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How to Win at Pond Skimming

Each spring as the snow on the ski slopes turns to slush, idiots across the globe dress in neon and make fools of themselves. I’ve been one of them.

Images courtesy of Park City Mountain Resort

The spring fling, the beach party, the carnival weekend—these ski resort rites of passage go by many names and host many events—the garden hose race, the cardboard classic, and so on. But if you truly want to be queen or king of the mountain, your focus will be on just one event: the pond skim, the granddaddy of them all. For the uninitiated, it involves hurtling down a slope and across (or into) a long, shallow pool of water, in front of a howling throng of spectators rooting for your utter humiliation. It’s a bucket-list must.

Lucky for me, my pond skimming experiences at the ripe young ages of 17 to 22 mean that I can now be a spectator. I’ll watch from afar, sipping my beer on the bar deck, so that I need not feel the icy water in my boots ever again.

I’m reading through this year’s rules of the famous Park City pond skim, and while they do love costumes—“the funkier the better”—it’s evident that pond skimming is a bit more regulated than in my heyday. “…No nudity, thongs, or bare butts allowed,” it says, “…No fire allowed in costumes…Costumes must be able to fit inside the Red Pine Gondola with the doors closed…”

If someone can tell me the resort where costumes too extravagant to fit in an eight-person gondola are allowed, and where lighting them on fire is encouraged, let me know. I’ll book a flight today.

pond-skim-1Last year’s distinguished panel of judges (yes, really, one’s an Olympian) considered a
complex array of criteria in judging the competition.

Yes, pond skimming now involves judges, medals, and podiums, but I don’t remember it being an actual competition. I suppose the loudest cheer from the crowd “won,” but won what? I’m not sure.

Now I’d typically make a smooth transition and start by dispensing my own advice. But given that the regulations in Park City make my advice irrelevant, potentially immoral, and borderline illegal, I’ll save it for below the fold. Here are some pond skimming tips, tricks, and stories from other employees here at the Backcountry office:


Brendan Rielly says, “Before the contest, find a costume that accentuates your personality or just the most outrageous thing you can find. Make sure you tune your board/skis with temperature appropriate wax; hopefully on the big day it’s warm so if you take a dive the water isn’t horrendously cold. On the big day, make sure you are properly hydrated. Whiskey and cold beer are my preferred beverages. You don’t want to cramp up when it’s your time to shine.”


Brendan, clearly a seasoned competitor, again: “When you reach the water, lean back as if you are in deep powder; if you’ve wake boarded or waterskied before, let those instincts take over.”

Eric Poole agrees: “Lean back like you’re popping an ollie over a rock—you don’t want those tips plunging in first, unless you’d welcome a faceplant on impact. If you are going in the water, don’t go gracefully. Snowballs are going to ensue shortly after, so make an impact.”

Keith Gleason clarifies: “The key to pond skimming is going down in a blaze of glory while soaking as many spectators as possible.”

tilesNothing delights the crowd more than failure, the more spectacular the better.

If there is one thing everyone agreed on, it’s that speed is of the utmost importance. “Go as fast as you can. Try hiking up further than other competitors so you have a little speed advantage.” “Watch for how fast others are going, go even faster when it’s your turn.”

pond-skim-4A demonstration of perfect form: enough speed to throw a wake, weight back, and a big smile.

Gearhead Jimmy McMenamin’s experience sums it all up:

“My buddy and I were making it across the pond at all costs! The one thing that everyone forgets is that after so many people make their attempts, the water level drops. So you are dropping down to the water level, which quickly kills speed once you touch the surface.

“We watched where everyone was starting from and saw maybe two skiers make it across, but just barely. Chris and I hiked roughly 100 yards further up the hill and buckled in.

“I started in and made sure to not speed check one bit and charge towards the water. I hit the water full speed making my way across and realized I had more than enough speed to make it! Being on the right side of the pond close to spectators standing by I threw a turn in and soaked the spectators in glorious fashion. Back on the snow, I threw up my arms in celebration! Success!”

With the disclaimer that you shouldn’t use it in Park City, or just about anywhere else, I’ll end this article by dispensing my own advice, just in case you find yourself at some rogue backwater mountain where the beer flows like spring runoff and an anything-goes attitude is still as much a part of skiing as rear-entry boots and 210cm straight planks: Go for the shock factor. Pond skimming is as much about production value as it is skiing ability. My best-ever slush cup performance involved a helmet (for safety), a jock strap, and a pair of Adidas tear-away pants.

We’ll just leave it at that. But if anyone out there has any footage of the Crystal Mountain, Michigan Slush Cup circa 2003, send it my way. I’ve always wanted to relive my glory day.

jelloThe author, in a separate contest, taking on pond skimming’s evil twinthe Jello Jump.


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