Feds must take blame for feud over Ajax board ban
The White River National Forest supervisor’s decision to review the snowboard ban at Aspen Mountain is welcome news, though it comes about a dozen years too late.
The Forest Service should have either condoned or condemned the Aspen Skiing Co.’s policy back in the late 1980s rather than let the feud fester among skiers and snowboarders.
For Forest Service officials to say they never had grounds to enter the fray before is truly ludicrous.
The ban has sparked howls of outrage among riders since snowboarding soared in popularity in the late 1980s. The local focus of their ire has been on Aspen Mountain since Snowmass lifted its ban before the 1987-88 season.
Since then there has been picketing by riders in the Little Nell Plaza. There have been countless articles written about Aspen Mountain’s holdout status in the local newspapers. There have been editorials of condemnation and neutral stories in national ski and snowboard publications. And there have been telephones calls of protest to Forest Service officials.
What Forest Service officials lacked before were not the grounds to enter the fray, but the backbone. And for that, they did all Aspen residents and tourists a disservice.
The good news is it won’t take much for the Forest Service to get back on track. The first step for White River National Forest Supervisor Martha Ketelle is quite simple – she must determine if her agency has the legal authority to regulate the Skico’s board ban.
Local Forest Service officials have made it clear that they think they do. Regional officials raised questions.
The logic behind entering the fray is that the prohibition is discriminatory against certain people – those who strap a specific, solitary board on their feet. White River National Forest officials say that without strong justification for that discrimination – such as public safety – the ban is suspect.
But hold on, say regional officials, discrimination against snowboarders doesn’t appear to fit the “legal” definition of discrimination that the feds prohibit and are obligated to combat.
Along with the discrimination debate, the Forest Service must ponder whether it is prepared to review a business decision by its permit holder, the Aspen Skiing Co.
At one time, the agency regulated lift-ticket prices and even the cost of food on restaurants located on public lands. It got out of that regulatory mode nearly a quarter of a century ago, choosing instead to let the market adjust prices.
If the agency now decides to review the Skico’s business decision to keep snowboarders off Ajax, it must also be prepared to review the Skico’s pricing policies.
A good case can be made that the Skico’s pricing is a form of economic discrimination that keeps a substantially greater number of people off the slopes than the snowboard ban.
Forest Supervisor Ketelle – as well as her three predecessors in office since snowboarding took off in the 1980s – should have done us all a favor long ago by first finding a definitive answer internally about whether the agency could review the snowboard ban, then either butt out or crank up a public review.
Once that question is answered, the real fun can begin on whether the ban should stay or go.
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