"It's not every day you risk your life on a monoski," said Tahoe local and Cushing Crossing Pond Skim competitor Fritz Renner, riding up KT-22 chair. "But this is a premier event and I love it, can't miss it…I just have to go put in footbeds. I forgot I didn't have them in there, so it's a bit brutal right now."
The goofy and glamorous 26th annual Cushing Crossing kicked off under mostly graybird skies on Saturday, April 30, with about 60 competitors in costumes from a big happy duck to Prince (too soon?) to Ali G to shark-guy-in-boat. Some sank and some skimmed, but mostly, they sank.
The Cushing Crossing keeps the namesake of the founding Squaw owners alive. Although the Cushings reportedly never skimmed the pond themselves, the event evolved out of an informal ski patrol tradition, wherein patrollers attempted to ski across the pond as a ceremonial goodbye to the season. This year, the Cushing Crossing served as the final stop on the Pond Skimming World Cup tour. The winners of the Cushing Crossing will join winners from Crested Butte, Big Sky, and Stevens Pass at Sunshine Village, Alberta, later this month on May 23 for the Pond Skimming World Championship.
An inch or so of new snow fell the night before this year's event, adding a micro-layer of wet slop, which hindered speeds. This compounded the challenge of the five-foot mandatory drop to the pond, and after the first handful of competitors splattered across the water within milliseconds of impact, the communal question was if clearing the pond was bio-physically possible. "I just wish more people would make it across," someone mused, and the refrain, "Why don't they just go a little faster?" echoed from the peanut gallery.
Davi Costa, 27, donning a speedo of the shortest legal dimensions—official rules dictate no nudity, sexual apparatus, drugs, or alcohol on the course—shut down the haters and was the first to cleanly make it to the far shores, with beer in hand. (I guess rules were meant to be broken.) The crowd of 500-plus erupted. A few rounds later, Errol Kerr, in a Jamaican outfit of sorts, blasted across the pond with energy to burn on the other end. The effort earned Kerr the overall win.
Being a Squallywood event, with its braggadocio-ingrained culture, the big dogs showed up and tried not to blow up. Jeremy Jones, wearing a 'Thank You Shane' T-shirt, took a digger upon impact, and Dash Longe did the same. Jones brothers Steve and Todd fared better. JT Holmes made it to the halfway point, roughly. Squaw legend Kent Kreitler backslapped the drop to a herculean one-footed outrigger recovery and nearly skied to dry land—netting him the men's ski victory. Scott Gaffney, dressed in noble religious garb, barely reached the snow, which the announcers dubbed the "Gaffney gentle tip touch." Lady ripper Jamie Burge, the 2014 champ and one of the few females to compete, came up just short, but close enough to earn the female ski victory. Olympian Nate Holland blazed across the pond and buttered out, blasting away the knuckledragging competition. Holland earned himself a tie for the overall win with Kerr.
The "unlimited" award for a non-ski/snowboard device went to locals Ben Paciotti and Josh Anderson. Paciotti, a two-time winner, dressed as Jesus for 2016. He towed a bruised and bloodied Anderson across a good portion of the pond, who was vulnerably riding in a ski patrol sled. Jesus saves?
"They told us that our idea was ridiculous and we couldn't do it. They said it wasn't a go, so we played a little dumb and said, 'What? Are you saying we can go?' and then just sent it," said Paciotti. Anderson smartly wore full back and body protection for the blunt impact and came out just fine. His overall takeaway from the event? "It's all about the glory."
But will the pond, in order to allow for the new gondola, soon be concrete? Murmurs abounded on this subject at the event as the rumor has circulated, but the official word from Squaw's public relations department held a firm "No" on the subject: "As it stands now, there are no future plans to change the Cushing Crossing event in respect to the proposed Base-to-Base Gondola."
Nevertheless, I spoke with Isaac Silverman, the attorney for Keep Squaw True, a local advocacy group. Silverman confirmed the current plans do not show the pond being affected, but he is leery of future changes. “If they do want to fill Cushing Pond they are going to need a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, and we’ll do our best to make sure that never happens.”
Winners of the 26th Annual Cushing Crossing Pond Skim at Squaw Valley:
Overall: Errol Kerr & Nate Holland (tied)
Men’s ski: Kent Kreitler
Women’s ski: Jamie Burge
Men’s snowboard: Nate Weider
Unlimited (non-ski/snowboard sliding device): Ben Paciotti and Josh Anderson
For info on the Pond Skimming World Championship May 23 at Sunshine Village, Alberta, go here.