Ride Taos! Ski area drops board ban | AspenTimes.com

Ride Taos! Ski area drops board ban

TAOS, N.M. ” Taos Ski Valley has finally decided to let ’em ride.

Seven years after the Aspen Skiing Co. decided it no longer made sense to shun snowboarders at Aspen Mountain, the New Mexico ski resort reached the same conclusion.

The family-owned Taos ski area announced last weekend that it will open to snowboarding on March 19, 2008. That leaves the board ban in place at only three resorts in North America. Deer Valley and Alta, Utah, are sticking to the ban. Vermont’s Mad River Glenn seems to revel in the prohibition.

“All four areas that held off saw this as a business decision,” said Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), a nationwide trade association based in Lakewood, Colo. The holdouts will keep the ban in place as long as they feel it helps rather than hurts business, he said.

Aspen Mountain was among the holdouts until April Fool’s Day 2001. When announcing the decision earlier that season, managing partner Jim Crown said the business balance slowly tilted in the favor of allowing snowboarding at Aspen Mountain. Up until then, the ban made sense because it attracted skiers to Aspen, company officials claimed.

Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said Monday the company has never regretted lifting the ban.

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“It seems almost unfathomable that it even existed,” he said.

Not even Ajax’s hard-core skiers care about the end of the board ban anymore. “I think most of them are happy there are cute, young girls up there,” Hanle said.

Taos’ website said it is waiting to lift its ban out of fairness.

“Lots of people had bought their passes and made their plans before we made the announcement, we felt like we needed to honor our contract with them,” Taos said. “This also gives us the opportunity to really celebrate the end of one era and the beginning of a new one.”

Deer Valley quietly keeps its snowboarding ban in place. Its website makes no mention of it. A spokeswoman said there is currently no consideration of a change in policy.

Alta Ski Area’s frequently asked questions gets right to the point.

“Alta is a skiers’ mountain,” its website says. “Snowboarding is not allowed. Alta Ski Area is committed to preserving and protecting the skiing experience.”

Mad River Glenn embraces its stance with attitude. “Snowboarding? Shareholders just say no,” said a statement issued in June 2007.

“Mad River Glenn’s skier-owners ” it is America’s only cooperatively owned, not-for-profit ski area ” believe there are enough skiing purists to carve out a viable market niche,” that press release said.

Mad River Glenn claimed it has been experiencing steady growth in business since 1995.

Taos felt its business model requires a boost from opening to riders.

“Taos has a long-standing tradition of being family oriented, and now with so many young people snowboarding, we are turning away more and more families, particularly families that traditionally come to Taos,” said a statement from the heirs of Ernie Blake, who founded the ski area in 1955.

An NSAA survey showed that 28 percent of resort visitors last season were snowboarders. That percentage has hovered between 26 and 29 percent since 2000-01. However, nearly 60 percent of resort visitors between ages 15 and 17 were riders as well as 55 percent of those between ages 18 and 24.

Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan, who spent his early career at Taos, felt the ski area made a good call.

“I think it will be good for Taos’ business,” he said. “It is a family area and allowing snowboarding will better help them meet the demand of today’s family market. I believe that operationally it will turn out to be no big deal.”

A grassroots organization called “Free the Snow” used to pressure the holdouts to end their bans. Now, it’s the Burton snowboard company that’s applying the pressure. Burton’s website uses a tongue-in-cheek, Star Wars-inspired call to action to protest the bans.

Burton is offering $5,000 to the individual or team that makes the best video about poaching the slopes at the areas that still ban snowboarding. The program is called “sabotage stupidity.”

“It’s time we take a stand and let these elitists know that it’s not acceptable to discriminate,” Burton’s website says. “Power to the poachers.”

Video on the website shows the exploits of some poachers. NSAA wasn’t amused. It asked Burton a few weeks ago to pull the content on the grounds that poachers could compromise safety by entering an area where avalanche control was occurring, said Berry. It received no reply.