The delicate art of pond skimming
Some will sink. Some will skim. Some will wear bikinis.
Everything will be left up to chance, though.
At the World Alpine Pond Skimming Championships at Golden Peak on Saturday, the success or failure of 125 willing contestants to circumvent a possible bout of hypothermia or a nice, fat, butt strawberry will depend entirely on an explicit list of variables – namely speed, body weight, surface-to-water ratio, wind drag, and most importantly, beer intake.
Man cannot walk on water for the same reason that rocks don’t float – they are too heavy.
But, a flat stone hurled with the proper amount of force at the proper angle will skip across water smoothly, readily caroming off the surface until it eventually loses speed and sinks to the ground below.
In physics-speak, the skipping of a stone falls under Newton’s Third Law – a principle which states that for every force, there is an equal and opposite force.
Forget the science lesson, though. If you’re looking for viable proof, just show up to watch on Saturday. When some poor schmuck pulls a “polar bear,” you can lean over to your friends and explain to them that he or she didn’t have enough initial force.
The only real uncertainty in the equation is determining why seemingly normal individuals feel compelled to try such a feat.
“The water’s cold, but the adrenaline’s pumping so it doesn’t really bother you,” said John Bailey, the general manager of Mid-Vail and team captain of the Mid-Vail Pond Skimming Team.
The compulsion to pond skim – it’s a force that’s unexplainable.
Palm trees and Speedos
Last year, Bailey dressed as a snowboarding palm tree for the pond skimming championships, a splendid choice of attire for what is a rite-of-spring event at Vail.
In terms of priorities for hard-core pond skimmers, a killer outfit is a must. To make it from one end of the pond to the other is one thing. To do it while sporting a prom dress, or a sombrero or just a tube sock (no explanation necessary) definitely helps ones chances of being named “King of the Pond.”
As for his choice of dress for this year’s event, Bailey is mum on the subject.
“That’s a secret,” he said. “For the team, we all have individual costumes. We’re helping each other build them, but they’re all unique.”
Last year, local skiing deity Chris Anthony used Binky the Clown and Superfly as fashion templates. He made it all the way to the final skim-off – a showdown between the top-10 skimmers – but tanked out when he tried to do a helicopter into the pond off the little lip that transitions into the water.
“I wore a clown suit that was a pimp outfit,” said Anthony. “It was very fluorescent and I brought back some polka dots and some fluorescent orange and green. Some of the good things are guys dressing as girls. Girls in bikinis is always good entertainment, too.”
And, like Bailey, designs for this year’s outfit are strictly classified.
“Last year, when I got done with it, I instantly thought about outfits for this year,” Anthony said. “It’s top secret.”
Switchin’ it up
While a great outfit may earn you some props from the swarm of flesh that gathers at the base of Golden Peak to spectate, you’ve still got to add a little something if you hope to make it to the skim-off.
“I really don’t know how they judge it,” said Anthony. “It’s sort of a combination of outfit, and style and your distance across the pond. Speed and surface area on the water can get you across, but then, the idea to try to win is to add some flare to all of that. Either decrease the surface area – like last year I went across on one ski – or, go in doing a trick.”
There are four categories on which this years group of celebrity judges – Bill Jensen, Ryan Sutter, Tony Morrow and Toby Dawson – will judge contestants: Distance, crowd response, creativity, and overall impression.
While the first two are pretty explicit, the latter two are both highly subjective, something that contestants will be have to take into consideration.
“When we did it last year, what I was looking for was people having fun and doing something somewhat innovative,” said Dawson. “Doing something like going backward or carrying a prop the whole way across.”
Scott McCormick, the vice president of Highline Sports Entertainment, which is putting on the event, says that the more than anything, crowd response is the best indicator of a quality skim.
“It basically includes all four of those things – the costume, the style, the distance, and the showmanship,” McCormick said. “The crowd was amazing last year. Whether it was a great costume that came down, or just a great trick, you would just hear this huge roar. You definitely have to take the size of the roaring into account.”
“A lot of it, if you get the crowd involved and get them exited, that’s obviously going to the help the judges a little bit,” said Dawson. “I’d personally try and do something fun like a 540 and landing switch and then get across the pond.”
No practice makes perfect
There is no denying that the main draw of pond skimming for spectators is its haphazardness. When you skip rocks, there’s always the chance that you’re going to get a few sinkers. When you skip people, the same rules apply.
“You don’t get the opportunity to practice pond skimming too much,” Anthony said. “I think everybody is a little bit in the dark when they go into it because it’s not really an opportunity that presents itself very often.”
Bailey admits the same thing. He said there are various strategies tossed around at the top of the pond-skimming slope by participants, but when you only do something once a year, it’s hard to really ever get a feel for it.
“You might get a couple of little practices in springtime when there’s the mud bogs or the water bogs at the bottom of the mountain, but otherwise it’s pretty much a one-shotter.” Bailey said. “Skiers have the option that they can skate into it. Snowboarders can’t skate into it. There’s enough of a lip or a kicker on the jump where you can get some air, but you’ve got to keep your speed into it. I just veered a little bit too left, kind of floated and then sank.”
Added Anthony, “You have to absorb the bump that is usually at the beginning of it that tries to knock you off balance. It’s pretty slushy at the end of the day there, so the snow might be a little gluey. You want to find out something that works with that snow. Once you get on the water, it doesn’t matter. But coming into the pond, you need as much speed as you can get. You don’t want to hit the sides of the pond, either because they are quite hard.”
Still feel like skimming?
There are still spots open for anyone interested in signing up for this Saturday’s event which will run from 2-5 p.m.
You can either head Ski Base in Lionshead to sign up in person or visit springbacktovail.com.
As Anthony said, it’s a once-in-a-springtime opportunity for fun. Or disaster.
“It’s a total blast. When you hit that water, it’s cold. But, you have so much adrenaline going, because there are so many people there. There’s also a Jacuzzi at the bottom, so it’s not that bad.”
May the force be with you.
Contact Nate Peterson at 949-0555, ext. 608 or via e-mail at vaildaily.com