My goal this season is to be more of a Jerry. Why? Because Jerrys are less vain and self-conscious, and because I think the opposite of a gaper is probably an asshole. When I’m skiing with my friends, the purpose of the day is to basically out-gape one another. It’s hilarious and fun and dumb. We do ski trains. We carry our skis like babies cradled in our arms. We slide unsuspectingly underneath each other’s legs, we try to push one another over when loading and unloading the chair. You know, obnoxious, stupid stuff. My friend Benji won the day recently when he successfully failed to unload the chair. The liftie’s response, as Benji slowly went back down the mountain, feigning ignorance as we all laughed among ourselves, was, “What are you, a fucking moron?!” Yes, we are! Morons, and Jerrys and gapers! Joeys, dumbasses, and kooks, too!
So it’s with a certain amount of consternation that I’ve watched the rise of this phenomenon in the ski world where we collectively and unequivocally ostracize gapers.
Enjoying displays of incompetence is nothing new, nor is it unique to skiing. America’s Funniest Videos has run for 26 seasons. In skiing, the annual bunny hill Warren Miller segment is a perennial favorite. More contemporarily, #EpicFails go viral. Enjoying schadenfreude is practically a national pastime. But the outdoor community turns this American hobby into something ruthless. When we’re more likely to share a photo or video of someone doing something we perceive as wrong than one that celebrates something positive, then it’s time to take a look in the mirror.
This fall, practically every magazine in skiing, including this one, ran a story on Jerry of the Day. Last summer, POWDER even had an exclusive #JerryOfTheDay once a week on Powder.com that we shared on our social media channels. (Full disclosure, that was my idea, as was discontinuing those posts when I realized they weren’t the best fit for POWDER.) You probably follow @JerryOfTheDay. The handle now has 331,000 followers, making it far more popular than Powder (150,000), Mammoth Mountain (216,000), or even Candide Thovex (112,000). (@KookOfTheDay, the “Jerry” of surfing, has 308,000 fans, and is even more disparaging.)
Jerry Of The Day perpetuates a status quo, or the debasing of “gapers” and “joeys”—you know, the people who put money in the ski industry to make non-Jerrys lifestyle possible. It suggests that in skiing, we have a particular way of doing things, and if you don’t follow suit, you aren’t in the club. When did skiing become so vain? Are you more valid because you know how to carry your skis? I’m all for a little style, but not at the cost of rejecting those who don’t give a shit about it and just want to go skiing.
The rebuttal to this argument, I know, is that we’re just celebrating these acts of Jerryism, the same way my friends and I contrive our own. Which is horseshit. Nothing that is celebratory is based on full-fledged mockery.
Recently, POWDER posted a photo to Instagram of the winner of its 31 Days of Giveaways. It was a big deal. The man had won a heli trip in Alaska and a full set-up from Tecnica/Blizzard. The picture showed a goofy, happy moment in the mountains of the man with his son.
The photo, seemingly innocent, immediately sparked a sequence of negative comments: “Gaper!” “Jerry of the Day!” “Give the trip to someone who isn’t a gape-hole!” What is that celebrating, exactly? We took down the photo.
Skiing has a whole lot of really tortuous gear that makes even the most simple tasks, like walking and urinating, much more difficult. If you think there is a right way and a wrong way to go about looking and acting while skiing, and if you insist on spurning those who are new to the sport or do things differently, you’re missing the point.
Most people I know go skiing because of the feelings of freedom it affords them. The mountains are a place where they can forget responsibilities and limitations and just be themselves as they fly down the mountain. Promoting Jerry of the Day, something rooted in vanity and a status quo, infringes on those freedoms.
John Clary Davies is the executive editor of POWDER and a massive gaper.