Hey, snowboarders: Poaching no longer required at Taos
TAOS, N.M. – In 1985, only 39 of about 600 resorts nationwide allowed snowboarding. By the late 1980s, most Tahoe resorts had ended their resistance, but it wasn’t until the winter of 1995-96 that Alpine Meadows Ski Area succumbed and lifted its ban on snowboarders.
To start the 2007-08 season, there were four resorts left in the country that didn’t allow snowboarding – Taos, N.M., Alta, Utah, Park City, Utah, and Mad River Glen, Vt. That number will be reduced to three in 2008 because Taos Ski Valley has finally decided to let ’em ride.
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 are sticking to the ban. Mad River Glen 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.
Taos’ Web site 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,” the resort 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 Web site 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 Web site says. “Snowboarding is not allowed. Alta Ski Area is committed to preserving and protecting the skiing experience.”
Mad River Glen embraces its stance with attitude. “Snowboarding? Shareholders just say no,” said a statement issued in June 2007.
“Mad River Glen’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 Glen claimed it has been experiencing steady growth in business since 1995.
Taos, though, 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.
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 Web site 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 Web site says. “Power to the poachers.”
Video on the Web site 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.
Tribune sports writer Jeremy Evans contributed to this report.