On the eve of the 2016 Slush Huck, Crested Butte's 16th annual pond skimming party that signifies the end of the season and the start of spring, reigning champ Alex Norton pondered possible crowd-pleasing, never-seen-before tricks (Lazy Susan? Pretzel with Cheese? The Dolphin?). He also contemplated lubing his skis with Windex, fretting over the pond water. "It's rumored to contain the pee of Yetis," he revealed.
The pressure to repeat intensified, as the Slush Huck acted as the first of four qualifiers for the First Annual Pond Skimming World Cup, with an automatic berth into the inaugural Pond Skimming World Championships Slush Cup, May 23 at Sunshine Village, Alberta, on the line.
In the end, his mental gymnastics were all for naught. On Saturday, after 128 men, women, and groms skied and snowboarded across the 90-foot pond hoping to emerge dry (some did, others failed miserably), Norton and a few dozen remaining contestants were directed to the base area to collect a $10 entry fee refund. A gash had marred the resort's pricey pond liner, forcing the event to end early despite valiant attempts to refill the draining pond. The culprit was a ski, a boot, or (most likely) verboten ski poles wielded by an unregistered skier. ("You are ruining the day with your poles!" an event manager yelled as the poacher was hustled out of the pool.)
Tarp troubles aside, the first of four qualifying events for the First Annual Pond Skimming World Cup was a resounding success. The Slush Huck gives locals the green light to fly their freak flags, and fly they did this past Saturday. The scene around the base area was equal parts festive and idyllic as a Bob Ross painting, with paragliders blissfully floating in bluebird skies around the peak. Hundreds of spectators, many in wacky-tacky flair, soaked up Vitamin D along the sidelines of the pond. The air smelled of cheap beer, Banana Boat, and cloyingly sweet breakfast fare from the Waffle Cabin. Spectators cheered for a slice of bacon and a Jerry Bear, then chortled as a participant grazed the water in a neon green banana hammock. Much snickering ensued as a snowboarder in bunny ears fell to the snow four times on the run-in to the booter, chaffing his bare knees. "Have another beer!" someone hollered. Announcers Caleb Weinberg and Ron Pankey provided droll commentary. "Uh oh…drowning." "Penguin down." "That's dry hair right there."
A panel of judges rated each competitor on a scale from one to 10, considering style, technique, and execution (30 percent each), with the remaining 10 percent being overall impression. Audience members disputed scores amongst themselves: "No way was that an 'eight.'" Of course, a handful hypothesized that the comp was rigged.
In the end, local Olympian and first-time pond skimmer Wendy Fisher was crowned the female champion. Her son, Aksel Lindenmeyr, along with pal Asher Weinberg, clinched the junior title by expertly tandem skiing on a single set of skis. Local TJ Hamilton won the men's category. "You always have to go big, spread eagle, hat between the legs," he noted.
Fisher puffed up with pride and expressed sheer wonder at the fact that she earned a entry headed to the World Champs. Despite her U.S. Ski Team triumphs, it seemed there could be no greater honor.
In the coming weeks, three more pond skimming events will take place before the grand finale:
- Qualifier Number Two: Springfest Pond Skim, April 17, Stevens Pass, WA
- Qualifier Number Three: Pond Skim, April 16, Big Sky, MT
- Qualifier Number Four: Cushing Crossing, April 16, Squaw Valley, CA
Meanwhile, Norton, out of his shark costume and back in street clothes, took on a surprisingly upbeat tone despite his misfortune. "There's always next year," he said matter-of-factly, weaving his way through the crowded base area and disappearing into a throng of varyingly intoxicated, sun-kissed revelers.
The Pretzel with Cheese and Windex would have to wait.
For more info on how to punch your ticket to the World Champs May 23 at Sunshine Village, Alberta, click here.