Can you talk the talk?
January 25, 2006
FRISCO – “The most overused word in Summit County is the word epic,” says Jeremy Vail, a 28-year-old shop manager whose voice seems to hold a certain authority when it comes to language. “We get six inches of snow and people say it’s epic,” he continues. “It’s gotta be like two feet to be epic. Come on now.”Vail is talking from his business phone at Recycle Ski and Sport, the Frisco establishment where he has earned the reputation among his co-workers as quite a descriptive talker because, well … because he talks like he’s not from Summit.”They’re always like, ‘Dude, you got a name for everything!'”But if Vail has a name for everything, and he talks some strange form of not-Summit, just what are we locals left with? Is there a lingo that makes our world a distinct little entity all unto itself?”It’s definitely a new vocabulary for me,” says Vail, who moved to Summit from his parent’s pad in Boston four seasons ago. “NFPD – No friends on powder days. That’s the one that really sticks out in my head. Then there’s No worries! Everyone says that up here. I don’t care if you’re a Kiwi or not … That’s one I’ve picked up for sure.”But in a county where Breckenridge is always Breck and Arapahoe Basin is none other than The Basin, NFPD and No worries are just the tip of the iceberg. Shredding the gnar, hittin’ the pow-pow, jibbin’ on our gnar-bars … that’s a little more like it.”Sick was a big one, but (it’s) getting a little bit old, a little out-of-date,” says Lindsay Smith, a guest services lead at Copper Mountain’s Ski and Ride School. With 450 snowboard and ski instructors, most of whom devote their lives to playing on the mountains, the school is a seemingly bottomless source when it comes to the freshest of Summit County colloquialisms. Smith, 24, pooled some of her co-workers at Union Creek – rental crew, instructors and guest services – and offered a few terms for the general public’s entertainment:1) Noodly (adj.): Something really, really soft [usage Dude, my board’s kind of noodly.]2) Gapers (n.): Out-of-towners [usage Dude … hey gaper, dude, quit being the harsh in my mellow.]3) Gaperblades, snollerblades or fruitbooters (n.): Snowblades4) Steezey (adj.): Stylish [e.g. a steezey jacket]5) SPOREs (n.): Stupid People On Rental Equipment [self-explanatory]6) Freshies (n.): Obviously the pow… and last but not least7) Grommet (n.): What Smith defines as “a little ripper who’s like steezey and cute, but good at skiing or snowboarding; an up-and-comer.”The last of these, the grommets, show just how pervasive and invasive the Summit lingo can be. Whether they’re from Texas or Denver, New York or California, Smith says you can see the little guys pick up this corrupted King’s English over the course of a single day.”Oh for sure,” she says. “If there’s a little kid who’s like a little grommet, like a little kid who’s super keen on it, then he’s always trying to pick up what his instructor’s saying … The grommets are always saying sick. I’ve heard them say wicked. I’ve (even) heard ’em say gapers.”Jill Malay, the director of the Little Red Schoolhouse in Breckenridge, says that little Summit-County-isms pop up in the toddlers’ speech at her school, too; phrases like right on, for reals and cheers.”One time when we were out trick-or-treating with all the kids,” Malay recounts, “we were about to take a picture, and there were like 20 of them, and they all went cheers instead of ‘smile’ or ‘cheese.’ And we just were dying. We were like, ‘Only in Summit County would the kids say cheers.'”Malay adds that it didn’t take long for such phrases to surface in her own speech when she first arrived in Breckenridge from New Hampshire, eight seasons ago.”I think it didn’t take but more than a winter,” she says. “… The first season that you’re out here, before you know it you’re saying gaper, and Breck and BV, agro; those little shortcuts.”According to Barbara Hawkins, a professor of languages and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College in New York, there is no set amount of time for the acquisition of a new language or lingo. She says that in academic circles, words like noodly, steezey and gnar-gnar are called “chunks,” and the time it takes to incorporate such chunks into a vocabulary depends on an individual’s motivations, which can range from a few months, as was the case for Malay, to a few years to never at all.”Usually (chunks are) learned within a social context, and the goal is for interaction,” says Professor Hawkins. “… They give people an entry point into the society … It’s not inevitable (that new arrivals will acquire new colloquialisms), but people who want to fit in with the local culture are more apt to take it on.”She adds that sports like skiing or snowboarding can augment such a process in that they give newcomers a community to immediately immerse themselves in.”What skiing or surfing do, they offer you a community group that allows you entry in,” she says, “and that entry in gives you access to cognitive, social and linguistic inputs.”Or it goes something like that, if you ask Eric Bogin, a recent Columbia University grad who moved to Summit in October. He says more than anything else, he’s adopted Summit County speak because it’s a reflection of the new life he’s leading.”You’re talking about the world around you,” Bogin offers, “just like I talked about things that affected me in the city (Manhattan), like the subway or the crazy guy on the street corner. Here I’m skiing every day, so I’m talking about my life.”As a ski instructor at A-Basin, talking about his life means using words like “Pali” for the Palivacinni Lift, gapers for the tourists obstructing clean runs down the mountain and, of course, pow-pow for the fresh white stuff he gets to play in all day long.When asked if he hadn’t heard of pow-pow because such a thing doesn’t exist back in gloomy Gotham City, Bogin nods knowingly.”That’s pretty much why,” he says. “Like I’ve heard pow, but never the double pow-pow. I don’t know if that sounds ridiculous, but sometimes I find myself saying it.”Andrew Tolve can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13629, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.