Free The Snow: Opens the Closed

The Free The Snow campaign, launched in early December with the aim of overturning the snowboarding ban at Taos, Ajax and Alta is now gearing up for what coordinator Matt Kreitman describes as “Free The Snow Phase Two.” The next wave of activity is aimed at taking the campaign beyond the current swirl of media driven attention.

“From day one all different types of media have covered every aspect of the campaign. Aspen journalists have written about how the Pat O’Donnel, president of Aspen Ski Co is a dedicated snowboarder and wants Free Ajax bumpers stickers. National newservices wrote about our being sponsored by Nike. All three New Mexico TV stations and both major local newspapers gave extensive coverage when the Free Taos billboard went up. The San Jose Mercury is in town to do a profile on the campaign right now and even Skiing magazine are planning to run a rare action snowboard shot to accompany the article in their next issue.”

While the campaign has accomplished its immediate goals of gaining attention, Kreitman, a long time TW Snowboarding Business contributor admits the extent of media attention came as a surprise and has forced the campaign to constantly play catch up.

Apart from widespread publicity about the issues, other achievements for the campaign so far include several big changes both Aspen Ski Co and Taos Ski Valley Inc have made in their public positions. Within a month of the launch, Aspen Ski Co senior vp John Norton has switched his previous claim made on a local radio show that there was a clear safety issue, to stating on the website that skiers and snowboarders can share the mountain without incident. He also now maintains that rather than banning snowboarding Aspen Mountain is in fact a “celebration of skiing.”)Also, Taos has dropped all reference to its “historical legacy” and general manager Gordon Briner even recently was quoted in the newspaper as saying “we would never says never to snowboarding”

Perhaps the most positive aspect of the campaign so far has been the flood of letters sent via the website to congressmen, US Forest service officials and local politicians urging for their input in changing the way the Forest Service issues special use permits. All respondents, over 600 so far, receive a Free Taos, Free Alta or Free Ajax bumper sticker.

“According to local NM congressman Tom Udall’s office, the message is getting through and the letters are being read,” says Kreitman

“The main thrust of the campaign and the one which will ultimately deliver success is the political angle. The US Forest Service have stated they will only change their policy when directed by their political overseers or through federal law suits.

“We shown we can make noise and get press attention. Of course this is important because everytime the issues are discussed our arguments look better and their’s increasingly silly. But real success is now dependent on impacting the US Forest Service in the political and legal arena and doing so with a high level of professionalism. From now on this will be a major focus of our efforts.”

Phase two of the campaign includes working with a professional PR company to make press and publicity more targeted and expand the number of cross links to the website. A full-time website developer and editor will soon take over the reigns to make the site more interesting and up to the minute. Kristi Begin, a local New Mexico specialty outdoor retailer and holder of a US Forest Service special use guiding permit for will be handle many of the political and US forest service related issues. As well as groups such as the Snowrider foundation, other recreationally orientated pressure groups are being consulted for advice on successful campaigning. And several attorneys are being consulted about how, where and when law suits against the US Forest Service should best be filed.

“Law suits are complex and time consuming and good lawyers don’t come cheaap. We can use and good free legal advice we can get. Plus, in some ways it’s almost distasteful to rely on lawyers. But its also the most effective way to get anything done these days. Legal moves may finally force the US Forest Service to listen to the growing snowboard constituency and persuade them they really do have an obligation to listen to the tax paying public.” says Kreitman.

“In fact it was the Forest service itself that suggested a law suit would be the most effective way we could get them to change their policy.