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Aspen gives in, will open Ajax to boarders

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It is useless to resist

No foolin’ – as of April 1, snowboarders will no longer be banned from Aspen Mountain.

The decision to free Ajax – as the mountain is called – was made the morning of Thursday, Dec. 4.

According to the Aspen Times , the Crown family, owners of the Aspen skiing company, said the decision to permanently lift the snowboard ban was made in response to market forces and not because of protests and publicity stunts organized by a group called Free The Snow.

Ajax was one of only five mountains in North America off limits to snowboarders including Alta and Deer Valley in Utah, Mad River Glenn in Vermont and Taos in New Mexico.

Free the Snow has been lobbying to see the snowboarding bans lifted on all mountains.

The grass roots organization believes excluding certain groups of people from public or private lands, on the basis of their winter riding equipment, is discriminatory and a violation of rights.

"While it was an active campaign, we didn’t fill the streets of Aspen with demonstrations," says Free The Snow co-ordinator Matthew Kreitman. "Instead we positioned our debate as a factual discussion. We tore down the myths and misrepresentations of snowboarding one by one, based on the facts, so there was no realistic way they could justify the ban as something other than discriminatory."

Free The Snow was also featured in an Epinions.com ad, which Kreitman credits for bringing national attention to the group and upping the pressure on Aspen to change its tune.

"One year ago I was at a meeting where Ajax management were 100 per cent against snowboarders. A year later they’re announcing that they are 100 per cent in favour of us. We’re delighted that they came around in such a short period of time."

With Ajax settled, Kreitman says the group will focus more of its energy on lobbying Taos to open its lifts to snowboarders.

"It’s going to be a harder battle for sure, looking at the way that management there have backed themselves into an emotional corner. However, the solid business reasons that made it sensible for Ajax to open up to boarders make even more sense at Taos. Ajax is just one mountain out of four (in Aspen) – Taos is the only game in town."

The group’s bumper stickers crying "Free Ajax" have become a fixture around Aspen. Jim Crown, Aspen Skiing Company managing partner, suggested locals hang on to them.

"They’re going to become a collectors item," he told the Times .

The three other mountains in the area, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk, are already open to riders.

Crown told a press conference that up until now, a skiers-only mountain had made good business sense because it attracted skiers and boosted ski school sales. But, snowboarder cash is talking. Crown said economics now favour opening the mountain to a growing horde of riders.

He said Skico had been holding back a tide.

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