The Last Holdouts Where The War Between Skiers And Snowboarders Is Still Being Fought

The Last Holdouts Where The War Between Skiers And Snowboarders Is Still Being Fought
Illustration: Jim Cooke (G/O Media)
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On the surface, the rivalry between skiers and snowboarders once had all the classic Snobs vs. Slobs tropes. The stuffy, elitists skiers, with their skin-tight ski-suits, champagne, and love for rules and propriety. The punk-kid snowboarders, loud and brash, with cheap beers stuffed into the pockets of baggy pants. Over the last couple of decades, the two groups have gotten more and more similar and now, generally, peacefully coexist at all of the winter resorts in North America. Well, all except three.

Deer Valley and Alta in Utah, and Mad River Glen in Vermont are the last holdouts that do not allow snowboarding within their resort boundaries. This never made any sense to me. The arguments I heard from proponents of these ski-only resorts always seemed a little too vague. Snowboarders change the snow. They shave the tops off the moguls. They push the snow down the mountain. They turn differently than skiers, and it doesn’t blend well. They crash more often because they have a big blind spot. Hmm.

I had no way of verifying these claims, because as a snowboarder myself I’ve never been allowed into the ski-only resorts to see if there’s any truth to them. Maybe these resorts really are snow utopias, with champagne flutes at the end of every chairlift and helpful gnomes to push you along when you get weary and moguls as smooth and round as an angel’s ass. So, when I got an excuse to go check out Deer Valley, arguably the most exclusive ski resort in the U.S., I said yes. At age 39 I’d be taking my first ski lessons, and finally seeing just what the hell happens at these places where snowboarders are persona non grata.

A Brief History Lesson

Ski resorts have existed in the U.S. since the early 1900s. Mechanical lifts didn’t come around for another few decades, but regardless, ski culture had a lot of time to mature. Etiquette and rules for right-of way were established, and this went on, undisturbed, for generations.

Snowboarding, on the other hand, didn’t really arrive on the scene until the 1980s. In the late ‘60s there was something called a Snurfer, but that was really more of a sled that you stood up on. In wasn’t until the late ‘70s, when a guy in Vermont named Jake Burton added bindings and metal edges, that the modern snowboard was born. What started out as a novelty quickly proved popular thanks, in part to surfing and skateboarding raising generations of kids used to riding with one foot in front of another. Suddenly, they could translate those flowy turns to the snow, too, and snowboards started showing up at ski resorts in numbers. It did not go well. I would refer you to this video circa 1985:

As intimidating as those mullets were, snowboarders were undeterred, and the sport kept growing. Realistically, people on both sides were being dicks. Skiing, even more so than today, was seen as an activity for the elite. Snowboarding, however, was being embraced by teenagers, many of whom were coming from the surf and skate scene. Skiing was chamber music and snowboarding was punk rock.

“It was a real rowdy set,” snow sport journalist Roger Lohr told me. “It was mostly young. There was an irreverence. So, on the one part they felt like they were being discriminated against, and on the other they were acting in ways that were a problem, and not with the accepted mores that skiers had.”

Jake Burton thinks some of the animosity stemmed from skiers feeling threatened by the perception that snowboarding was just sexier. “They were the shit, the guys who could battle down the bump runs,” Burton told me. “And we came in, and we were cooler. People found us edgier. Some people embraced it, and some didn’t get it.”

In fairness to the skiers, slope etiquette and right-of-way are important components to on-mountain safety, and because the snowboarders were often coming from the skate parks, not the snow, they simply didn’t know (or follow) the rules. Eventually some resorts allowed boarding but made snowboarders pass a test to prove that they knew how to abide by basic rules, and even then, some resorts limited them to certain trails.

In fairness to the snowboarders, this was a brand-new sport. Equipment was still pretty dodgy, so things would break, and riders would be catching edges and falling a lot. It was also next to impossible to find any kind of instructor to give you lessons. Regardless, it’s extremely unpleasant to come into something that’s supposed to be fun and for everyone and have the locals treat you like a second-class citizen.

The first time a mainstream audience was introduced to snowboarding was in the 1985 James Bond film A View to a Kill. In the opening action sequence Roger Moore is on skis, fleeing a bunch of baddies. When one of his skis is shot up he switches to a snowmobile, and when that’s blown up, he grabs one of the long, wider skis from it that hey, wouldn’t you know it, just happens to have a place to attach each of his feet, and voila, 007 invents modern snowboarding.

1993 was a pivotal year for the sport. Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times published features on the conflict between the tribes. (The L.A. Times piece contains a gem of a quote from a bartender about the snowboarders: “’They start slam dancing when others are trying to dance sedately,’ he said. ‘When that happens, I have to eject them.’”) A weak economy saw fewer skiers shelling out for pricey lift tickets, and so resorts badly needed the revenue from a new batch of riders.

To help smooth integration, Lohr, who worked for Ski Industries of America (which changed its name to SnowSports Industries of America in 1997 to be more inclusive), was responsible for the creation of a now-legendary manual distributed to ski resorts looking to integrate snowboarders as smoothly as possible. “They were trying to control it on the one hand while not scare it off on the other hand,” Lohr told me. He was also partially behind the infamous 1991 “Read This Or Die” pamphlet that translated skiing’s right-of-way laws into hipper snowboardese.

Image for article titled The Last Holdouts Where The War Between Skiers And Snowboarders Is Still Being Fought
Photo: Roger Lohr

Over time, things did indeed get better. Snowboarders become more adept and proved that they were no more of a menace on the slopes than skiers, and more and more resorts opened their doors to them. Even the toniest spots came around. “I went to Aspen and they told me to get lost,” Burton recalled, “and now they host the Winter X Games.” Snowboarding became part of the Winter Olympics in 1998, and today Olympic snowboard events command primetime slots, while Shaun White and Chloe Kim are among the most recognizable athletes of the last 20 years.

Skiing hasn’t just embraced snowboarding, it’s absorbed some of it. Skis have gotten fatter and ski appeal has gotten baggier. “Look at side cut, look at width,” Burton told me. “Look at comfortable clothing, not stretch pants. That was snowboarding that started that.” But it goes much further than that. “There were many years where you’d never see a skier near a half-pipe, or near a cool jib or jump,” Burton continued. “Now they’re all about it.” Half-pipe and slopestyle skiing are now included in both the Olympics and the X Games, and both originated as snowboard events.

Now that snowboarding is accepted at almost every ski resort in North America (more than 500 of them), I wanted to know why the holdouts remain. Are there practical reasons, and does it just boil down to elitism? “With the snobbery thing,” Lohr told me. “At places like Deer’s kind of acceptable. At Alta and Mad River, it’s a different kind of snobbery. They’re not hoity-toity snobs, they’re like ‘This is my turf’ snobs. It’s a different kind of arrogance.”

A spicy take, but there’s no substitute for going to see for myself.

The Last Three

Deer Valley, Utah

While its lift tickets aren’t much more expensive than your typical large resort these days, Deer Valley is considered by many to be the poshest ski resort in the country. Occupying 2,026 acres in Park City, Utah, everything at Deer Valley has a certain polish to it. There’s a lot of attention to detail. Instead of the usual overcooked burgers and chicken fingers, the on-mountain restaurant has $35 ahi tuna tacos. The trail maps are made of waterproof, tear-proof plastic, instead of the usual flimy paper maps you find everywhere else. It has the air of a private golf course, and its slopes are lined with ski-in/ski-out condos that start at $6 million and go up from there.

It’s also a lot newer than most of the resorts you’ll visit, established in 1981. The terrain consists of well-manicured, private land. It’s the most beginner-friendly of the three resorts on the list, with 58 percent of the runs being blues and greens, though there’s plenty of expert terrain, too. Deer Valley also offers a “Ski With a Champion” program, wherein guests can hire one of seven Olympians to be their personal guide for the day. That service starts at $1,200 for a half-day.

The first time I came to Deer Valley was for a work lunch several years ago when I was in town for a press event. The other journalists at this lunch had been skiing there all day, but since I only knew how to snowboard, I’d been banished to Park City (not exactly slumming it, I know) to ride before meeting with the group. At lunch we were joined by an executive from Deer Valley, and I naively asked him, “So, when do you think snowboarding will be allowed here.”

“Never!” he told me. “People pay to come here because there are no snowboarders.”

To say that rubbed me the wrong way would be akin to saying, “Kobe Bryant was slightly competitive.”There was a smugness to it. I felt personally insulted. A direct insinuation that my absence was the very thing that made the place so appealing.

More recently, Deer Valley’s Senior Communications Manager Emily Summers gave me a more judicious, official answer as to why snowboarding isn’t allowed. “When snowboarding came on the scene, resorts started gradually allowing it. Deer Valley just never did and eventually we became the small few that didn’t, thus carving out a niche for ourselves in the ski-only experience.

“People seek us out for it because there are only three resorts that offer this experience,” Summers continued. “We survey our guests every year and overwhelmingly we hear that it’s one of the main reasons Deer Valley was selected for their ski trip and that it’s now what sets us apart.”

She declined to speculate on why an absence of snowboarders was such a perk for skiers.

Mad River Glen, Vermont

Mad River Glen isn’t just independent, but fiercely independent. This tiny Vermont Resort (just 115 acres) is the only cooperatively-owned, not-for-profit ski area in the country, and it’s the only ski area in the National Register of Historical Places. It has just three double-chairs, as well as an iconic single-chair; the last one in North America. While that single chair makes it unique, it’s also the origin of the resort’s problem with snowboarding.

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Photo: Mad River Glen

In 1986, Mad River Glen became the third resort in the U.S. to officially allow snowboarding. They had snowboard lessons, and even some patrollers on snowboards. The problem was the single-chair, which had been there since 1948. There’s no ramp at the top, so you’d have to step off to your right. Because snowboarders have no poles, according to Mad River Glen’s Marketing Director Eric Friedman, they would kind of push off the chair, which would get it swinging and would cause problems. They hired an extra staff member to help offset that, but there were so few snowboarders at the time that it didn’t seem worth the expense, so after a while they banned snowboarders from using the single-chair.

While boarders could still use the double-chairs, all the best terrain only accessible by the single-chair. This led to a series of locally legendary confrontations between snowboarders and then-owner Betsy Pratt. After a particularly heated exchange with some teenagers, she decided to ban snowboarding outright in 1991. In April of 1996, after local skiers bought the resort from Pratt, the new shareholders voted on the snowboarding ban they had inherited. A whopping 78 percent voted to uphold the ban, and it’s been that way ever since.

Vermont is arguably the birthplace of modern snowboarding, and this ban continues to rankle some locals.

“We get a lot of shit,” said Mad River Glen’s Eric Friedman told me who has been working for the resort for 24 years. “If I get called a ‘racist’ or a ‘Nazi’ by a snowboarder, it’s fucking offensive. To equate those two things ... When you start calling us racists, I think you’re blowing the argument. Badly.”

The snowboarding ban can only come to a vote if the two-thirds of the shareholders raise it, and according to Friedman, nobody has tried to raise it again since 1996. “The bottom line is we could have snowboarding here tomorrow,” Friedman said. “And all it takes is, you know, if a thousand snowboarders got together and bought shares in this co-op, they could do it. And to this point they haven’t.”

In 2007, Jake Burton announced a “Poach the Line” contest, which offered four $5,000 prizes to snowboarders who could create the best video of them riding at one of the then ski-only resorts. They would have to hike up, incognito style. The campaign was also called the “Sabotage Stupidity Contest,” and referred to the ski-only resorts’ policy as “fascist.” To its credit, Mad River Glen offered no resistance. They were welcoming to the riders, and even posted photos of snowboarders on its website.

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Photo: Mad River Glen

Still, shareholders viewed it as a provocation.

“At that point in time I really felt as though it was softening,” Friedman said. “That people were kind of like ‘Y’know, why don’t we just allow them?’ And when Burton did that, it hardened everybody. And they felt like they didn’t want to get pressured.”

Burton said he would do it all over again, but noted the mixed success the campaign had. “Taos came on board immediately after that,” Burton said, speaking of the formerly ski-only New Mexico resort. “But the other people, I guess they dug their heels in even more.”

To this day, Mad River Glen allows you to hike up and snowboard down, but boarders are still prohibited from using the lifts.

Alta, Utah

Of the three ski-only resorts, Alta is on the most tenuous ground. Founded in 1938 and parked on 2,614 acres less than an hour from Salt Lake City, it’s easily the largest of the three. It also has the most hardcore terrain and the most skiers on it. It’s known for its steeps and chutes, and many who come there are looking to charge hard. Alta has never allowed snowboarding, though its sister-mountain Snowbird—connected by a short tunnel you could walk (or ski, or snowboard) through—does.

Alta wears its ski-only badge with pride, stamping its slogan “ALTA IS FOR SKIERS” on bumper stickers, lift tickets, and signs all over the resort. I asked Alta’s Communications Manager Andria Huckinson about the ethos underlying a ski-only resort. “It’s pretty simple,” she told me. This is our 81st season being open. We’ve only ever been a skier’s mountain and that’s why we’ve stayed a skiers mountain.”

She stressed that it wasn’t necessarily because the skiers didn’t like snowboarders. This video of Alta skiers, however, belies that statement:

“Stay the hell off this mountain!” “So? Dude, this whole country is built on discrimination and squashing the little guy.” “Snowboarders are assholes. Teenage assholes out of control. They can’t stop, they hit people, and then they don’t even stop to see how they are. I hate snowboarders.” “The world deserves some places where you guys can’t be.” This video is somehow only from 2012.

Alta’s standing as a ski-only resort is the most contentious of the three, and for a very good reason. While Deer Valley and Mad River Glen are both on private property, Alta is on public land, owned by the National Forest Service. On multiple occasions snowboarders have taken Alta to court over its exclusionary policy, contending that snowboarders pay taxes just like skiers, which should provide them with the same right to access public land. These challenges have been thrown out of court, most recently in 2016.

Alta’s response to this claim? “Our comment to that is that you can’t ride our lifts. You can ski our mountain, you just can’t ride our lift,” Huckinson told me. “We get people coming over from the Snowbird side and riding down, and that’s fine. They’re welcome to do that. That’s Forest Service land and we couldn’t stop them from coming down. They just can’t take the lift back up.”

I asked Huckinson if Alta faced any financial pressure to allow snowboarders in. “No,” she said simply.

What Skiers Claim

Just before I started working on this article I went on a date with a skier. Over dinner I told her that I was about to go to Deer Valley. She said, “Oh, that’s my dream ski trip!” When I asked her why, she said, “Because there are no fucking snowboarders!” So she’s probably not the future Mrs. Rose, but I had to ask her exactly what she doesn’t like about skiing with snowboarders.

After making me swear I would not use her name in this article, she launched into a litany of grievances. “They go way too fast and I’m always afraid they’re going to crash into me. They’re super annoying on the chairlifts and their boards are always getting in the way. They wear baggy clothes and they’re always playing loud music.”

Apparently I was on a date with a young female Clint Eastwood, who was seconds away from hollering at me to get off her lawn. But she is far from alone in holding those views. Here are the most common gripes you’re likely to hear from skiers.

“Snowboarders mess up the snow.”

This is usually applied to steeps and bumps. For steeps, skiers argue that snowboarders will side-slip down the slope, and the large surface area of their boards push the snow off the run, ruining it. For bump runs (i.e. moguls), skiers claim that snowboards take a different line through them, shaving off the tops of their otherwise perfect bumps. If you’re wondering why skiers love bumps so much it’s because they, in equal proportions, hate their knees.

“Snowboarders are out of control and can’t see where they’re going.”

The argument here seems to be (depending who you ask) that snowboards themselves are inferior equipment that cannot turn accurately, or that snowboarders are reckless and will just careen down a mountain regardless of who or what is in their way. As far as seeing where they are going, the claim is that because snowboarders ride with a sideways stance, they cannot see over their front shoulder, and are thus effectively blind when turning toward their heels.

“Snowboarders turn differently.”

The argument here is generally that snowboarders do not simply “follow the fall-line,” which is, essentially, the shortest line between point A and point B. Instead, snowboarders like to make wide, sweeping turns, making them less predictable and harder to avoid, especially since they’re half-blind (according to the above argument).

“Snowboarders have an attitude.”

It’s slightly harder to find people sticking to this argument, but there are still plenty who view snowboarders as young punks who have no respect for right-of-way, safety, propriety, or good old fashioned common decency goddamnit.

“They have to sit down to strap in and it clogs the top of the lift.”

Generally speaking, this is true. Snowboarders ride chairlifts with just their front foot strapped to the board, so when they get off, they have to kick over to a flat spot and strap in their back foot. Some may be able to do this merely by crouching, but most have to sit. That’s one of the realities of the equipment.

“They make that scraping sound!”

I dunno, man.

Behind Enemy Lines

The only way I could find out for myself if there is any truth to these arguments was to go undercover, and that meant learning to ski. So I headed to Deer Valley to take two days of ski lessons and see if a place without snowboarders really is a skiing Garden of Ski-den.

My first takeaway is that skiing is exponentially easier to learn than snowboarding. Learning to snowboard is a long and painful experience, trying to balance on a single precarious edge and transition smoothly to the other without eating shit. In contrast, after just two half-day ski lessons, I was linking turns and riding down the steepest blues in Deer Valley with virtually no problems. I definitely think my snowboarding experience helped me understand how to use my edges, and I acclimated quickly and so was able to spend a fair amount of time observing the terrain and those around me.

The runs, while nicely groomed, looked exactly like the runs at any mixed resort I’d been to. There was no qualitative difference in the snow, at all. Zero. None. While skiing with my instructor, who has been teaching for more than 40 years, I inspected some bump runs. When boarding, I spend a fair amount of time in bumps, and these looked identical to all of the other bump runs I’d even seen. I asked my instructor about it. He said, “Well, maybe they look similar, but those are really nice. I think they’re a bit steeper than you’d normally get.”

I pressed him, saying, “No, I mean these look identical. Literally identical.” He kind of shrugged and conceded that it probably didn’t make much of a difference in bump runs, but said the bigger problem was when snowboarders side-slip down steeps and chutes and scrape the snow out with their larger surface area. But then he immediately admitted that he’s seen plenty of novice skiers side-slip steeps, too, and that since fat skis have started becoming the norm, now they have a similar surface area, too. So, he guessed it was really more about ability level than equipment.

Deer Valley has a lot of beginner skiers, and while there’s nothing wrong with that—everyone has to start somewhere—I saw all of the same things that I see at mixed resorts. I witnessed four collisions and more solo-crashes than I was able to count. I saw a lot of people on terrain that was just a bit above their ability level, and watched them attempt to side-slip and/or “pizza” their way down, pushing bushels of snow down in the process. (It’s ironic that skiers accuse snowboarders of pushing too much snow when the most basic method of stopping on skis is called the “snow plow.”)

I will say that there were generally more flat spots than I find at typical mixed resorts. That’s not a big deal on skis because you have poles you can use to push yourself along (which is a serious workout, I might add, and now the original NordicTrack actually makes sense to me). That kind of thing really isn’t much fun on a snowboard, where you’d have to unstrap your back foot and kick, skateboard style, or unstrap both and walk.

What’s actually true?

The reality is that I had a great time at Deer Valley. I even enjoyed skiing, God forgive me. But I didn’t see any of the differences that skiers claim make it (and the other two ski-only resorts) such a paradise. No, nobody was sitting down at the top of the lift to get strapped in, but it was roughly just as crowded with skiers standing there, adjusting gloves, and talking to each other.

The concept that snowboarders ruin bumps or steep chutes any more than skiers do is a delusion. This isn’t merely based on my observations. I spoke to Sierra Shafer, editor-in-chief of the all-sking Powder Magazine about this very thing. “I think that perception that snowboarders ruin the snow, or destroy the mountain, or change the terrain seems pretty dated,” Shafer told me. “I think possibly that comes from when snowboarding was first coming around and people were trying to figure it out, and were kind of just side-slipping down the mountain, but now those athletes are just as capable as those on skis. And someone on skis snow-plowing down the middle of a run can scrape it off just the same. So, I think it’s more of an ability thing than it is a difference between the two sports.”

I will concede that snowboarding is harder to learn than skiing, and so beginners are more likely to fall, and fall a lot. It simply takes longer to get to an intermediate level on a snowboard. Skis have twice as many edges to steer with, and the wider, parallel stance is better for keeping your center of gravity right where you need it. Realistically, skis are the more practical equipment. They were devised as a means of transportation, many thousands of years ago. Snowboards, on the other hand, were developed purely for fun.

All of which is to say, yes, if you’re only skiing on beginner slopes, where you are surrounded by novices (on both types of equipment), you are likely to see a lot of boarders struggling and for longer than their skiing counterparts. Once they get over that initial hump, though, snowboarders don’t fall much more than skiers. But when a snowboarder falls, at least they’re generally self-contained. Ski crashes are where we get the beloved term “yard sale,” wherein a skier pops out of his or her skis and their poles go flying. So now, instead of just one body sliding down a slope, there’s a body plus four long, pointy projectiles. Snowboarders, in contrast, will brush themselves off and resume, whereas it may take a skier several minutes to collect and re-attach their gear, which is now littered like landmines across the middle of a run.

Blind spots? We’ve all got them. Whether you’re on skis or a snowboard, your head cannot, in fact, rotate like an owl’s. This means that skiers can see what’s in front of them pretty well, but are blind to what’s happening behind them, which is why they may not see you coming if you’re passing them, and they may turn into you. Snowboards travel sideways, so they have solid field of view in the direction their toes are pointing, and the see over their front and back shoulders, but like skiers, not behind their backs. Because they’re constantly rotating, snowboarder’s blind-spot is shifting depending on which way they’re turning, but it isn’t any larger than a skier’s.

In terms of drawing different lines in the snow, sure, some of that’s true. But as more and more skiers switch to snowboard-inspired fat skis, we’re seeing them draw more and more snowboard-like lines, especially in fresh powder. In fact, snowboards typically have an easier time in deep powder, while a skier is more likely to catch opposing edges and unintentionally do the splits, and/or come out of their bindings. At the same time, skiers have poles (glorious poles!), which makes them less likely to get stuck in flats and have to hike out. Regardless, the two styles are in no way incompatible, as long as everybody is paying attention to their surroundings and looking ahead to plan their line.

Risk-taking is a total wash. Purely from my own observations (bad science, I know), I’m at least as likely to have a skier whiz by me at Mach 3 as a snowboarder. You’ll see just as many skiers in terrain parks, jumping off cliffs, and generally being just as irresponsibly dangerous as your average irresponsibly dangerous snowboarder. If you take a look at the Instagram account @JerryOfTheDay, you will see just as many skiers as snowboarders eating just as much shit while doing things that are just as stupid and reckless.

Skiers’ complaints about snowboards on chairlifts hold a little more water. Having now skied, I can tell you that it is vastly more pleasant to ride a chairlift on skis, where everything is pointed forward. I can see how they’d find it annoying to have a snowboard hanging diagonally under the chair, encroaching on their space. It kind of sucks to ride a chairlift next to a snowboarder, even when you are a snowboarder. Hell, it kind of sucks to be a snowboarder on a chairlift. But it must be pointed out that this situation isn’t life-threatening, just mildly inconvenient for a very short time. If you honestly believe that little thing is enough of a reason to exclude an entire sport from a resort, I suggest you remember your last yard sale, and then tell me which situation is more hazardous to yourself and those around you.

So, who wants to shred the gnar-gnar in the pow-pow and get sendy with friendies?

When I asked the last three resorts their reasoning for excluding snowboarders, their main argument was, in a word: Tradition. (Cue the Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack.) But when downhill skis came on the scene they were made of wood and steel. They were long and skinny, and they weighed a ton. You could just as easily draw the line before you got to fat skis (which were, again, heavily influenced by snowboards), and say that they aren’t traditional because they move more snow and don’t draw the same lines as long, narrow skis. Fat skis are proof that using a slightly different set of equipment to ride slopes doesn’t negate, undo, or in anyway disrespect established traditions. Aspen is an excellent example of this. “I think a lot of people still celebrate and acknowledge the history of [Aspen] being a true skiers’ mountain, if you will,” Shafer told me. “But we’re all out there trying to experience the same thing. I don’t think any of that has been lost. I don’t think any of Aspen’s culture has been lost because they now allow snowboarding.”

Ultimately, after two days of skiing at Deer Valley, I wasn’t overcome with an insatiable desire to snowboard there, and that’s largely due to the flat spots, though there were chutes and trees I didn’t get to explore which I’ve heard are delightful, and I do wish I could try them for myself. Alta, too, has some very long traverses, which is how you get to the best terrain, but of course, a little hiking is good for the body. I’d add that it’s not that skiers love flat sections or traverses, but that their poles afford skiers a more efficient way of getting through them, so it’s a bit less of a slog than it is for boarders. As for Mad River Glen, I really am thirsty to check out that backwoods resort, ride the single chair, and try all the wild-looking terrain underneath it, and it sucks to be denied that opportunity simply because I strap one plank to my feet instead of two. Even after digging into the arguments for and history of snowboarding bans, the decision still seems arbitrary, and it still feels unfair.

“I think that’s one of the great things about skiing that you could say is also true of snowboarding, is it’s a common ground,” Shafer said. “It’s a common denominator. We’re all out there for the same reasons and we’re all privileged to do any version of this sport. Let’s not look for reasons to isolate or exclude anybody. There are so many barriers to entry to skiing and snowboarding already: It’s expensive, and you need the access. So, for any of us to have the privilege to do it, that’s something I think we should share with more people and not be looking for a reason to exclude anyone.”

I couldn’t agree more, but it’s hard to imagine these resorts having a change of heart. Each has dug its own trench and seems determined to wait out the apocalypse in the face of reasonable arguments. More than respect for any tradition, I think these resorts are ski-only for marketing reasons. It gives them something unique to pitch in a crowded marketplace, and enough consumers buy that pitch that it’s worth it for the resort, even if that means barring a lot of people who just want to come and have fun. Even if it means losing mixed-sport families.

I could see Mad River Glen being the most open to the idea of opening things up, but enough of its shareholders would have to put forth the measure, and they don’t seem particularly motivated to do so. At Alta, the fact that it’s on public land and it is effectively denying access to a large portion of the tax-paying public puts it on shaky ground, and I think it’s only a matter of time before a court agrees. As for Deer Valley, it’s hard to imagine anything short of an asteroid strike changing things there. They are catering to the well-heeled and all of their biases, whether they’re logical or not. It doesn’t matter if the arguments are true, but that patrons believe they are true. That’s good enough.

Warren Miller is the Stanley Kubrick of ski films, but he was also an early proponent of snowboarding, even in its rough early days. In his 1988 film Escape to Ski, Miller featured a group of neon-garbed boarders, and had this to say about the resorts that banned snowboarding:

“Today, a quarter of a million snowboarders in America have grown up riding a skateboard with one foot in front of the other, yet some ski resorts still won’t let them use their lifts. What if snowboards had been invented before skis? Then, the snowboard resorts wouldn’t let skiers use their snowboard lifts… Dumb.”

Tradition, snobbery, or just plain old inertia?