Army veteran says Winter Park Resort discriminated against her by not allowing service dog on chairlifts
October 10, 2017
A Grand County veteran filed an official complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division against Winter Park Resort alleging the resort discriminated against her by not allowing her service dog to ride up the resort's chairlifts.
CarrieAnn Grayson, a former U.S. Army captain who spent eight years in the military including participating in the Iraq invasion in 2003, filed a formal complaint this fall alleging that the resort would not allow her to take her service dog, Guinness, up the chairlifts at the resort and that the accommodation offered to Grayson — that the resort would drive her and Guinness to the top so long as Grayson provided advance notice of their visit — was not a reasonable accommodation.
"I initially contacted Winter Park in June," Grayson said, "asking if I could take my service dog on the chairlift. They said they don't allow dogs. I volunteered to come to Winter Park to talk about different options, to talk about how it can work, to talk about different accommodations."
After a lengthy back and forth with other offers, Winter Park Resort eventually offered to take Grayson and Guinness up the mountain in a vehicle, but required Grayson to provide advanced notice. According to Grayson, the resort requested at least five days notice. For Grayson, the advance notice requirement, her separation from the general public while traveling up the mountain, and her inability to ride the chairlift with Guinness were all unreasonable accommodations.
Winter Park Resort put the entire incident in the context of safety.
Officials from the resort confirmed this week that they were aware of Grayson's request and added that they do not allow service dogs to ride chairlifts out of a sense of caution.
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"For a number of safety reasons that involve the animal, the handler and other guests, we cannot allow people to bring their service animals on the lifts," said Steve Hurlbert, spokesperson for Winter Park Resort. "We suggested alternatives. We offered free transportation from the base to Sunspot for her and her dog. We wanted a heads-up with some advance notice; unfortunately that was unacceptable to her."
Hurlbert went on to say Winter Park Resort's policy is consistent with other ski resorts in the country, especially at those located on land managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Steamboat Ski Resort, all the ski resorts around Aspen and all of Vail Resorts’ properties employ similar policies for service dogs riding chairlifts, according to Hurlbert. He and Grayson both noted, however, that Granby Ranch Resort does allow service dogs to ride chairlifts.
Whether or not the policies of Winter Park and other resorts in the state comply with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the law that dictates the rights of citizens with disabilities, which includes rights to use service dogs, is hard to pin down.
Under the law, employers and businesses that provide public accommodations are required to provide "reasonable accommodations" to disabled employees or customers.
While the law does not specifically outline what qualifies as a "reasonable accommodation" for all circumstances, the law states reasonable accommodations must be made unless doing so would pose an undue hardship by creating significant difficulty or expense.
Grayson's case could potentially set precedent as officials from the Rocky Mountain ADA, part of the national network of ADA centers, told Sky-Hi News that they have never fielded any questions regarding service dogs riding chairlifts at ski resorts.
A spokesman for the Rocky Mountain ADA on Monday was unable to comment, saying, "We get all kinds of calls for service animal information, but this is the first one about animals on ski lifts."
Officials from Rocky Mountain ADA said they were reaching out to in-house legal experts to get their take on the responsibilities of ski resorts when it comes to accommodating service animals and their owners and were still awaiting responses from those experts Tuesday.
U.S. Forest Service regulations briefly address service dogs at ski resorts on land managed by the forest service, stating a private business open to the public may impose legitimate safety requirements that are necessary for safe operation. Safety requirements must be based on actual risks and not on mere speculation, stereotypes, or generalizations about individuals with disabilities.