The battle between good and evil? Between haves and have-nots? Between immorality and rectitude? The battle to end the War on Drugs? For equal rights? No, this battle represents nothing that timeless, though perhaps it is just as archetypal: it’s the battle between snowboarders and skiers. Salt Lake City attorneys are watching this epic battle to see if finally, after years of pressure, Alta will finally fall. In this instance, both sides have lawyered up and are eager to prove…well, something, at this point. A couple of months ago four snowboarders filed a lawsuit against the Alta ski area in Utah, and their Salt Lake City attorneys are insisting that they deserve equality under the law. In the latest update on the case, Alta’s lawyers have vociferously called for the suit to be dismissed.
Invoking the 14th amendment for this particular battle demeans the U.S. Constitution, lawyers for the Alta ski area say. This amendment has lofty and important standing, they insist; it “protected the interests of former slaves during Reconstruction,” and to take it to the frivolous level used to “protect the interests of those who engage in a particularized winter sport” isn’t worth the courtroom’s time. But the Salt Lake City attorneys representing the snowboarders insist they have an important case, and that the 14th amendment is mean to protect all people from “arbitrary and irrational conduct by the government and those acting in concert with it.”
For those who haven’t kept up with this lawsuit—and why would they, unless they fall into one of the battling camps of Snowboarders v. Skiers—it might be confusing why the plaintiffs have a case at all, or why one of their Salt Lake City attorneys referenced the government in his defense of the 14th amendment invocation. Alta Ski Resort is a privately operating business, but the catch is the way it’s nestled into national forest lands that makes up most of the skiable area. While Alta’s lawyers are arguing that its permit with the Forest Service allows Alta to restrict any type of skiing device that creates an unnecessary risk to other skiers, that may be something that’s hard to back up in a courtroom looking for evidence.
It’s true that snowboarders and skiers use different stances, and Alta’s position is that the sideways stance used by snowboarders poses a risk to others because of the blind spot it leaves boarders with as they make “wide sweeping turns.” The blind spot is something skiers don’t have, therefore they’re safer.
This may be something that the lawyers on both sides of the argument have a hard time contending—both for and against, especially since the snowboarders’ Salt Lake City attorneys are basing their arguments on the age-old prejudice and discrimination historically targeted toward snowboarders. When they began flying down slopes alongside skiers, they may have, in fact, been correctly stereotyped as riffraff, but the boarders are arguing that times have changed.
Will the resort (and the government) change with them? For Salt Lake City valley residents, the debate may be a comical one, but it could have a lasting impact on…where they may be allowed to strap certain kinds of metal to their feet and hurdle themselves downhill in the snow.