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Attorneys in Utah defending “radical” boarders or “riffraff”? It’s all about equality under the law.

January 30, 2014

The recent lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the state of Utah for its arguably discriminatory statutes banning same-sex marriage is abuzz across local and national communities. Yet there is another suit that has been filed under the U.S. Constitution’s promise for equal treatment under the law: the age-old Skier v. Snowboarder. The East Valley Tribune gives a detailed report of the commentary surrounding the case, which ultimately hinges on the culture war on the slopes. In a spirited battle between consumers, the suit seems to be heating up in a very small sector of the public sphere and less between attorneys in Utah.

The Utah ski resort Alta was founded in 1939 and is one of the last remaining resorts in the nation at which snowboarding is off-limits. Taos in New Mexico was similarly ski-only until it caved to public pressure in 2009 and allowed boards on its mountain. The attorneys in Utah filing the suit claim that discrimination against snowboarders violates equality under the law, especially when much of Alta’s slopes lie on national forest lands, and the U.S. Forest Service has been named as a defendant in the lawsuit. The suit alleges Alta dislikes snowboarders for their supposedly reckless skiing, inconsiderate attitude and their use of slang words in description of terrain. Such discriminatory practices are unethical and violate equality under the law on public land, attorneys in Utah claim.

But much of commentary on the lawsuit is unfolding in the public realm, especially over the internet. News of the lawsuit exploded on Utah newspaper websites, and readers didn’t hesitate to submit innumerable comments, sparking a heated, passionate debate about the issue. Such comments from skiers read: Snowboarders “ruin all the snow” by scraping it down to ice; they “don’t watch where they’re going”; and they “stop in the middle of the hill and sit down! What’s up with that?” Others argue that snowboarders’ sideways stance leaves them with a large blind spot that can make wide, sweeping turns a danger to others on the slopes.

David Quinney, one minority owner of Alta, asserts his preference for the resort to remain ski-only, and says that as a business, they have a right to refuse anyone. Attorneys in Utah cite the public land in the resort as a potential snag for that argument, but Quinney sees it as a different story. Saying snowboarders see the hill as “forbidden fruit,” making them want what they can’t have and insisting that the mountain’s terrain requiring hiking, climbing and traversing isn’t conducive to snowboarding, Quinney is prepared to stand his ground. It’s not about the culture war, he argues; it’s an issue of safety.

Attorneys in Utah filling suit will appeal to a judge to recognize snowboarders’ claim to equal rights to use Alta’s national forest land under the law, and agree that snowboarders have been “perhaps rightfully” stereotyped as riffraff decades ago by skiers. The debate rages on.

 

 

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