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Can a Utah ski resort leasing public land ban snowboarders?

A battle between skiers and snowboarders is off the slopes and in the courtroom
Banned snowboarders claim Utah ski resort violates constitution 03:35

A battle between skiers and snowboarders is stepping off the slopes and into a federal courtroom.

For more than 75 years, Alta Ski Area has promoted itself as a skier's paradise. Known for its deep powder and beautiful scenery, Alta is also one of three resorts in the U.S. that does not allow snowboarding. It's a policy a group of snowboarders wants to change.

"It's about access, it's about exclusion, and it violates the law," attorney Jon Schofield said.

Unlike the other two resorts that ban boarders, Vermont's Mad River Glen and Park City's Deer Valley, Alta leases public land from the U.S. Forest Service. Rich Varga and Drew Hicken have been snowboarding since the '80s, and they're two of the four snowboarders who filed suit. They say Alta's "skiers only" policy is discriminatory and violates their constitutional rights.

"Under the law, if you have a policy that excludes one group of people because you don't like that group of people, that violates the equal protection clause," Schofield said.

"I think part of it is, that's my public land as well, they operate on public property ... I feel like I have a right to be able to go and use that mountain," Hicken said.

An undercover video provided by the snowboarders involved in the case shows the level of animosity some skiers have toward boarders, whom they perceive as dangerous risk-takers.

"I hate snowboarders," one man said. "Teenage a******s out of control."

"Oh, you guys are the worst!" a woman said. "I don't ever want to see a snowboarder near me."

But Alta contends it's banning snowboards, not the people who ride them.

In a statement to CBS News, the company said restrictions are "a business decision ... made in order to promote a unique recreational experience for its customers." It also said the "equipment restrictions are not about banning people."

"This equal protection argument doesn't have a snowball's chance. The equal protection clause is concerned about laws that treat people differently based on who they are. And it's OK in most cases for the government to treat people differently based on what they do," said Aaron H. Caplan of Los Angeles' Loyola Law School.

These snowboarders might be facing an uphill battle, but they hope the legal system will give them a lift.

"It is a passion. It is a way of life. To be excluded from the best powder up at Alta and not be able to be part of that is something that's very disappointing," Varga said.

The judges gave no timetable for when they might rule. Last year, this case was dismissed by a Utah judge who said allowing the lawsuit to move forward could open a door for other discrimination suits against private companies.

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