I clearly recall the first time I heard the term “gaper.”

I was visiting my teenaged nephew, who resides in Lake Tahoe, and he was regaling me with stories about his day. At the time, he was on the Squaw Valley Ski Team, and as a longtime Tahoe grom, he had (and retains) little patience for clueless flatlanders. I interrupted him mid-sentence, and asked, “What’s a gaper?”

I should add that this was before I’d relocated back to Colorado, and the word had popped up at some point during my absence (and aging).

gaperIf my “clueless flatlander” comment didn’t give it away, a gaper is best-described as a hopeless newbie to skiing or riding (also known as a “spore, aka “Stupid People On Rental Equipment.” Thanks to writer Brad Narccarato for that one). Is this mockery of the folks who help ski town dirtbags who hate on gapers- yet earn their living from their business- nice? No, it is not. But damn, it’s fun, which is why I was asked to write this (very tongue-in-cheek) post.

The thing is- and this is what I most dislike about skiing besides the great expense- there are few sports that inspire a greater internalized pissing contest. It’s all about one-upmanship: How many days you logged on the mountain this season, what you’re skiing on this year, how much your gear cost, what sick technology your boots have, blabblahblah. Frankly, it annoys the crap out of me, far more than any gaper gaffe. Still, the last thing you want while you’re on holiday is to be pegged as a novice, even if you are one. With that in mind, here’s a list of the most common indications you might be a gaper, along with links to some of my favorite articles and videos that will help you avoid being associated with this dreaded moniker (mainly, though, they’re just really, really funny).

You Might be a Gaper if:

  • You wear non-ironic, out-of-date skiwear, particularly if it’s from the 80s.
  • You don’t wear a helmet. Times have changed; protect your brain.
  • You wear a cam on top of your helmet, and you’re not filming a legit ski/boarding flick or engaging in some death-defying freestyle.
  • You stop on the hill in an area where other skiers can’t see you. And are thus destined to collide with you.
  • You’re unaware of your surroundings when you ski, and cut people off. Particularly irritating on catwalks.
  • You pass on trails without letting other skiers know. Say, “On your left,” which is the ideal side to use.
  • You make a point of saying things like “shredding the gnar,” especially if you weren’t.
  • You carry your skis like a gaper. Hint: have some spatial awareness so you don’t take out the folks surrounding you.
  • You wear zinc on your nose, especially if it’s colored (unless you’re Ski Patrol).
  • You wear stupid hats or headbands, notably the ones that look like dreadlocks or Medusa hair.
  • You insist upon having the safety bar down on the lift (unless you have small kids with you).
  • You look the wrong way getting on the lift.
  • You’re using the entire width of the run to make your turns.
  • You have a “gaper gap” (also known as that wide expanse between your helmet and goggles).
  • You generally behave like an uncouth d-bag, and this, I might add, is behavior I most frequently see from longtime skiers, usually male and of a certain age (early to mid-20s). Just because you’ve been on skis since you could walk doesn’t mean you can’t act like a clueless idiot or have bad attitude. I’m talking to you, lift op at Deer Valley.

In essence, if you’re acting like you’re having too much fun, or don’t care enough about what other people think, then you may be a gaper. And you know what? That’s just fine.