As our calendars flip from May to June we also bid adieu to winter operations on Blackcomb Mountain, which finished May 30th. For many of us, the annual end of lift service is the death knell of our already-waning ski ambitions. This being Whistler, however, others choose to send winter off in style! Over the past 15 years, what began as the frivolous antics of a few winter zealots has grown into a veritable Whistler institution. I’m talking about Gaper Day of course.
In typical Whistler fashion, anything goes, but the gist of the event is as follows: on the last day of winter ski operations dress up in the most ridiculous outfit you can muster, get to skier’s plaza before noon for the Gaper Day pep rally, then head up the mountain and celebrate the close of another glorious winter by unleashing every last drop of giddy, childish antics still remaining from the previous six months of pure powder pleasure.
Extra points if your skis are part of the joke. Older skis also come in handy since, in an ode to the changing seasons, Gapers are expected to ride as much as possible off the snow—dirt, rocks, trees, ponds, even concrete stairs invariably enter the mix.
I recently caught up with long-time local and Gaper Day mastermind Jamie Bond to talk about the wildly popular season-ender bender.
Whistler Museum: So how did it all begin?
Jamie Bond: Good question. Our first Gaper Day began when we took a year off to ski-bum in Europe in 1996. There were lots of drunk Swedish people partying and skiing and we decided we should bring this together into something fun, so at the end of the season everybody got together, dressed up in jeans and tight shirts and whatever else and pretty much got silly and kept it real all day. That became “Ski in Jeans Day,” which lasted about five or six years until we realized that “Ski in Jeans Day” was just far too limiting for people’s ski creativity, so then it became “Gaper Day” and now you can do whatever the hell you want.
WM: Who came up with the name “Gaper Day”?
JB: I don’t know. I think it was just, what else could you really call it? The whole day is about just making fun of skiing, so why not dress up like a “gorbie” or a “gaper.” “Gaper Day” just flows off the tongue so it just kinda stuck. Year after year we noticed that Gaper Day is all over North America now. I don’t know if it all stems from the Whistler Gaper Day or it’s just a crazy coincidence of awesomeness, but it’s pretty exciting to see.
WM: Considering Whistler’s long-standing reputation for being at the forefront of skiing culture, would you say that Gaper Day is the most influential and progressive thing to ever come from here?
JB: Well, it’s certainly changed my life (laughter), and it certainly progresses progression, if you know what I mean (more laughter). But it is pretty funny seeing all those world cup ski racers and world champion big-mountain freeskiers who are out doing all that other influential stuff that Whistler is known for. A heck of a lot of them show up for Gaper Day every year. Who knows where they get their inspiration from but we can’t help but think that a little piece of Gaper Day, you know, they take it with them every year.
WM: How has it changed over the years? You said it started out just jeans and t-shirts…
JB: Yeah. It just gets bigger every year. It started out as a group of buddies skiing in t-shirts and jeans and you see groups like that on any given weekend these days. But it seems like for sure the biggest gathering of Gapers is on the last day of Blackcomb’s season. I’d say in the last couple of years the biggest change is that now it’s just a phenomenon. You don’t need a Facebook group or you don’t need to phone a bunch of friends and rally them up and force them to come out for Gaper Day. It just happens. So I think our life quest is complete because now Gaper Day will continue forever onwards.
WM: It’s taken on a life of it’s own.
WM: So what’s next for Gaper Day? Where do you see it going, then?
JB: Good question. We were going to do the Gaper Olympics last year, but organized sport is way too, you know, confined for the creative expression of a typical gaper (laughter). So we’re just going to have to get more and more people. This year or next year we might introduce “Silly-goating” champions, whereby there would be a points system kind of like a Shane McConkey-inspired game of “GNAR,” like down there in Squaw Valley. We’re thinking of using a similar scoring system, and we’ll see if we can crown some silly-goating world champions over the next few years.
JB: Exactly, yeah! (laughter). It’s quite suspicious that they extended the season this year so that it ends on a random Monday, which is an American long weekend. Boy would it have been rowdy if it ended last Monday for the Canadian long weekend. Gaper Day would have been off the hook… It could be some higher power trying to curb Gaper Day. I’m pretty sure that Whistler-Blackcomb is cool enough to appreciate all that is “gaper,” so that probably wasn’t the real reason.
WM: Has the mountain ever given you a hard time, or patrol?
JB: Not really. They’re pretty good about it. There’s never been any point in endorsing it because it’s kind of a (laughter), uh, rabble-rousing day. I think they’ve been supportive of it. They just ask from now on that all gapers obey the “leave no trace” policy because now there’s patrollers stuck cleaning up after us. So why not just keep it real and pack you junk out with you at the end of the day?
WM: Fair enough. What are stand out moments or antics from over the years?
JB: Oh yeah, there’s been a few. I’d say the first few seasons of skiing out to the valley with about 2,000 feet of dirt and grass are probably some highlights, and now it’s an annual classic at the end of the day. The uber-hush hush water skiing behind Crystal Chair is definitely a Gaper Day legend.
WM: Last year’s 360 was pretty big.
JB: Yeah, Sheldon Steckman’s pond-skim 360 was caught on film from many angles last year. There’s been broken skis. There’s been concussions. Some good rappelling action. Spelunking. More than a few people up to their necks in ponds. You know, people progressing progression, taking the sport to places it was never meant to be. All sorts of quality action.
WM: What do you think it is about retro ski outfits that pretty much everyone loves them in every ski town, to the point where you see them every weekend on the hill now?
JB: I don’t know. I think it goes back to a time when skiing was a little bit more fun and a little bit goofier. Everything’s pretty serious these days. Even the freeskiing events that were meant to be by definition “free” skiing, are now organized Olympic sports, that sort of thing. I think everyone appreciates a little bit of good old-fashioned ski fun. And what better way than to dress up stupid like they did in the past, and keep it real. Plus, a tight one-piece on a chick is highly flattering.
WM: Not so much dudes?
JB: Uhhh, it depends on the day I guess, and the angle.
WM: Do you have any last words, any inspirational quotes or anything like that that you want to add?
JB: Well, one frequent Gaper Day dude, Jon Burr, often says “Bring out the cough medicine cause it’s gonna be sick!” I think that’s a pretty good warning for everyone for this Gaper Day and Gaper Days to come.
WM: Awesome, I think those are pretty wise words to end it on.
For more stories, images, and videos of Gaper Days past, present, and future, check out Doglotion.com