Alta is for Everyone: The Bjorn Leines Interview

Comments by Jens Heig/

Snowboarding has come a long way in terms of acceptance within the larger snowsports community. What was once a rebellion against the establishment of skiing and society as a whole has become a thriving global industry, an industry that Bjorn Leines has been with nearly every step of the way. It’s his life. He’s seen snowboarding mature alongside him—experienced it grow into what it is today. Now 37, a business owner and active professional, he is raising a family in Utah’s Wasatch Valley and knows firsthand where the deep-rooted prejudice of “skiers vs. snowboarders” still exists. Alta is one of three resorts in the United States that continue to see snowboarders as inferior, refusing riders the opportunity to access its lifts and terrain. But Bjorn is fighting to change that. As part of Wasatch Equality, a non-profit organization operating to enable access to public lands for skiers and snowboarders alike, the group is engaged in a major lawsuit with Alta that has now been heard before a federal judge to determine if Alta’s Ban receives Constitutional protection. Bjorn and Wasatch Equality believes it violates the 14th Amendment. While we wait for a verdict, the man himself would like to share his thoughts on the matter.

Editor’s note: This interview was recorded before Wasatch Equality vs. Alta Ski Lifts Company was heard in federal court on August 11, 2014. The presiding U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson has no deadline to issue a decision.

PADDOCK-michael-bjorn-leines-interview-wasatch-equality-portraitPhoto: Michael Paddock

How long have you been living in Utah?
I have been living here for over 20 years. Before then, we got to come out on some ski and snowboard trips when I was little. My dad worked at Alta for a year between high school and college, then just fell in love with it. It was my parent’s dream to be able to live out here and to actually live at Alta. They were able to buy a house up at Alta about 10 or 12 years ago.

How old were you when you actually moved out there?
I was 15 I believe. I had skied since I was little but I quit skiing at about age 10 or 11 when I started snowboarding. I grew up in Minnesota and I would say I learned to snowboard there and we would spend the winters out here. That was kind of how it worked. My dad was in pipeline construction so they didn’t work very much in the wintertime. That allowed us to do the back and forth. I’ve spent consecutive summers out here before, but I’m actually continuing the same lifestyle as my family: Spending the summer months in Minnesota and the winters in Utah.

That’s awesome. So in terms of Alta and that whole way of thinking in the Wasatch Valley, what has been your experience with that?
It’s been such a discriminatory attitude from Alta, since the beginning of my snowboarding out here in 1989. Even at Snowbird it took a long time for them to really recognize snowboarders and embrace us in a good light. If you look at something like Park City, they actually hated snowboarding as well until about 2000. As soon as the Olympics came into play and they could make money off of it, they really embraced it and just went full steam. Now they’re known as this real snowboarding mecca with their park and everything like that. Most people have no idea that they were very anti-snowboarding. To be in Little Cottonwood Canyon a lot and grow up riding Snowbird and Brighton, it’s just really in-your-face opposition and an attitude that still exists from this small group of people at Alta. I’m not going to classify all of the people at Alta as a whole, because it’s definitely not like that. It’s really just this smaller group that’s in charge and in control of how they want to take a stance on it. With the lawsuit we’ve done a good job of picking apart what their defense is, I think it’s going to come to light once it goes through and is heard by a judge.

PADDOCK-michael-bjorn-leines-wasatch-equality-jump-shotPhoto: Michael Paddock

They used to allow snowboarding at one point right?
Yeah they allowed snowboarding from ’82 to ’85 I believe. Two of the plaintiffs, Drew Hicken and Rich Varga actually used to snowboard there. So they have firsthand experience of how it was. It wasn’t because we were shaping moguls incorrectly or have a blind spot or are out of control, it was the fact that the generation of the people doing it were basically punks. Skateboarders and super alternative to your typical rich, country club-going, ski clientele. So they shunned us. Now the generation has grown up. We have kids now. We are successful business owners and normal citizens. We’re not a bunch of out of control idiots. It’s an old wall and we’re pretty confident that we can knock it down.

It seems like Alta is in a time capsule with their way of thinking. 1985, that’s getting close to 30-years ago when they banned snowboarding and think of how far everything has come in all those years, let alone the past 10 years.
I know right? And then if you look at the global phenomenon of snowboarding and how everywhere else in the world it’s not a big deal, except for a couple places in America. Mad River Glen, Deer Valley, and the problem with Alta is it’s public land. They literally have no right to refuse us the right to slide sideways.

One of the points by Alta that I thought was really interesting was how they accused snowboarders of having this blind spot when you’re riding sideways and you supposedly can’t see down the hill. But the point was made how skiers sometimes ride down the mountain backwards.
Right?

It just seems like a hypocritical view and they’re holding onto that strongly.
Yeah, they don’t have much to grasp at. That concept is easily disproven. If you’re going to allow twin-tip skiers to go backwards or mono-skiers or teleboards, or any other basic form of going down the mountain except turning your feet sideways, it totally changes everything. It’s quite ridiculous.

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