bush v Gore.  And perhaps most importantly:“The Equal Protection Clause requires each state to provide equal protection under the law to all people within its jurisdiction. This clause was the basis for Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court decision that precipitated the dismantling of racial segregation, and for many other decisions rejecting irrational or unnecessary discrimination against people belonging to various groups.”  It is generally under the auspices of the vitally important fourteenth amendment that Wasatch Equality is using to fight for the right……of snowboarders. 

You can see what Pat Bagley of the SL Tribune thinks of it: 

The variety of reasons that people don’t want snowboards there runs the gamut.  Here are a few, and my rebuttals:
  • “Alta is too hard for snowboarders to get around!  What about the High Traverse, Ballroom, and all the hike-to shots?”  I’ve snowboarded Alta a fair bit pre-season, and I’ve found everything quite accessible.  Snowboarders in general “make it happen” to get to the nice lines, and the High Traverse – for example – is no better or worse than the (equally challenging, and more dangerous, due to trees) Cirque Traverse at Snowbird.  And c’mon….don’t you think that you should let snowboarders themselves determine what’s accessible/rideable and what’s not, and not you The Skier?  And something tells me that if every resort in the country except three allows snowboards, including such “burly” mountains like Jackson, Big Mountain, Whistler, etc – can have an effective “snowboard management plan”, Alta can too.  Or maybe general manager Onno isn’t up for something so complex? 

  • Snowboarders have a blind spot, therefore they are more dangerous” – Yes, it’s true that snowboarders can’t see behind them; no one can.  But like skiers, snowboarders are going downhill, where they can see all that is in front of them, and all overtaking riders need to give way to those they are overtaking (since skiers also have a blind spot, also behind them).  Statistically speaking, ski injuries have gone down 50% in the last thirty years, the same amount of time that snowboarding has risen in popularity.  It’s true that snowboarders themselves have an injury rate higher than those of skiers, but the majority of those are hand/wrist injuries, and collisions account for a whopping…..6.4 % of injuries.  https://www.nsaa.org/media/68045/NSAA-Facts-About-Skiing-Snowboarding-Safety-10-1-12.pdf  and clearly, it seems that virtually all other ski resorts are willing to assume that “liability” of people possibly getting injured. 

  • “Snowboarders are inconsiderate punks” (or some derivation thereof) – Whoa, bring on the Fourteenth!  Even if they were or are inconsiderate punks – and people of all ages, shapes, sizes, and genders are snowboarders, and I doubt all of them fulfill that stereotype - using that as a reason to keep a population out is not much different than the Jim Crow laws.  And something tells me that there are plenty of inconsiderate punks on two planks as well……

  • “But if they are forced to allow snowboards, what about tubers!  Discs? Snowbikes?  Snowmobiles!  The place will be overrun, and a dangerous precedent will be set!” Precedent is indeed everything in law, but the fact that there are (literally; I counted) 427 ski resorts in the US that have created the precedent that skis and (except 3) snowboards are the exclusive users of those resorts, with no challenges to those well-accepted norms. 
  • They can go somewhere else!" - Yes, of course they can, but for the same reason that "skiers" like Alta, so would/do snowboarders.  And if I'm not mistaken, there were plenty of drinking fountains to be used back in the 40's, but there were a few that didn't allow blacks to drink at them.....

  • Which leads to the best argument I’ve heard – that Bagley alludes to above – is that the concept of “discrimination” and the ideals that the fourteenth amendment aspired to are far superior to the desires and choices of mostly (and increasingly) upper class, mostly-white citizens who already have it all.  They weren’t born snowboarders, right? But wait a second……I’m no theological expert, but I don’t believe anyone was “born” a Protestant?  And yet our constitution protects the rights of citizens who have chosen this religion to practice as they wish.   And if indeed “religion” is:
a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and
a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons. 

Well, I know a lot of skiers and snowboarders who ostensibly are so passionate about their activities that I would consider them to be “religious” about not only their sport, but the lifestyle – and life choices – they have made in the pursuit of (to carry the analogy a bit further) the subliminity associated with shredding untracked powder. 

On a recent march up a skin track - birthplace of many a good conversation - Ashley made an excellent contradictory analogy:  say a chili dog vendor is operating on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and a vegetarian comes up and says “I want a veggie burger.”  Because a concessionnaire is operating on public lands, is he obligated to serve all the potential customers who show up wanting a product or service that he may not provide?  And if Chuck’s Chili Dogs start offering veggie options, what happens when the Rabbi Elovitz visiting from NYC walks up and asks if his dogs are kosher?  A slippery slope (so to speak) for sure.  But one that would obviate a decision regarding a ski resort operating on a lease on public lands to do exactly as 423 of its peer ski resorts do very easily and effectively? 

It’s interesting that this lawsuit was filed at the same time that Utah unexpectedly leapt into the national spotlight for having gay marriage temporarily legalized (and starting today it’s being argued in front of the 10th district court in Denver).  Because fundamentally the situations are similar: 

“I think that gay sex is ‘icky’" (according to a letter to the editor of the SL Trib the other day) "but that’s a weak argument, so I’ll come up with all these faux reasons to shut down homosexuality, and hope that my community will also feel that way and support me.” 

As compared to:
“I don’t like snowboarders and snowboarding and what they do to the snow and I don’t want moguls to be that far apart, but I know that those are really weak arguments, so I’ll come up with faux reasons" (promoted and encouraged for decades by Alta management) "to shut down snowboarders, and hope that my community will also feel that way and support me.” It's not very different.  

On a more personal note, I do hope that Wasatch Equality prevails because then the precedent will be set that the ski resorts also must allow another emerging activity that has been proven safe and easy to manage:  uphill skinning!  As it is, one local resort embraces it, three absolutely positively prohibit it in-season, and three have an obtuse, don’t ask don’t tell don’t bust non-policy……

It also is an issue that could loom large in the aforementioned One Wasatch plan; of the seven resorts that are included in the plan, two  - Alta and Deer Valley – do not allow snowboards, so despite the fact that – as Forrest Gladding points out – nearly 40% of US riders are snowboarders and 60% of riding families are of mixed riders, a significant population will effectively be unusually limited in their ability to take advantage of that “opportunity”.  I'm no marketing expert, but as Forrest also noted, trying to convince snowboarders around the country to go to only marginally snowboard-friendly but interconnected Utah vs spending their vacation dollars to go to open-armed Colorado might be a tough go for that 40% of the riding population.  

So let’s see how esteemed Parr Brown attorney Jon “Charger” Schofield does when he trades in his Patagonia jacket for his suit!  Could the Alta case go all the way to the "Supreme" Court?!?   


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. First, I don't think Snowborders are a protected group so your premise of racial equality is BS. Secondly While it may be public land it was leased to a private party and is therefore private land when they exercise the lease. Added would be the fact that the USFS sided with the Ski resort last week on this. Summary: you're going to loose.Get over it and quit wasting your daddy's money.

  3. I actually think that wasting daddy's hard -earned money is a very worthy endeavor!

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Yes I agree that money wasting in worth way is the identity of fools.


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