April 1 is widely acknowledged as April Fool's Day, a day of jokes, pranks and good-natured fun at the expense of friends, family and colleagues. In Summit County, it is also known as "Gaper Day," a day when skiers and riders don the hand-me-down and often fluorescent one-piece ski gear of a previous generation and head for the mountain.
This year, with approximately 50 inches of new snow in some parts of the county over the last week, the prospect of another Gaper Day holds a lot of promise for some. But the Breckenridge Police Department and the Breckenridge Ski Resort are cracking down on the tradition again this year, promising tough penalties for disrespectful and abusive behavior.
The term "gaper" is a name given to a person who gapes, or stares "with one's mouth open wide in amazement or wonder," according to Orin Hargraves, a lexicographer who teaches a summer course in Boulder and whose works include Slang Rules! A Practical Guide for English Learners.
Locally, the term "gaper" is often applied to visitors who stand out as such. Gaper Day, generally involving locals - mostly in Breckenridge - dressing up in brightly colored or out-of-date ski gear for the day, is seen by some as a harmless tradition. While they don't promote or encourage the event, neither Copper Mountain or Keystone Resort attempt to prohibit the April 1 practice.
"It's something that locals do and just kind of have a good time with," Copper spokesman David Roth said. "We want people to have a good time and (to) try not to offend too many people."
Arapahoe Basin sent a message to employees asking them not to dress up for the occasion and to treat today as any other ski day.
But in Breckenridge the matter is taken a bit more seriously.
Again this year, the town, police department and ski resort have gotten the word out to employees and community members that "illegal and disrespectful behavior" will not be tolerated.
A press release from the police department reminded skiers and snowboarders that "April 1st is not an excuse for disrespectful and abusive behavior or offensive language or dress."
A flyer sent out by the Breckenridge Ski Resort to employees and people in the community echoed the message and stated that anyone harassing or mocking guests and employees, skiing or riding recklessly, consuming alcohol in non-licensed areas, using controlled substances or violating the Skier Safety Act would risk losing his or her pass.
"We want to make sure this is a celebration of spring skiing," said Kristen Petitt, spokeswoman for the resort. "There is some unacceptable conduct that will not be tolerated. We're really committed to maintaining that high-quality work environment and guest experience."
Today is the first day of Spring Fever, a 24-day spring skiing festival that includes a free weekend concert series and in-town restaurant and merchant deals.