Happy Wanderer: Pond Skimming; Wet and Wild

HILLS NEWSPAPERS: March 19, 2010

Some folks are born with a silver spoon. I was born with two boards. My folks had me skiing when I was old enough to walk. That’s not unusual in Minnesota, where everything you’ve heard about winter is true. It’s cold, it’s long and it’s spectacular.

But something happens to Minnesotans in spring. We get a little giddy. Call it cabin fever, but we celebrate the first thaw like we’ve won the state lottery. We go a little bonkers.

So you can understand why the most vivid memories of my youth involve bikinis and Viking horns and snow skiing on water. It’s what you do when the weather turns warm and the powder turns to mush.

Pond skimming has become more than just a wacky way to ring in spring. It’s bringing in big business to resorts that might otherwise be looking at some lonely last days before a long summer break.

In Vail, Colorado, there’s a World Pond Skimming Championship every April.  The top of the course features a ski jump on snow where contestants launch themselves across a 100-foot pond of freezing chop. It’s a spectacle on ice – with a splash down finish that has winners exiting on both feet and losers bobbing merrily in a giant slushy. It defies the laws of physics and probably the laws of common sense.

At Big Sky Resort in Montana, pond skimming has become a mega-event, with back to back ponds and a snow ridge in the middle. Like a troll under a bridge, the ridge grabs the skier at just the right time, just when they think they’re home free. Guys in Santa suits and gals in swimwear  – they all get a watery wake-up if they don’t clear the second pond. And most don’t.

It’s as much about fashion as it is about form. Judges look for the wackiest, most outrageous costumes – garb that gets the crowd hooting and hollering. Points are awarded for best splash and best crash – along with air, style and distance. It’s a far cry from the days when we’d compete just for fun. This kind of crazy is serious business.

When I was a kid, there were no prizes for pond skimming – no lift tickets or trophies or titles to take home. The adults would drink beer as they sunned on the deck and the kids would just jump the slush. Somewhere along the way, it turned into a sport and a money maker.

But that’s human nature. We take things to extremes. And I’m just wondering….could an Olympic event be far behind?

The World Championship of Pond Skimming is held April 18 at Vail, Colorado.

Big Sky Resort holds its pond skimming event on April 10.


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