SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge in Utah on Tuesday tossed a lawsuit brought by snowboarders against one of the last ski resorts in the country to prohibit their sport, ruling that boarders don't have a constitutional right to practice their sport at the private resort.
The ruling is a victory for Alta Ski Area east of Salt Lake City, which argued that its decision to promote a snowboarder-free experience to lure skiers is within the ski area's rights and violates no constitutional rights.
U.S. District Judge Dee Benson's 30-page ruling marked a decisive moment in a court battle that has reignited a long-festering culture clash on the slopes between skiers and snowboarders. The two other resorts that ban snowboarding are Deer Valley, also in Utah, and Mad River Glen in Vermont.
"Plaintiffs' case fails because there is no law to support it," Benson wrote. "The Equal Protection Clause is not a general fairness law that allows everyone who feels discriminated against to bring an action in federal court."
The snowboarders filed the lawsuit in January claiming discrimination on national forest lands that make up most of the Alta ski area in the mountains east of Salt Lake City. They argued that the ban is discriminatory and based on outdated stereotype, and encouraged "hostile and divisive skier-versus-snowboarder attitudes."
Jon Schofield, the attorney for the four snowboarders, said they may appeal the ruling to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals but must first evaluate their options.
"We continue to believe the case has merit, and regardless of the ultimate outcome, we hope that Alta and the U.S. Forest Service will voluntarily reconsider their policy and provide skiers and snowboarders equal access to public land," Schofield said.
The U.S. Forest Service, which approves a permit for Alta, has backed the ski area in the court battle.
Rick Thaler, an attorney representing Alta, said the ruling acknowledges that the rule is simply a way to provide their customers a unique experience.
The Court agreed that it was simply a decision made by a private business about equipment, and not a ban on people or based on animus against anyone," Thaler said.
During court filings this year, Alta attorneys said skiers find the slopes more peaceful, safe and enjoyable because they don't have to worry about being hit by snowboarders whose sideways stance leaves them with a blind spot that can make their wide, sweeping turns a danger to others on the slopes. Skiers, in contrast, don't have any blind spots because the face forward as they speed down the slopes.
Alta attorneys said the lawsuit degraded the U.S. Constitution and should be thrown out.
Benson didn't go that far in his ruling, but he said allowing the lawsuit would open a wide door for many other groups to claim discrimination against private companies.
"In modern society, it is no exaggeration to say the government is everywhere; it taxes; it owns property; it prosecutes; it regulates the environment, and all of the instrumentalities of commerce. But as vast as it is, the people of America and all of the private businesses they run are still granted tremendous amounts of freedom," Benson wrote.
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