Vail Slang

Vail Slang

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Nothing amuses a ski bum more than watching a gaper doing a yard sale after coming off the ski lift.

In other words, locals get a kick out of watching badly dressed tourists crash so dramatically that their gear scatters all over the ski slope, usually leaving a lasting impression of their trip to Vail.

Ski lingo is unique, and the Vail Mountain's slang is specific and location-centric. There's also nothing that will make you come across like a veteran skier than peppering your sentences with the following bits of Vail "local language":

1. "The Bowls"

Nickname for Vail Mountain's most famous feature, the Back Bowls. Located on the backside of Vail Mountain, the Bowls challenge intermediate to advanced skiers with more than 2,000 acres of wide-open skiing. Don't expect to ski the trees on this part of the mountain, but do plan on careening down steep faces, bumping over moguls and floating through untracked powdery snow.

2. "The Mile"

Also known as The Minturn Mile. This unofficial ski run begins in the western part of Vail Mountain and takes skiers out of the resort's boundaries down 3,000 feet into the town of Minturn. This little piece of Vail slang refers to the total backcountry experience – the run is not maintained by the ski company, and if you get lost, don't expect ski patrol to come find you. That said, adventurous (and skilled) skiers are rewarded with deep powdery snow stashes and a delicious meal at one of Minturn's restaurants at the end of an exciting run.

3. "Gondola"

The enclosed car suspended from cables used to transport skiers up and down the slopes. The key here is to pronounce it like this: GONE-doh-la, rather than like this: gone-DOH-la. Technically, both pronunciations are considered correct, but the former will make you sound like a local instead of a gaper.

4. "Gaper"

Pronounced GAY-per, this is a tourist donning a fluorescent, one-piece ski suit that was the epitome of style in 1983. This morsel of Vail lingo is actually a sarcastic reference to the characteristic gap between skier's hat and goggles. Generally local residents love tourists – they give life ski-town touches of color and culture. Without them, the local economy would collapse. However, obnoxious tourists who ignore the guidelines and courtesies expected on the slopes – by taking up the whole run doing slow, wide turns so no one can safely pass, or foolishly trying to run an expert double-black diamond ski run just hours after graduating from beginner ski school – could find themselves deservedly labelled gapers.

5. "VR"

The nickname for Vail Resorts, the company that runs Vail Mountain and the biggest employer in town. If you want to sound like an old-timer who has been in the valley long before Vail became an international destination, you could call the ski company by its former, though now technically inaccurate, nickname, "VA." This Vail lingo stands for the company's former name, Vail Associates. That said, don't even attempt to use VA if you look under 40 years old; no one will buy it.

6. "Dowd Junction"

The curvy stretch of highway just west of Vail. You won't find a sign saying "Dowd Junction" on Interstate 70 nor will you find it on a map, but local residents often discuss the conditions in Dowd Junction and even the state's Department of Transportation is familiar with this Vail slang. The road hugs a steep, rocky mountainside and requires travelers to drop speed fairly quickly to maneuver the sharp curves.

7. "Upvalley/Downvalley"

Vail may be the name most people know, but residents know that the entire valley, from Vail stretching 40 miles west to Gypsum, is part of one bustling, tourism-based economy. The Upvalley, in local lingo, refers to Vail and Beaver Creek, whose tourism drive the entire valley's economy. Ski resort workers primarily live downvalley in the communities of Edwards, Eagle and Gypsum, which have developed their own charming commercial districts. Upvalley is considered posh, with communities full of second-home owners, tourists and the "ski bums," another of Vail's slang phrases, who work on the mountain. Upvalley is at a higher elevation and has longer winters, so it is home to both of the valley's leading ski areas. Downvalley is more laidback, more family focused, and better known for its golf courses and mountain biking because it is relatively warmer and drier than Upvalley towns. You can also refer to Downvalley when you are heading west and Upvalley when heading east.

8. "The Beav"

One of the slang terms Vail locals use in reference to Beaver Creek Mountain. Vail's sister ski resort, located just above the town of Avon, used to be the part-time hometown for former President Gerald Ford. The ski resort seems more posh and less accessible than Vail, but many local residents who live Downvalley prefer to "ski the Beav," as they say in the local language, on weekends because the resort is closer and generally attracts fewer gapers.

9. "Front Rangers"

One of the more-used Vail slang terms for weekend warriors who live in and near Denver and head to the mountains in droves on Saturdays to get their ski fix. A significant number of Colorado's ski resorts, including Vail, are accessible only by Interstate 70, which means Front Rangers account for a lot of the weekend traffic.

10. "Chair 10 at 10"

This means, literally, "I'll meet you at chair lift 10 at 10AM." While ski company executives and marketing folks no doubt put a lot of thought and energy into naming each of Vail Mountain's 34 chairlifts, Vail's local language refers to each lift by its number instead of its name. It's common to hear local residents agree to meet their friends at "Chair 10 at 10." This Vail lingo makes sense, though, as "The Highline Express Lift at 10" doesn't have quite the same ring.

Tamara Miller is a writer based in Portland, Ore.

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