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Poaching can fetch boarders Burton's bounty

Email|Print| Text size + By Marty Basch
Globe Correspondent / December 13, 2007

Poach it if you can.

That's the message from Burton Snowboards during a campaign designed to entice riders to document their experiences trying to ride at four North American resorts where snowboarding is banned.

Burton's "Poacher Freedom" campaign is looking for the best snowboarding video at Mad River Glen in Vermont, Deer Valley and Alta in Utah, and Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico. The person or group with the top video from each resort wins $5,000.

In his pitch on the Burlington, Vt.-based company's website - burton.com/poachers - snowboarding pioneer and company founder Jake Burton calls the four areas "elitist" and "fascist," and the bans "Draconian."

The submitted videos show riders poaching - akin to skiing a closed trail - at each of the four resorts. Burton encourages riders not to break the law, and posted a Ten Commandments of Poaching, which include always buy a lift ticket and always respect ski patrols.

Since launching the campaign last month, the company has received criticism. In response, Jake Burton posted a letter on the company website that reads, in part: "Since the release of our Poachers web story on burton.com, several people have contacted Burton complaining of our actions. While I fully respect their prerogative to voice their opinion, they should in return grant us the same courtesy."

A Mad River Glen video shot last year shows a trio of skiers donning jackets and ties, paying for lift tickets, taking the lift, and then changing to snowboards hidden in the woods before riding down the mountain by the base area.

"We're trying to take the high road with it," said Mad River Glen president Jamey Wimble. "We know it will happen at some point over the season. If they want to go to that effort, we will embrace them, congratulate them, and let them go on their way."

Wimble said there are two or three instances per season when snowboarders try to ride at the area in Fayston, Vt., by hiking up and then boarding down.

"We figure a couple of people will try it," Wimble said. "If we get hordes coming in, then it will be a little bit of a problem."

Mad River Glen once allowed snowboarding, but former owner Betsy Pratt ran into safety issues with riders on the historic Single Chair. Boarders were restricted from that lift, and after several confrontations, Pratt banned them. The mountain is now a co-op and members like the ban.

"The only thing about this is on Jake's side," said Wimble. "If anything, he hardened the fact more as to why we don't want snowboarders here."

Judging from the community message boards on the Burton website, there are plenty of riders enthusiastic about the campaign, but also some who think the challenge is unnecessary.

"[Messing] with skiiers (sic) as they are trying to do their thing is also lame and not helping the situation," read one comment. "Hey, let's act exactly like the stereotype they have in their head . . . genius."

Deer Valley general manager and president Bob Wheaton didn't have any "strong thoughts about it."

He said snowboarders aren't allowed at the Park City, Utah, resort because guest surveys tell him skiers like it that way.

"The results reinforce the fact that our guests appreciate having a ski-only experience," he said. "When that changes, we will take a look at that."

Wheaton estimates there are only a couple of poaching attempts every season, and said he didn't know if the campaign will have an impact at Deer Valley.

Jake Burton was unavailable for comment, but according to associate brand manager Nate Bosshard, the company has received "85 percent positive responses and 15 percent negative responses" about the campaign through e-mails.

"We just want people who snowboard to have equal choices," Bosshard wrote via e-mail. "As an example of how this would benefit these mountains; many families are now made up of skiers and snowboarders. So if your children prefer to snowboard, then your options are still limited as to where you can go.

"Snowboarding has always been lighthearted and you have to take this campaign tongue-in-cheek. Obviously these are strong images and references, and in no way would we try to compare this to other important issues of our time, but we feel that we have waited 20 years for change to occur and lighter tactics didn't seem to get the message across to the resorts."

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