Almost A Century of Fun: A Brief History of Pond Skimming

John Cunningham | | BrainsBrains
Pond skim
Mammoth’s iconic pond-skim party. | Image: Mammoth Mountain Facebook

For many years, spring skiing has brought forth sunshine and smiles, bikinis and bathing suits, and most famously, the pond skim. People have been using skis or variations of skis dating thousands of years back for transportation, hunting, and recreation. The concept of water skiing and skimboarding came to fruition in the early 1920s. So when did these all get merged together?

Legend has it that back in 1928, two friends, Cliff White and Cyril Paris, were spring-skiing near Banff, Canada when they came across small, natural pools and streams of snowmelt. Presumably allured by the pristine, fresh blue water’s beauty and tempted to one-up each other, they decided to send it. It is said that only one of the two friends crossed the water successfully, the other receiving cold, wet boots and gear.

Cliff White and Cyril Paris the legends behind likely the first pond skim. | Image: Banff Sunshine Village Facebook

However, they were both successful in starting a trend that has progressively become more and more elaborate and entertaining over the years. Almost a century later and close to the original pond skim, Banff Sunshine Village celebrated its ‘95thish Annual Slush Cup’ to cap off the May 22, 2023 season.

Fast forward a few decades from when it all began to the late 1940s and early 1950s at Mt. Baker in Washington. Famous for the Mt. Baker Slush Cup and Warren Miller’s many films encapsulating the shenanigans that ensued, this is said to be where the real pond skimming party movement began. Terminal Lake soaked hundreds of ambitious skimmers and provided dozens of years of memories before coming to a halt in the early 80s. ‘Cowboy’ Wade Wiltse, a 1970s slush cup attendee, with the help of filmmakers Michael Dryland and Wil Drake, rallied and successfully brought the event back in the mid-2000s.

“I think the fun they were having is the same fun we’re going for,” Drake said. “The videos show kayaks, people riding at the pond on each other’s backs, they’re all in jorts and bikinis. I almost feel like they did it even more outlandishly than we do.”

Mt Baker SLush Cup
Image: Mt Baker Slush Cup Facebook

Things really started to get fun and competitive many years later, in 1992, at Squaw Valley (now Palisades). Lake Cushing, situated right at the base of the mountain, set the perfect grounds for this annual event that just celebrated 31 years. Originally, when the snow melted off of the pond at the end of the season, Squaw Ski Patrol would attempt to ‘skim’ across as a proper send-off to the season.

This intrigued local business owner, Jean Hagan, to create something engaging, entertaining, and open to the public. Now, skiers and riders send themselves into the ice-cold water wearing their craziest costumes and bringing their best bag of tricks, hoping to receive the perfect score from local celebrity judges. Spectators lining the surrounding runs are treated to endless laughs and enjoyment while watching the antics unfold. Thanks to Hagan, Tom O’Neil, and many other individuals involved, the Cushing Crossing is now primarily recognized as the epitome of the perfect spring pond skim events.

cushing crossing
Image: Palisades Tahoe

Several other resorts now also host sizable spring events, commemorating where it all started a century ago and celebrating the season’s successes. Whether the pond is man-made by digging a snow pit and lining it with a tarp before filling it with water or occurring naturally, these festivities are now a staple in almost every resort’s season. From the Crested Butte Slush Huck to Sugarbush, where they have been skimming since the late 60s, or A-Basin’s Lake Reveal natural pond skim, participants and viewers worldwide wait for spring pond skims to commence.

A Basin Pond Skim
Image: Arapahoe Basin Ski Area Facebook

What likely started as a “watch what I can do”-style dare on a slushy spring day has evolved exponentially into a thrilling, end-of-the-season event since those basic beginnings almost 100 years ago. Cheers to Cliff, Cyril, and everybody for keeping the spirit of sunny spring pond skims alive and well.

Blue Mountain
Image: Blue Mountain Resort Facebook

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