The Outsider: Is Gaper Day at A-Basin on the decline?
Talk to enough folks at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area on April 1 and you’ll probably hear how Gaper Day is a ghost of its former self.
Let’s start at the top: Gaper Day is the unofficial ski holiday for all things retro, denim and just plain weird, when locals and visitors alike dress as their favorite “gapers” (aka goofballs, goons, goobers, whatever) for a day of skiing and drinking and craziness. It’s a spring tradition in the Colorado Rockies, like the Eenie Weenie Bikini contest at Copper or Four at Four in Vail, and it’s the kind of all-are-welcome party that people travel from across the nation (and globe) just to see.
“Some people do Gaper Day out there but it’s nothing like this,” said Jenna Ramos, 27, a Tahoe-area local who usually makes the annual pilgrimage to A-Basin for Gaper Day. “Last year I got all excited to dress up (in Tahoe) and I was almost the only one.”
Like the only person wearing a costume at the costume party?
“Yeah, exactly like that!” she said, and then posed for a few more photos before disappearing into a mass of pastel pink and Ninja Turtle green.
For years and years, Arapahoe Basin has been the epicenter of Gaper Day shenanigans — I’d say about 2,000-plus people came out on April 1, and just about everyone I saw there was wearing a pair of Pit Vipers with neon or denim — but it’s not the only venue. Pockets of revelers celebrate in smaller fashion at Breckenridge Ski Resort, Keystone Resort, Copper Mountain Resort, Vail Mountain Resort and across the state. Most of the skiers and boarders I talked to simply enjoy the alter-ego atmosphere, which, of course, includes plenty of booze (as The Beach is known for) and marijuana. That’s just how things go in Colorado these days, for better or worse, evolution or devolution — take your pick.
But, after interviewing about a dozen people in ’80s thrift-shop gear, I couldn’t help but feel like something has changed in the past few seasons. On the Summit Stage bus ride from Keystone to A-Basin, I heard horror stories about a strict no-tolerance-for-Gaper-Day policy at Breckenridge and Keystone, only to hear from another group that Keystone had no issue with costumes. The real issue there: No one else was dressed up and the vibe just wasn’t the same, so the group boarded the bus and headed to the real party.
When I reached the base of Black Mountain Express, I saw at least three employees stationed near the start of the lift line, where they were checking backpacks for beer, liquor and other, uh, party favors. A group of four was wandering the base area with a handle of Fireball when an employee kindly told them it was fine, they just had to take it back to The Beach. One skier skated up to the lift line with hockey sticks instead of poles and was turned around.
“Those are props,” the employee said. The skier started to argue, but soon after he obliged and returned to The Beach — no harm, no foul.
“Because the safety of our guests is our top priority, we implement a security plan on April 1st to maintain a safe environment for both employees and our guests at the mountain,” A-Basin communications manager Adrienne Saia Isaac told me later. “The plan has been the same for the past several seasons.”
I then talked with a massive group of 35 skiers and boarders from Boulder that arrived in a school bus early that morning. It’s a regular thing — this group makes frequent bus trips to the Basin from October to June — but 24-year-old Spencer Lacey told me he was shocked when A-Basin personnel seemingly kept close tabs on everything the group was doing.
“I was told maybe four times they stepped things up, changed a bunch of rules just for today,” Lacey said from behind his pink elephant headpiece. “It was astounding how we were treated. They saw the costumes, saw the bus and pre-judged us.”
OK, so 20somethings don’t want to be babysat. Set aside the half-drunk hearsay, though, and were pink elephants actually singled out? Is Gaper Day now a neutered shell? I’m honestly not sure, but Lacey and his group still seemed to be having a good time, like just about everyone else wandering from The Beach to Black Mountain and back again. Backpack checks weren’t putting a damper on anyone’s day, and at press time I hadn’t heard of any injuries or clashes between skiers and authorities. I’m hoping there aren’t any to report in tomorrow’s paper, because like Halloween at A-Basin, Gaper Day is all about enjoying the mountains the only way us locals know how: by dressing like weirdos and sliding down snow. And I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Now that spring break crowds are back in school it’s time to welcome the next round of April visitors: hundreds of skiers and families heading to the USASA National Championships at Copper.
From now until April 12, youth snowboarders and freeskiers from across the nation will compete in slopestyle, halfpipe, boardercross, slalom and giant slalom. Every event is free for spectators — and you’d better believe these kids will throw down — but keep in mind that certain runs and areas of the terrain park are off-limits until competition wraps up. For more info, see the Copper website at http://www.coppercolorado.com.
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