Do Snowboarders Have A Constitutional Right To Ski Slopes?

Only three ski resorts in the U.S. have outright prohibitions on snowboarding, and only one of them — Alta Ski Area in Utah — is located on public land controlled by the U.S. Forest Service. According to the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against Alta and the USFS, the resort’s ban on snowboards violates the Constitution.

The complaint [PDF] filed yesterday in a U.S. District Court in Utah by four snowboarders and a local nonprofit group, alleges that Alta’s no-snowboarding policy is in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, which says that the government shall not “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Specifically, they believe that this rule against snowboarding prohibits the “use and enjoyment of the public land on which Alta operates, unlawfully discriminates against snowboarders, and denies snowboarders equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The plaintiffs claim that the ban, which was put into place in the mid-1980s was born out of “animus held by Alta’s ownership, management, and
customers towards the type of people they believed to be ‘snowboarders,'” and that the resort and the USFS continue to enforce this ban “as a consequence of this animus towards snowboarders.”

By enforcing the ban, the lawsuit alleges Alta and USFS are effectively creating two, unequal classes of people — those who ski and those who snowboard. One class is given full access to the Alta slopes while the other is persona non grata.

“Discrimination without any rational basis perpetuates inequality by creating, fostering, and encouraging skier-versus-snowboarder attitudes that are hostile and divisive in a world where skiers and snowboarders, as a general matter, share the mountains, including those on all other public land, in harmony and without issue,” reads the complaint.

The suit asks the court to order Alta to lift then ban and enjoin the resort from putting a similar prohibition in place in the future.

As some have pointed out, one could argue that the snowboarders, as people, are not forbidden from using the slopes at Alta. It’s the act of snowboarding that is forbidden. Could they make the same argument if a skating rink on public land had a “no speed skating” policy? The question is really — at which point does a rule against an activity become discriminatory toward an entire class of people?

We’re not lawyers so we’ll refrain from rendering judgement. But feel free to do so yourself in the following poll:

Snowboarders Sue Alta Ski Area [Outside]