The term “gaper” has a long history with origins in 11th century Old Norse and Middle English. The noun “gaper” is derived from its root verb, “to gape” meaning to open the mouth wide. The use of the noun hit its peak 200 years ago in 1817 when it was most used to describe a person who stares in amazement or wonder (or a type of burrowing mollusk, depending on who you ask). Since then, the word has struggled to find a home in the English language, dwindling in popularity by the year. However, at the turn of the 21st century, the noun form of the word “gaper” started making its bold comeback—Not in lavish poetry or amongst playwrights, nay, its comeback began on the snowy ski slopes of America.
Perhaps the use of “gaper” stems from a newbie’s shock and awe during his or her first time on the mountain—however it came into fashion, to be called a gaper these days is a slam of epic proportions that some flatlanders will spend his or her entire life trying to escape. On the slopes, a “gaper” is a word for the clueless, the unskilled, and the aloof. They’re the thorn in every locals’ foot and the buzzkill of every great run, albeit one of the more entertaining sights to see.
If this term “gaper” is something new to you, I’ve got bad news…you might be one of them. Unfortunately, not everyone can grow up on a ski hill and for many, a trip to the slopes is a once-a-year thing.
But you’re in luck. By following these seven easy steps, you’ll be able to fake it ‘til you make it and no longer will the people shredding the black diamonds snicker behind your back.
1. Learn to carry your stuff
Don’t be that guy who awkwardly leaves a trail of equipment behind you. A dropped glove is no big deal, but if you’re trying to make your way through the crowd while poking people with falling poles, you won’t make any friends. Just toss it all over your shoulders in a careful, orderly fashion.
2. Learn the proper lingo
It’s hard to pick up jargon for a specific community unless you’re in it yourself. That being said, you might as well practice saying a few mountain words in the meantime. Here’s a recent list of terms you should know, including everything from gnar to jibber.
3. Plan your line ahead of time
One of the easiest ways to avoid getting yourself in a sticky situation is to plan your route ahead of time. This strategy will keep you off runs you’d typically avoid, allowing you to ski at the pace of the mountain, and it will also help you avoid getting stuck in areas where you’ve got to push or pop out and walk.
4. Know the rules of the mountain
Simple things like not stopping in blind spots and making sure you’re not cutting off other skiers will go a long way. There’s no greater telltale sign that you’re a rookie than by taking wide turns that traverse the whole run.
5. Ski at your level
By skiing harder stuff than what you’re ready for, you’ll only be highlighting your skill gaps for all to see. That’s not saying don’t push yourself, but going straight from greens to blacks is never a good idea.
6. Wear appropriate mountain gear
If you don’t want to look like a gaper, don’t dress like a gaper. Don’t wear jeans, don’t wear clothes from the 80s, don’t wear a fanny pack. The windbreaker style jackets are “out”, waterproof softshell gear is in. Just head to your local ski shop and check out what the mannequins are wearing prior to your trip and copy them.
This clip is from “Gaper Day” at Arapahoe Basin, a day when locals get all dressed up like gapers. Check out what they’re wearing. If you want to avoid looking like a gaper, avoid these outfits.
7. Brace yourself for the lift
We get it. Not everyone climbs out of the womb ready to hop on a ski lift. There’s a learning curve, especially if it’s your first time on the hill or if you’re not on the slopes frequently. That being said, there’s nothing more annoying then when the lift is forced to stop because someone wasn’t ready. Some lifts can whip around towards the riders pretty quickly. Don’t mess with your gloves or phone until you’ve safely disembarked at the top.