Historical Origins of “Death before Download”
Flashback to 2013, on a glorious Gaper Day like so many others. End of the day, I’m with a group of veteran gape-thusiasts as we gleefully began our ski and board descent below the top of Solar Coaster.
Conditions were perfect.
A nice, straight fall-line, only a handful of easily avoidable rocks, and the sort of long, wet grass we all hope for when party shredding the lower mountain in late May. Not a patch of snow in sight.
And then the heckling began.
Now, normally I’m as stoked on a good chairlift heckle as the next guy, but this was different.
“Haha LOSERS!!! Snow’s all gone!!!” “You guys fucked up!”
I could hardly believe my ears.
I glanced up at the naysayers, only to have my worst fears confirmed.
These weren’t your run-of-the-mill Kooks. These were Gapers.
At first I was enraged. Did they even know who they were heckling?
But over the years I’ve come to understand, if not accept, such ignorance. Gaper Day, after all, has become a global phenomenon, much greater than anyone could have anticipated, and with success, inevitably comes growing pains. With such growth, the new flock were increasingly disconnected These would-be Gapers had come for the party, without any deeper connection to our roots. The spiritual side of gaping, if you will.
I’m no longer mad at these misled Gapers. But I remain disappointed, and more than a little concerned. If these slanderers represented the future of our sport, then all that is holy in the name of Gaper Day was deeply imperiled.
And so I began to dig into our community archives, consult with our elders, and hope to uncover the true origins of the modern-day ethos known simply as “Death Before Download.” And I found that the tradition of rejecting the notion of downhill lift capacity is far older and prouder than I ever imagined.
So here are the results from my research. I hope you find the knowledge and wisdom they represent to be as refreshing and life-affirming as a nice, cold glass of Gaperade™.
Like anyone else, mountain-folk on the BC Coast are in large part products of their environment, and the origins of trekking it from snowline to valley bottom under your own goddamn power stretch back to when people first strapped skis on in the Coast Mountains.
Many of you know the experience slogging down through dense, tangled brush, steaming out your one-piece-suit, after a big day earning your late-season turns in the backcountry. If so, then you have partekin in the proud tradition of the PNW sufferfest. For the first ski-mountaineers to visit the region in the 1920s and 30s, this was all they knew, and they were better off because of it.
Long before chairlifts were a part of the equation on the coast, the character building experience of hoofing it to and from the snow was well-established.
Fast forward to the 1970s, and Whistler was firmly established as a lift-accessed skiing mecca. Not knowing otherwise, many skiers were still happy to hoof it to get the goods, but when the snowline creeped out of the valley, some became ensnared by the novelty and convenience of the Creekside Gondola to bridge the gap. Once the uphill commute was established, the downhill return followed suit.
This period is seen by many as one of history’s darkest moments, as the corrupted tradition downloading quickly ensnared the skiing masses with its Siren’s call. Despite the disruptive effects of this new technology, however, a few skiers never lost sight of the one, true path. God bless their souls.
Take Mark “Skip” Wilson, for example. In the mid-1970s he was one of the privileged few to work as a coach at the Toni Sailer Summer Ski Camps on Whistler Mountain. Working in the alpine all summer downloading would be the obvious way to end your day, but Mark and his colleague Alex “Axel” Douglas knew better.
In this rare, never-before-aired audio recording, “Skip” recalls how he came to this profound epiphany:
The old traditions may have faded, but they had not been completely lost, thanks to the clear minds of people like Skip and Axel.
Then fate outstretched her long, clumsy arms and showed the way a few years later with the creation of the legendary Great Snow, Earth, Water Race. This groundbreaking multi-sport relay race made full use of the extreme sports talent in the Whistler Valley, from downhill skiing to kayaking, biking and trail-running.
There are reports of cheating in the inaugural running of the event, as a certain Canadian Athlete of the Century (who shall remain unnamed) took advantage of a loophole in the rules and, allegedly, snuck in a download on the Creekside Gondola. Isolated transgressions aside, for six wonderful years, participants in this visionary event experienced firsthand the euphoric thrill of rushing down a grassy slope, skis in tow, en route to Dusty’s or Merlin’s. Roll tape:
The “Death before Download” concept had grown from obscure training secret to competitive necessity in a mass event. (Yes, that’s every skier’s spirit animal Rob Boyd storming onto the screen at 2:15). And history marched onwards…
1980. A newer, darker ski hill was upon us. Blackcomb erupted on the scene as an iconoclast, breaking from boring tradition that had begun to plague Whistler Mountain’s 15-year monopoly. Not surprisingly, the new mountain attracted skiers with a similar mindset.
As original Blackcomb Mountain Manager Lorne Borgal explains in the following clip, Blackcomb had not fully prepared for the Coast Mountain Range, that cruel mistress, during the ski resort’s inaugural season:
When confronted by these unforeseen circumstances, as if guided by some long-lost ancestral wisdom, hordes of Blackcomb skiers spontaneously embarked upon their most sacred exodus.
Like Moses’ parting of the Red Sea, Blackcomb Mountain had provided inadequate lift facilities. And just like the Israelites walking out of Egypt, Darkside skiers fled the shackles of the download liftline.
The fervor had reached an ecstatic pitch, and every ensuing Spring the hardiest of skiers made their annual pilgrimage down Blackcomb Mountain’s dusty lower slopes.
By this point, many of the people who would go on to establish the Cult of Gaping had already been born, and many more followed in the years to come. As little groms we were infected by the Death before Download fever, unbeknownst that we would one day soon revive our righteous destiny.
And thus my research led me to the conclusion that the true believers had always known:
To download is to sin, not just against God [aka Rob Boyd], but against skiing itself.
As the well-known edict states:
“A society that does not know its past is bound to repeat it.”
This Monday, don’t be kooks. Don’t download. Be Gapers.