By Alex Ryden
On January 15, 2014, a pro snowboarder, a global brand founder and a few local legends formed Wasatch Equality and officially sued Alta Ski Area and the US Forest Service for the right to ride the mountain that has barred their sport for decades. Since Alta sits on public land the group alleged that the resort’s ban on snowboarding is discriminatory and a violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protect Clause, which guarantees the same rights for all citizens.
The premise seems simple—Alta shouldn’t be able to restrict anyone’s access to public land. Yet the move was met with opposition, much of it heating up over the past few months—motions to dismiss the case on legal grounds, aggressive comment sections online and heightened animosity in Utah hills. But despite the pressures to quiet the lawsuit, the case has begun to make a defining noise that even the upper echelon of Alta ski society can no longer ignore.
“The cooperation between the US Forest Service and Alta to exclude snowboarders doesn’t make sense today,” says pro snowboarder Bjorn Leines. “It really hits home for me. I grew up in this canyon. My parents even live in Alta now. My kids grew up skiing there and then picked up snowboarding. Now they can’t go on the hill with grandma and grandpa anymore.”
“We’re not trying to put a wedge between skiers and snowboarders,” says local snowboarding legend Rich Varga. “Unfortunately there’s a crusty group up there that just aren’t down with us. I actually rode Alta from ’82 to ’ 84 before they said we couldn’t anymore. Twenty-five years later and they’re still saying that? That’s why we got together to do something about this.”
To cultivate awareness and take legal action on the issue, the Wasatch Equality group was formed by Leines, Varga, Drew Hicken, Forrest Gladding, Skullcandy mogul Rick Alden, and a list of other core snowboarders that stretches from pioneers of the sport to attorneys that just love to shred.
“The more we really looked at the issue, the more we realized there was a good case for Alta to open up because they are operating on public land,” says the group’s leading attorney Jon Schofield. “Therefore, they can’t exclude 40 percent of the population who are snowboarders from using the land.”
The argument for keeping snowboarders off Alta is made up of loosely-tied statements that range from safety concerns to possible myths: snowboarders ruin the moguls, they plow the snow, they have blind spots and they can’t traverse the terrain.
“If snowboarding is so dangerous to skiers, why would every resort in the world pretty much allow both sports to happen on the same mountain?” says Leines. “Snowboarders aren’t just a bunch of loose cannon, 15 to 25-year-old punks. We’re your neighbors, grandsons, and coworkers.”
“If snowboarders all over really saw how this is a fight to legitimize our sport, it’d start to mean a whole lot more to them,” says Schofield. “This isn’t just about riding Alta—it’s about putting an end to snowboarders being treated like second class citizens.”
Even the ski industry has begun to recognize the hypocrisy of disparity, with recent articles by Powder and other ski publication agreeing that Alta’s policy is outdated in an era where both sports have really begun to weave together.
“I feel like snowboarding has really opened up the door for the ski industry,” says Leines. “From helping pioneer freestyle aspects and parks, to even informing how skis are designed and perform today. We’re able to get along as a community. There’s brands that make products for both sports. It’s just ridiculous to have this type of segregation in this day and age.”
To bring the fight to Alta the group has launched an online campaign manifested in hashtags like #altaisforeveryone to generate awareness and build momentum around the issue, but they still need all the outside support they can get.
“The more people we can get to donate money on the Wasatch Equality group website, the further we can take this thing,” says Schofield. “It’s a community issue and we just want to get people behind it. If we can get a thousand snowboarders to donate some money, that’s huge and would go a long way.”