There’s pond skimming, and then there’s the Slush Cup at Keystone.
For as long as man and woman have been on skis, they’ve been tempted to take those skinny little planks from snow to water and back again, sometimes in the same 10 seconds on the same slushy run. It’s the essence of pond skimming: a Rocky Mountain ritual made just for spring, when the snow starts melting and anyone who’s ever been a curious child wonders what might happen when they ride over the bluish abyss, just once, just to see what happens.
And, like all winter sports around here, pond skimming has grown from a pastime to a legitimate sport. What was once a side effect of Memorial Day heat at Arapahoe Basin is now an organized end-of-season party with costumes, cash prizes and plenty of carnage. Today, there are competitions held across the country, including the de facto (but probably not sanctioned) World Pond skimming Championships at Golden Peak in Vail on April 17.
Before then, prospective world champions get to test their pond legs at the Slush Cup in Keystone, held near the Mountain House base area on April 10 for closing day. There are divisions for guys, gals and youth, including the free Kidtopia Slush Cup for skimmers-in-training between ages 6 and 13 years old.
For big kids, the event costs $30 for skiers or snowboarders and includes as many runs as you can handle between 11 a.m. and about 2 p.m. when things wind down. Hell, there’s even a panel of “highly skilled judges,” according to a release from the resort, who will score competitors on style, distance, creativity and water resistance. What are they highly skilled in? The release doesn’t say, but chances are they’ve either: A) Done this whole pond skimming thing before, or B) They’re just really good at blowing whistles and busting a gut from the lifeguard stand on the shore of the makeshift pond. Either way, the winners walk away with $250 in cash, plus plenty of goodies and swag for runners-up.
But enough with the basics. In the pond skimming universe, there are two breeds of competitor: the folks who honestly want to get as far as they can — the jocks, if you will — and the folks who put the whole thing on par with a Halloween party in mid-April. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, we talked with the experts for tips on how best to enjoy the Slush Cup, no matter how you actually perform. Just don’t forget something dry for after the Cup. It might feel warm when you’re dry and laughing and filled with adrenaline, but remember: you’re still 9,000-plus feet above beach level.
RIGHT OR WRONG?
Like any sport, there are at least a dozen schools of thought for pond skimming technique and success. Ski.com released a “guide to successful pond skimming” in March 2015, and just about everyone on course at the Slush Cup is bound to have a secret they won’t (or will) share.
But, before you overthink this whole skiing on slush thing, take a bit of advice straight from the source, Keystone event manager Jessica Roberson: It’s all gravy.
“There is no right or wrong approach, but the most important tip for participants is to have fun and celebrate the close of the winter season at Keystone,” Roberson said. “Even the most well thought-out plan may not end how anticipated, and that’s half the enjoyment of pond skimming.”
GO FASTER THAN YOU THINK
That said, this is still skiing, and half the battle with skiing or boarding is finding the right speed and alignment. Have you ever been on a bump run, or taken a lap through the terrain park? Same principle. Just ask any park rat who spent five months on the jumps and jibs in A51 at Keystone: speed is your friend.
“Whether you’re on skis or a snowboard, be sure to maintain speed and launch off the kicker as squared-up as possible,” Roberson said.
REMEMBER THE KICKER
Roberson brings up a good point: The Slush Cup isn’t just another a run-of-the-mill ride from snow to water to snow. Nope, there’s a kicker on the uphill shore, meaning every last competitor — men, women, boarders and skiers — must first launch up and over the pond before actually skimming. Some hit it like a jump and sail high, others take it like a roller and tuck low, but no matter what you’ll need to stay flat and level to get anywhere on the water. Otherwise, it’s just a swan dive with extra gear.
CHOOSE YOUR GEAR
One of the major reasons folks either love or hate pond skimming is, well, the water. There’s virtually no way to avoid getting wet, so be sure to either bring old-ish boots and skis or make peace with the fact that everything you own will get soaked. Of course, it also pays to actually ride your competition skis or board or boots at least once or twice before hitting the pond kicker. You wouldn’t take a Lamborghini on the road before learning to drive a stick, would you?
CHOOSE YOUR ALTER EGO
If you’ve ever been a pond skimming spectator, did you honestly watch for the die-hard skiers, or did you spend more time pointing out the costumed crazies? Thought so.
“Skiers and riders have no shortage of creativity,” Roberson said. “Last year, there was a kid who wore a Ninja Turtle costume accompanied with a giant, homemade cardboard slice of pizza to carry down as well. Clever and creative costumes are key for Slush Cup.”
KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE
In the end, there’s $250 up for grabs and all you have to do is make it from one end of the pond to the other with more style, stability and chutzpah than the rest. It helps to keep your eyes on the opposite shore — again, it’s the same principle as jumping or grinding in the terrain park — but even Roberson said it doesn’t hurt to butter up those expert judges.
“Bribing the judges probably wouldn’t hurt,” she said. “And if that doesn’t work, they’ll be awarding first, second and third place prizes to both kids and adults for three categories: best overall, best crash and best costume.”
See? Even losers can be crowned pond-skimming royalty.