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How to Pond-Skim

2006's World Champs coach you across the water and onto the podium.
posted: 05/19/2008

The bad news: Winter's almost over. The good: The snow's still here. But while you've spent all season setting your edges and stemming your Christies, spring—when the sun is high and the corn is buttery—is the time to ditch the dogma and get a little less refined. Thus, the Spring Flings: those end-of-season celebrations of sun and snow, when resorts from Mammoth, Calif., to Mount Snow, Vt., drop ticket prices, shovel off sundecks and fill up pools for pond-skimming competitions.

Pond-skimming—wherein spring snow enthusiasts strive to cross a small and very cold body of water on skis, usually while dressed as, say, giant hot dogs or robots—is a vital ingredient of any fling worth its de-icing salt. And perhaps no such event carries more, er, prestige than the World Championships held at Vail, Colo. (Totally unofficial, of course, but absent any global sanctioning body of pond-skimming, we'll let it slide.)

Even so, you may not yet have heard of Tyson and Onie Bolduc: brothers, Vail natives (Onie was the 16th baby born at Vail Hospital) and the 2006 World Pond-Skimming Champions. The Bolducs grabbed top honors—and a $1,000 grand prize—after hydroplaning Vail's stutteringly cold "Lake Golden" pond in tandem. "We clicked into one ski each, put an arm around each other and had friends push us off," says Tyson. "The rest was balance." Balance, and a little bit of je ne sais quoi: "We dressed as French maids," says Tyson, "even though the announcers kept calling us the flying nuns."

EQUIPMENT

  • Appropriate attire: giant hot dog costume, hot pink bikini (for men), gorilla suit, tutu, etc.
  • Fat or at least midfat skis
  • Helmet (Evel Knievel stars-and-stripes optional)
  • Life jacket or arm-floaties (optional)
  • A little refreshment (optional)

GROUNDWORK
A successful skim requires rigorous preparation. First: Pick an eye-catching get-up. Skimmers are judged not just on their ability to float across icy water, but on creativity as well. "A good costume is first priority," says Tyson. "But you don't need to carve sweet arcs in your suit, just get down the hill and onto the water." And avoid the tired standbys—Elvis, Superman and the ever-present hairy-dude-wearing-a-thong.

As for skis, "Anyone who's waterskied nows wider is better," Tyson says. But leave the Pontoons at home: Regulations usually cap underfoot widths at around 105mm. (The Bolducs won on Head SuperMojo 103s.) After you choose a venue, hit online registration early. Vail's mid-April World Championship roster fills up by early March.

STRATEGY
Each competitor gets at least one run; the best, as judged by crowd reaction, will advance to a second round. Making it all the way across the pond is secondary to pumping up the audience. For the first run, says Tyson, "Flaunt whatever you've got. Show off that costume. If you crash, crash big. Whatever will hype the crowd: Your main goal is to get to the second round."

For the second run, "You've got to catch the crowd off-guard." They've seen your costume, so now's the time for that little unexpected something. "Onie and I went across separately the first time, but for the second, we decided at the last minute to go together, one leg each," says Tyson. "That was the key. The audience went nuts."

INTO THE DRINK
Whether you sink or skim depends less on how fast you hit the pond than how you hit it in the first place. The runup to the pond won't be much more than 100 yards of medium-angle hill, making speed a somewhat equalizing factor; balance and angle of attack are much more important.

"They put a little kicker in front of the pond," reveals Tyson. "When you reach it, you're actually four or five feet above the plane of the water. If you don't hit the jump right, your trajectory will be down toward the water, and you'll endo into the pond. You've got to annticipate it just right." Keep your knees bent to absorb the kicker, and keep your skis straight, tips up. "Go in tips down and you'll belly-flop. But keep 'em too far up and you'll scrub too much speed. There's a sweet spot in between—half the fun is not knowing where that spot is until you hit the jump." As you hit the water and slow down, your skis need more surface area to keep afloat—lean forward a little bit, getting your weight and momentum up front.

But even if you fluff your landing and feel yourself going down, there's still hope: Take a spectacular dive and go for the crowd reaction. Even the 2006 champs did not technically make it all the way across the pond. "We made it maybe three-quarters of the way across—but hey, we were on two legs out of four," Tyson admits. "We won on style—that's what the crowd appreciates."

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