Felicity Long
Felicity Long

*INSIGHTLOGO200x115Snowboarders hoping to break the ban on their sport at Utah's Alta Ski Resort have wiped out, thanks to a recent ruling by a federal judge.

Alta is one of the very few hold-out mountains that resist the onslaught of snowboarders, alternately known as boarders or riders, despite the fact that enthusiasts of the sport represent a robust 35% of the snow sport industry.

Earlier this year a group of snowboarders filed a discrimination lawsuit against Alta, claiming they were being turned away not because they present a risk to skiers with whom they share the terrain but because they are perceived as being rowdy and obnoxious. A federal judge dismissed the suit, basically saying that the right to snowboard is not guaranteed by the equal protection clause of the Constitution.FelicityLong

Anecdotally, skiers may experience riders exhibiting more risky behavior – particularly their habit of sitting in groups in the middle of a run, forcing skiers to go around them – but statistics show that more fatalities and serious injuries are attributed to skiers than riders. According to the National ski Areas Association, during the 2012/13 season there were 25 fatalities at U.S. resorts out of 56.9 million visits, and of those 23 were skiers and two were snowboarders. During that same season there were also 73 serious injuries, and of those, 55 were skiers and 14 were snowboarders (the equipment type for four is unknown). Even adjusting for the larger percentage of skiers compared to boarders, skiers are still more likely to get hurt.

As a skier, I can say that judging by appearances, the less serious injuries snowboarders cause seem to be mostly to themselves; show me a new rider, and I’ll show you someone in a wrist brace.

As to the rowdy, obnoxious factor, that is in the eye of the beholder. Certainly, snowboarders tend to be younger, they often dress more outlandishly – helmets adorned with giant antlers or shark fins are not unusual – and their movement down the mountain tends to proceed in unpredictable hops and jumps rather than the smooth zigzag of skiers.

That said, the vast majority of resorts welcome snowboarders with open arms and have become skilled at corralling some of the more enthusiastic among them into terrain parks where traditional skier are less likely to venture.

For now, it appears that fans of the ski-only experience will be able to ply the snow in peace this coming season at Alta. Plaintiffs have not yet decided whether they will appeal, but based on the recent ruling, riders will likely have no choice but to go elsewhere.

For the record, the only other U.S. resorts that ban snowboarding are Deer Valley, also in Utah, and Mad River Glen in Vermont.

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