Origins of the term “Grays on Trays”

So where did this phrase come from?

WordSpy, a website that tracks the use of new words in American English, defines “grays on trays” simply as “Older adult snowboarders.” Older than what, you ask? Some of us would say “older than dirt,” but you really don’t have to go that far. For our purposes, we think of it as anyone 30 and older. Remember the phrase “don’t trust anyone older than 30?” Well, now we’re those people, and enjoying the snow.

Next question: Grays on Trays, or Greys on Trays? Here’s what “Garner’s Modern American Usage” has to say: “gray; grey. The former spelling is more common in American English, the latter in British; both are old, and neither is incorrect. Still, ‘greyhound’ is an invariable spelling.”

Since this is a U.S.-based site, “Gray” prevails. But we also own, so we’re inclusive.

We will probably never know when the first person uttered the term, but the first known use of the term in print was in a December, 1996 edition of the Anchorage Daily News. It quoted Al Meiners, superintendent of Chugach State Park. The article says that “a growing number of old skiers,” or “grays on trays,” as he refers to them, “are making the jump from the planks to the board.”

A few months later, two more uses of the term appeared just a few days apart, in two Midwestern newspapers. Writing in the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Press on February 1, 1997, sports writer Jim DuFresne describes a lesson he took at a small ski area in southeast Michigan.

Speaking of his instructor, DuFresne says ” Every week he gets 41-year-old guys like me signing up for initial snowboard lessons. They call us ‘grays on trays.'”

A few days later, on February 9, 1997, Judy Ernest, writing in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, begins a story this way: “Interest in the hot-dog sport of snowboarding has already exploded, partly due to boomers.” She goes on to describe an informal group of area residents who enjoy the sport: “Derisively called ‘the grays on trays’ by a Gen-Xer riding a ski-lift last year, the group of eight has proudly adopted the name.”

Since then, the term has been used by newspapers and magazines to describe a wide range of people:

    • snowboarders over 21
    • snowboarders over 30
    • snowboarders over 35
    • snowboarders in their 40s
    • snowboard students 45 to 50 years old
    • snowboarders over 55
    • baby boomers who ride (the term “baby boomers,” by the way, generally refers to the population group born between 1946 and 1964)
    • the middle-aged
    • “rad moms” trying to look cool–or just enjoying spending times with their children
    • beginners “of the older variety”
    • more senior snowboarders
    • senior citizens
    • “Your parents on snowboards”

Like many common words or terms, the term “grays on trays” has evolved from a term of derision applied by outsiders, to a term embraced by the people who were the targets of ridicule.

I Love It

Jim Brennan, a 64-year old snowboarder who took up the sport at age 54, told the Bend (Oregon) Bulletin “I love the term. I think it’s the ultimate compliment. If we keep active, we can contribute to the participation. Everybody’s gaining from it. Besides, most of the grays dye their hair anyway.”

“Gray” or not, grab your tray, and start riding!

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