The First Week Of April Brings “Gapers” To JH And A Different Skiing Experience

Weirdness prevails on Gaper’s Day (April 1) at Jackson Hole. Credit:

Editor Note: We are quite pleased when readers submit articles for publication in  David Barnes is a long-time reader who sent us this account of a yearly ritual at the venerable Jackson Hole.  Thanks David.

Jackson Hole.  Two words that strike double-black-diamond terror in the hearts of many skiers, young and old alike.  But, it shouldn’t.  Sure, half of the runs are black diamonds, including one called Corbet’s Couloir that’s more akin to a cliff than a ski run.  But the other 50% of the mountain’s runs are blue and green, making for a welcome ski experience for any senior skier. 

I first skied Jackson Hole in the late 80’s, with my new wife whose great aunt and uncle lived at the base of Rendezvous Mountain in Teton Village.  At 72 years old, Uncle Warren took me on the old aerial tram, up 4,139 vertical feet to the 10,450’ summit.  The wind was howling, the air was thin, and the run was steep.  “Ready?” grinned Uncle Warren?  I swallowed hard, clicked into my bindings, squeezed the poles hard, and nodded like a rodeo cowboy on a wild bull, waiting for the gate to open and release the snorting, bucking beast.  I was 30 years old and quickly realized I was being out-skied by a 72 year old.  When we’d reached the bottom, I declared I wanted to be like Warren when I grew up. 

Since then, we’ve had the privilege of visiting Jackson Hole a dozen times or so, including the last week of skiing (first week of April) for the last three years.  This is thanks to my mother-in-law, who owns a fraction of the Teton Club, a beautiful and massive log structure near the base of the Tram.  Does this make me an expert on spring skiing at the Hole?  Not exactly.  But I’ve learned enough to understand that skiing the Hole in early April makes for a different experience.  Generally, the weather is warm, sometimes too warm at the lower elevations; later in the week, the snow conditions at or near the bottom can be mashed potatoes.  But the upper elevations typically provide good snow conditions. 

In addition, there’s a fun day.  April 1st is Gaper Day at the Hole.  What’s Gaper Day?  If you have to ask, you are one.  I had to ask.  Gaper Day is a chance for locals to poke fun at tourists by dressing up in kooky outfits on April Fools’ Day.  You’ll see everyone from Uncle Sam, girls in bikinis and dudes in shorts and Hawaiian shirts with old film cameras hanging around their necks.  And for some reason on this particular day, and, only this day, every chairlift spouts a prominent sign reading, “Absolutely no Alcohol on Lifts.”  The signs didn’t seem to be 100% effective…

Loose Moose. Credit: David Barnes

Finally, the moose.  Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is just south of the Grand Teton National Park, which in turn is just south of Yellowstone.  Hence, wildlife is abundant in the area, including moose.  We saw a number of them this year, some on the mountain and some right in Teton Village at the base of the mountain.  Most people are wise enough to keep their distance from the moose.  Some don’t, either deliberately or by accident. My wife, for example, took a walk around the village one morning.  As she turned a corner, she saw the back-end of a large brown animal close by.  As she approached what she assumed was a cute stuffed moose, it slowly turned its big head and looked at her.  Wide-eyed, my wife slowly backed away and then hot-footed it back around the corner, where she nearly ran into a Jackson Hole Mountain Resort employee.  “It’s REAL!” stammered my wife.  The employee gave her a dispassionate look.  “Oh no,” thought my wife as she watched the employee amble away.  “I’m a Gaper…”

Editor Note: The video below is from 2013, but it shows the “spirits” of Gaper Day, honoring April 1, a day for foolishness.

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