Written by Hans Ludwig
There have been several recent pieces in the Ski Media about why we shouldn’t label other skiers, and the need to make the sport more inclusive. Unfortunately, they are all written by kooks, aspiring PR reps who think that what’s good for their career is good for The Sport, or for skiers. They justify it by saying that more customers means Resort Improvements, as if skiers give a damn about new cafeterias, ziplines, $20 million-dollar RFID scan systems, or anything besides skiing without a bunch of gapers in the way (and beer afterward).
Even more cynically, they equate the observation of gaping, beatering, or general kookery with racism, suggesting that the scorn of skiers is directed unjustly at kids in jeans learning to snowplow instead of at the actual Tesla-driving AirBnB clients cartwheeling down chutes and terrorizing the groomers of Vailterra Incorporated.
The PR people cultivate the beaters because they feed on them. They need more plump rich gapers to buy more overpriced crap and take more overpriced vacations so they can start their own PR firms that tell the world about the inclusivity and environmental responsibility of their corporate ski industry clients.
While it may seem that “gaper” and “beater” are snobby pejoratives locals use for bad skiers or tourists—and it’s true that both can fall under the overall umbrella of “kook”—the distinction between gaper and beater is crucial here. And it's also crucial to understand that we all gape and beat it and kook out on occasion. Only a second-year beater local would be truly contemptuous of tourists or beginners. “Gaper” or “beater” is an objective statement about someone’s status at a particular moment, not a slur.
Let’s not get this confused with jerries, kooks, ducks, gumbies, tourons, hacks, or whatever regional terminology. Obviously there are eccentrics who aren’t specifically gaping or beatering but still fall into the general Kook category. If you’re a skier, some days that’s you. Which is a Good Thing: we all need the ego-check, and whatever dumb thing your doing will at least keep your friends entertained. And no amount of cool gear or skill can overcome it—gear and skill don’t eliminate gaping or beatering, they just help you do it at a higher level.
Gaping is the involuntary rabbit-in-the-headlights behavior of someone out of their element, a relatively passive state. Beatering, conversely, requires free will: making the conscious choice to point it toward obstacles or off blind rollovers. Mostly gapers just stand around and blink at their surroundings, and then instinctively head for the nearest queue or crowd.
People gaping can be annoying when they’re in your way or clogging lift lines, but as long as it’s not happening in traffic or out on a hollow cornice it’s harmless. We all gape at some point, confused by a new place, distracted by the scenery, or just blazed on the local legal weed.
Here’s where it gets tricky: sometimes, when a gaper shakes out of their stupor and decides to Do Something without thinking it through, that can trigger a Beatering Scenario. Which can be very bad, both for the beater and potential beat-ees. Objectively considering the carnage potential of a bunch of confused apes slippery-sliding down mountains with long knives attached to their feet, the sport does seem insane. And to be sure, there are injuries and deaths. But somehow, just as God is said to look out for babies and drunks, most beaters live to beat again.
Maybe it’s because their bindings tend to double-eject immediately, the way they automatically go limp after the double-e, or just pure dumb luck… there’s obviously a need for more advanced study of the phenomenon. Still, there’s no denying that today’s beaters are beatering bigger, harder, and faster than ever before; pushing the envelope and progressing the level far beyond the boring, conservative beatering of the past. The threat is real and it is growing.
In the past, challenging ski equipment made truly aggressive beatering difficult, and the eccentric allure of telemarking meant a significant percentage of the kook population had to ski so gingerly that they offered minimal threat. But now, with fat rockered skis and their huge balance platform, beaters can ski through all kinds of snow, in places they couldn’t access before. Efficient touring gear means that there’s even beaters in the backcountry now. These days, veteran skiers will apply the Alaska guide-style check-over-your-shoulder-for-sluff before they turn across the fall-line on even the most obscure runs. You never know who might be ass-over-teakettling from above, trying to yank the trigger of their airbag backpack without dropping their phone.
When they’re not in the way or actively beatering in your direction, the gapers and beaters are genuinely entertaining. I love listening to them on the chairlift sincerely explaining skiing to each other like five year-olds talking about where babies come from. I love their freestyle interpretations of what to wear and what body movements might lead to turning a ski, their bicycle helmets and about-to-crack-in-half rear-entry boots from 1991 that arrived here in a 2021 hybrid BMW. Sometimes I just gape in amazement at them.
And then there’s schadenfreude, a German word that loosely translates to taking pleasure in another’s misfortune. And nothing tickles the old schadenfreude bone like people beatering hard (but not getting hurt, or at least really hurt). Watching people feel the consequences of defying the laws of physics feels so right in this chaotic world. The crunch of someone shorting a park jump, the clatter of an ill-advised straightline into a dry parking lot, the understated click-click of a double-ejection—these are the sounds of a rational universe asserting order, or, if you prefer, of a just and wrathful God smiting those who would defy Him.
And I’m not the only one who enjoys the schadenfreude: In recent years the internet phenomenon started by the surfing feed Kook of the Day has exploded, emerging in the ski culture with sites/feeds like Jerry of the Day and Beater Meter. There’s even a twitter handle (@wedgedvail) documenting the lift lines at everyone’s favorite resort (and holy shit are they heinous).
They are doing the Lord’s work. Virtually all ski-related media has become marketing: in all the imagery everyone is cool and having fun while skiing pow in front of a pretty backdrop. Beater Meter, Jerry—they show what’s just out of frame in all the selfies from Ski World: the trash, the crowds, the tracked-out snow, the locals going feral. And most of all: the Beatering. A savage onslaught of high-speed incompetence has engulfed Skiing. No amount of corporate PC PR can cover it up—the Kookpocalypse is here. We’ve got it all on video.