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5 facts about the precipitation phenomenon in Western Canada

  
  
  

A lot of people ask me if the skiing and snowboarding in the Revelstoke area really lives up to all the hype, and if it does, why?

Well, it does, and the precipitation phenomenon is a big part of the reason why:

  1. During the winter months, the west coast of Vancouver Island and the Haida Gwaii Islands receive the most rainfall in North America. These storms turn to snow when they hit the coastal mountains.
  2. The driest locations in British Columbia are just inland from the coastal ranges where a series of huge valleys run north and south including the South Thompson and Okanagan. These are some of the driest and warmest locations in British Columbia, since the storms lose much of their moisture passing over the coastal ranges and warm air is funneled up from the south.
  3. The warming of the air over these valleys allows the atmosphere to pickup more moisture as the storms pass over the rivers and lakes of these Interior valleys, one of the world’s largest reserves of fresh water.  The air in these valleys is warm enough that the lakes and rivers remain largely unfrozen, allowing evaporation to continue through the coldest winter months.
  4. When the storms reach the Columbia Mountains on the eastern edge of these warm valleys, they are again saturated with moisture. Most of the moisture in the Columbia Mountains, which feeds North America’s 4th largest river by volume, falls during the winter months, in the form of snow – usually the light, fluffy champagne kind.
  5. To the north the Polar High, a shallow dome of high pressure and frigid air that moves south during the winter months, feeds cold air into the northern reaches of the north-south valley systems including the North Thompson and the Columbia River valley.

Super-saturated storms simultaneously slam into a huge mountain range and a wall of frigid arctic air directly on top of the CMH Heli-Skiing areas. Bingo - Take Flight!

deep snow canada

This phenomenon is what makes the Mt. Fidelity weather recording station near Revelstoke, some 400 kilometres from the coast, the snowiest weather station in Canada. On average, the Mt. Fidelity station receives almost 15 metres (49 feet) of snow, and during one epic season the station recorded 23 metres (75 feet) of snow!

Any ski guide will tell you that while the Mt. Fidelity weather station gets a lot of snow, there are pockets in the region receive even more. Those spots just don’t have a weather station to record the totals, but we can go Heli-Skiing there…

Photo of the Gothics Lodge and a happy Heli-Skier, with a view out the window worth writing home about, by Topher Donahue.

A new knee ligament - could it help skier ACL recovery?

  
  
  

Two Belgian knee surgeons claim to have found a “new” ligament in the knee, called the Anterolateral Ligament(ALL) that could have great implications for the success of ACL reconstruction, one of the most common skier injuries.

acl and skiing

After reading about the new ligament on BBC, I could hardly believe that something as large as a ligament could have escaped the eyes of great surgeons and MRI scans, so I called an old friend, skier, and knee guru, Dr. Gilbert Anderson, to get his perspective. “I’d be surprised if they found a new ligament,” he replied, “but what happens sometimes is they learn to break down a previously known structure into new parts.”

In 1879, a French surgeon named Paul Segond pointed out the potential of such a ligament, but it has been classified more as part of the neighboring Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) rather than its own structure.

So new or not, here’s the exciting part for skiers: 10-20% of patients with ACL reconstructions do not recover fully. The hypothesis of the two Belgians, Dr. Claes and Professor Johan Bellemans, is that many people injure the ALL at the same time as the ACL, but that only the ACL is being properly repaired. Studying the ALL may give surgeons a better understanding of the damage that happens to the knee in ACL injuries, and potentially increase the recovery rate of patients.

But before you hammer those bump runs even harder, or ride that backseat even lower like in the photo above, thinking that ACL surgery just got better, the integration of this knowledge into clinical practice is a long ways off. While some surgeons are excited about the implications of the discovery, others made the point that it is entirely unknown if operating on the ALL would actually help ACL patients.

I know a few of you readers of the Heli-Ski Blog are orthopedic knee masters who also understand skiing – what do you knee gurus think?

Photo of ACL testing by Topher Donahue.

5 tips for skiing and riding safely at a resort

  
  
  

As ski technology has made skiing easier, the average speed of average skiers has also increased, especially on a powder day where the fat skis allow us to really get going - before we crash. Since force equals mass times acceleration, at whatever our ability, our fat, shaped skis and snowboards are allowing us all to go hurling down the mountain with more force than we used to have. While it sure is fun haulin’ tail through the fluffy stuff, the bottom line is that our increased force means that if we hit a tree, another skier, a snow machine, a lift tower, or get hit by another skier, it’s gonna hurt more.

Besides the simple physics, there’s the fact that modern skis allow more people to ski the powder, so on a powder day there will be more people charging for their slice of the pow harvest than there used to be (a great excuse to go Heli-Skiing).  Snowboarders used to be, without a doubt, the fastest riders on the mountain. With modern skis, skiers are now rivaling snowboarders for speed.

resort skiing safety

Last year, most ski resort fatalities in Colorado happened on an intermediate groomed run after the skier or snowboarder lost control and hit a tree. This victim's average age is 37, is an experienced skier, and is wearing a helmet. According to an article in the Denver Post: “Those who died on Colorado slopes ranged from a local doctor to a snowboard instructor to a paraplegic using a sit ski. More than 80 percent were men. The youngest two were 11; the oldest, 73. Just more than 60 percent were out-of-state visitors.”

Considering the trends, here are 5 suggestions for making your time at the resort a safer experience:

  1. Ski good or eat wood? How about live to ski another day. Give the trees a wide berth when you’re skiing fast, and as the quest for freshies pushes you closer to the edge of the runs, slow down, way down - as in really slow - and enjoy the turns without redlining the adrenaline of powder skiing near the trees. Helmets are designed to protect you up to about a 19 kph (12mph) collision – most fatal accidents happen at 40-65 kph (25-40mph). For perspective, an ASTM study (an international standards organization) revealed that the average speed for a skier or snowboarder on a blue run, with good visibility, is 44.5 kph (27.6 mph) - plenty fast to render your helmet useless.
  2. Get out of the back seat. According to a study from the University of Vermont, skiers have the same statistical chance of getting an ACL injury as a college football player – or 365 times more likely than the rest of the population. Leaning back on your skis puts your ACL in a compromised position. Leaning forward doesn’t eliminate your chances of a knee injury, but it does put your knees in a stronger position, and allows you to react quicker. Besides, being centered or slightly forward on your skis will teach you to ski better than that old faithful backseat boogie. Here’s a detailed article on how to adjust your skiing habits to protect your ACL.
  3. Slow down at intersections, and don’t bag on snowboarders. Skiers love to say that snowboarders are more dangerous since they tend to look one way, creating what appears to be a blind spot on their backside turn. Statistics, however, tell a different story. According to a study done by the Rochester Institute of Technology, explained in this excelent article on ski safety, snowboarders are between 50% to 70% more likely to get injured (mostly wrist and upper body injuries), but they are about a third less likely to be killed on the slopes than skiers.  Additionally, the study revealed that skiers are three times more likely to be involved in a collision than snowboarders. That said, snowboarders need to be aware of their blind side at all times, and beware of the trend that snowboard accidents are on the rise, while skiing accident rates are relatively flat. Both skiers and snowboarders need to heed that deceptive mistress of speed. 
  4. Avoid crowds. Like a freeway, the ski hill tends to create bottlenecks and crowded zones. Choose runs that avoid these areas if possible, but when you must ski through these areas, make consistent turns in the fall line without stopping, give other skiers a wide berth and rotate you head frequently to see what’s happening in your blind spots – and yes, us skiers have blind spots too.
  5. Wear a helmet. No list of safety suggestions would be complete without suggesting that you should wear a helmet, but again, the statistics are surprising.  While the number of skiers and snowboarders wearing helmets is increasing each year, with almost 70% of all snow riders helmeting up these days, the fatality rate has remained flat. This suggests that wearing a helmet is a good idea, but skiing in control at slower speeds is an even better idea; as the numbers show in tip # 1, if you hit a tree with your head at 40+ kph, your helmet will not save you. When you're near the trees or on a crowded slope, challenge yourself with technical lines and perfect technique rather than tongue-wagging speed.

On the bright side of snow riding statistics, skiing and snowboarding are no more dangerous than other active participation sports, and safer than some of them, so while you're out there on the slopes, don't forget the most important element of all: have fun!

Photo of Telluride, Colorado by Topher Donahue.

Anatomy of a CMH Heli-Ski day – a photo essay

  
  
  

The early birds at CMH Heli-Skiing are the ski guides, who awake while the lodge is still quiet and dark to make plans for the day; checking weather reports, avalanche conditions, and determining the safest and best Heli-Skiing possible on that particular day.
1 ski guide morning
For the guests, the ultimate ski vacation begins as it should – by getting you ready to ski. A bell rings and anyone who wants to feel good on the first run meets for a ski and snowboard specific stretch class in the exercise room.2 heliski warmup
Next, a buffet breakfast with everything from cereal and fruit to bacon and eggs gives everyone a chance to fuel up in the way they feel suits them best.3 heliski breakfast
After breakfast, it is time to gear up, and the CMH boot rooms, equpped with boot and glove dryers, as well as plenty of space for everyone's equipment, make getting ready easy and efficient.4 CMH drying room

On the first day, everyone participates in the safety practice, where the guides teach everyone how to use the radios, avalanche safety equipment, and the ins and outs of how to stay safe while skiing deep powder in the mountains. After the first day, everyone is up to speed with the safety techniques, and we just get straight in the helicopter after breakfast and go skiing.4 z heliski safety
We meet at the heli-pad near the lodge. We stack our skis so the guide can easily load them, and when the helicopter lands we step aboard and fasten our seatbelts while the guide loads the skis in a ski basket attached to the outside of the helicopter. 5 heli pad
Then we lift off for ski paradise.5 z heliski pilot
The helicopter lands on a flagged landing area atop the first run, and we all get out while the guide unloads the skis. After the helicopter leaves, we put on our skis, and listen to the guides instructions for the first run. Then we ski our brains out.6 heli ski friends
After each run, we meet the helicopter at a landing area the bottom of the run and repeat again and again and again until lunch. Most days, lunch consists of sandwiches, tea, soup, cookies and other snacks delivered by a small helicopter, but on special occasions during good weather, mountaintop barbeques have been known to happen in the most spectacular locations imaginable.7 CMH Barbeque
After a fairly quick lunch, so we don’t get cold and stiff, we dig into more powder runs. Skiers and snowboarders who are tired after the morning usually have a chance to return to the lodge at lunch, as well as other times during the day. The logistics of some of the areas require that you stay out all day, but the guides will let you know this before the day begins. The lodges with the more aggressive riders and terrain are the most likely to have the fewest chances to return to the lodge, including the Bobbie Burns, Revelstoke, Galena, CMH/K2 and the Monashees.8 heli snowboarding
When we’ve schralped so much pow that it’s hard to remember all the great runs, face shots, cushy airs, and fresh turns, we return for CMH après ski – an experience no snowrider should miss.9 heliski apres ski
Then we gather in the dining room for a fine family-style dinner and many generous toasts to an unforgettable day of skiing and snowboarding.10 heliski dinner
Finally, we retire to our rooms - ranging from comfortable double rooms, to spacious single rooms, to deluxe chalets - for a well-earned sleep, dreaming of deep powder and endless freshies. deluxe heli ski room
The best part? We wake up the next day and do it all over again!

Photos by Topher Donahue.

NASA: Looking forward to astronauts snowboarding on Mars

  
  
  

Last year I wrote a post for the Heli-Ski blog, musing about the potential of snowboarding and skiing on the dry ice snow that falls on Mars. I had fun writing the post, but I must admit I felt a bit like the ski bum who’d had a few too many talking about some absurd snow-riding mission. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!)

Then, when Jason Semenek at CMH Heli-Skiing sent me a link from the NASA website with a clip of Serina Diniega, a Systems Engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, having similar ideas, complete with animation of an astronaut snowboarding on the Marian dunes, I suddenly felt like I wasn’t so far out after all. She concluded:

“I’m looking forward to the day when astronauts can engage in a whole new era of extreme sports – when they can snowboard down a carbon dioxide-covered dune on a cushion of carbon dioxide and just shoot right down those slopes. It would be amazing.”

snowboarding on mars

Of course Ms. Diniega has a lot better science to back up her musings.

While I imagined riding the dry ice snow that falls on the Martian poles during the winter, Ms. Diniega was explaining the mysterious, snowboard-like tracks seen on the slopes of Martian sand dunes:

snowboard tracks on mars

To test a theory that the tracks were caused by the motion of dry ice blocks melting from the ridges of the dunes, a group of scientists took blocks of water ice, dry ice, and wood to a sand dune on Earth. What they found was surprising, but backed up the theory of dry ice causing the tracks on Mars.

Unsurprisingly, the wood block, acting as a control group, slid until sand built up in front of it, and then stopped. The water ice acted much the same, stopping after only a few feet of travel. The dry ice block, surprisingly, slid smoothly and quickly all the way to the bottom of the dune.

On the steepest dunes – 33 degrees, the steepest angle sand can sit on in repose – the results were surprising. When they repeated the experiment on dunes as low angle as 6 degrees, the dry ice still slid all the way to the bottom of the dune. So what was happening?

According to the JPL scientists, what happens is that the sand was warmer than the dry ice, so it causes melting on the bottom of the solid ice. This forms a cushion of gas that allows the dry ice to slide along on an air cushion, thus travelling along the sandy surface with much reduced friction.

I must admit, it got me musing again. Not so much about snowboarding on Mars this time, but about riding sand dunes here on earth with a snowboard tuned, not with P-Tex and wax, but with dry ice. Ripping sand dunes on a board riding a cushion of air? Now we’re talkin’. Besides, the lift ticket would be a lot cheaper than riding on Mars…

Screenshot of dry ice tracks and video from NASA's multimedia gallery.

Taliban-destroyed ski area holds Skiing for Peace festival

  
  
  

Malam Jabba, Pakistan’s only ski area, was utterly destroyed by the Taliban in 2008. However, an enterprising group of locals rigged a makeshift ski lift on the Malam Jabba ski hill and this week are celebrating skiing with a week-long festival of competitions and fun called Skiing for Peace.

Malam Jabba lies in an area renowned for natural beauty, tucked into the scenic Swat region between the mighty Hindu Kush and Karakoram ranges. Skiing, like dancing, is considered illegal by the Taliban.  To ensure no sinful schussing, the Taliban destroyed the base area and the ski lift to the point that no sign of the lift remained; the base area is a hulking ruin. 

But skiing has survived. With the Taliban ousted from Swat the skiers are trying again. Someone rigged a ski lift with a recycled motor, and some ski gear is homemade with skis made from wooden boards with old shoes nailed to them and sticks of wood for poles. Lucky skiers get their hands on real skis. Even 1960s ski technology is cutting edge in Malam Jabba.

Matee Ullah Khan runs the country’s only ski school, using it’s 15 pairs of battered skis to teach people to ski. In an article in the BBC, Khan explains that he sees skiing as an important part of the health of mountain people. In the BBC article he's quoted as saying:

"It keeps you alive - especially the spring skiing when the temperature starts to warm, and the snow starts melting, but at night the temperature falls and frozen ice crystals form on the top layer of the snow. When you start sliding down it in the early morning, breaking that ice, it produces a very good sound and you can feel it down your skis. We say that having one run on this spring snow makes you young for a year."

Kahn's may be the best words ever spoken about skiing...

For now, skiing in Malam Jabba will remain a ramshackle endeavor. The cost of rebuilding the resort has been determined by the government to be not worth the small volume of tourism it would bring to the area. Perhaps visionaries like Matee Ullah Khan will keep skiing alive in Pakistan long enough to see the area once again become a ski destination.

I don’t think I’ve ever come across a more moving story about skiing, nor have I ever felt luckier to live where I do. I’ve skied enough spring snow to make me feel young for several lifetimes, and am free to dance and ski to my heart’s content. Kahn should be inducted into Skiing's Halls of Fame, and somehow we should send hundreds of pairs of used skis, boots and poles to Malam Jabba.

"The children of the area are very happy that we are skiing again. It's a good message that peace has been restored or is being restored in Malam Jabba," says Kahn in the BBC article.

That says it all. I think my next dream ski trip will be in honor of the skiers of Malam Jabba.

skiing in canada

How lucky are we? Photo of Heli-Skiing in Canada at CMH Bobbie Burns by Topher Donahue.

The night before Christmas at CMH

  
  
  

christmas at CMH resized 600

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house,
Every skier was dancing, a few were quite soused.
The fat skis were all standing outdoors in cold air,
In hopes of more powder, face shots and big air.

The guides were still scheming with runs in their heads,
Planning tomorrow and finding sweet shreds.
And mama in tight pants and I in my chaps,
Had just hit the shot ski and made up silly raps.

When out by the spa there arose such a clatter,
We all stopped dancing to see what was the matter.
Away to the hot tub we ran with a flash,
Threw on our jackets, ignored the boot rash.

The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave luster to the good times and party below.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But the Austrians, all naked, and drinking cold beer.

They were far from the hot tub, waist deep in snow,
Singing and shivering, putting on a good show.
Without words we all knew they were playing a game,
To see who could last longer and still ski the same.

At first we all wondered who these skiers could be,
until one raised his glass, and shouted “Prost! Pulverschnee!”
It was Gmoser and Grillmair poaching the spa,
Those two? The legends? We stood there in awe.

The next day they joined us as we took the first flight,
After not sleeping a wink - they had danced through the night.
They led the charge and we maxed out the fun,
From McBride to Galena we charged every run.

The Sasquatch was relaxing on a cornice to munch,
When we joined CMH K2 to share their fine lunch.
In the Bugs we held power and opened the hatch,
Clicked into our skis and carved the Snowpatch.

We skied every area, no one cared about vert,
We launched all the big cliffs and no one got hurt.
Back at the lodge, we were tired and sore,
But not Hans and Leo - they wanted some more.

They put on their touring gear, and skied into the night,
Yodeling, “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”

NASA finds powder snow on Mars!

  
  
  

Mars boasts the solar system’s biggest mountain, Olympus Mons, a 90,000 foot behemoth that’s three times as tall as Mt. Everest and so wide that from the view on top its base would extend beyond the horizon; and now, with the Curiosity rover grabbing headlines almost weekly, Mars is capturing our fascination perhaps more than any time since the controversial radio hoax that broadcast H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds in 1938.

Then, just last week, NASA discovered snowfall on Mars!  Scientists with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, using data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, have discovered evidence of snow falling on the Red Planet’s south pole during the Martian winter.  Their discovery will appear in an article in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

This is the first example of snowfall anywhere in our solar system besides Earth, but before you call CMH Heli-Skiing to see if we’ll be opening our next Heli-Skiing Lodge on Mars and going big off of reduced-gravity kickers and pillow drops, there’s a catch:

powder skiing on Mars

The snowfall on Mars is carbon dioxide snow, or precipitated “dry ice” as frozen carbon dioxide is better known. Carbon dioxide freezes at about -125C (-193F) so even Arc’teryx’s most futuristic technology wouldn’t protect a Martian powder skier.

According to the JPL press release the report's lead author, Paul Hayne, said, "These are the first definitive detections of carbon-dioxide snow clouds.  We firmly establish the clouds are composed of carbon dioxide, flakes of Martian air, and they are thick enough to result in snowfall accumulation at the surface."

The data for the recent discovery was supplied by the Mars Climate Sounder, a device on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that measures changes in atmospheric temperature and composition using a wide range of channels across the electromagnetic spectrum to map the planet's atmosphere.

In 2008, the Phoenix Lander observed water-ice snow on Northern Mars, and the presence of carbon dioxide ice caps on the planet has been known for much longer.  The latest Mars mission, Curiosity, has captured the imagination of both adults and children, with the very naming of the mission coming from a competition held among school children from K-12. 

Clara Ma, a 6th grader from Kansas, won the competition with her essay, Curiosity:

Curiosity is an everlasting flame that burns in everyone's mind. It makes me get out of bed in the morning and wonder what surprises life will throw at me that day. Curiosity is such a powerful force. Without it, we wouldn't be who we are today. When I was younger, I wondered, 'Why is the sky blue?', 'Why do the stars twinkle?', 'Why am I me?', and I still do. I had so many questions, and America is the place where I want to find my answers. Curiosity is the passion that drives us through our everyday lives. We have become explorers and scientists with our need to ask questions and to wonder. Sure, there are many risks and dangers, but despite that, we still continue to wonder and dream and create and hope. We have discovered so much about the world, but still so little. We will never know everything there is to know, but with our burning curiosity, we have learned so much.

Her words embody the phrase, “Out of the mouth of babes oft times come gems.” 

Much of what we enjoy in our modern lifestyle - including the very invention of skiing (the oldest evidence found dates back about 7000 years), lift-serviced skiing, and eventually CMH's invention that we now call Heli-Skiing - owes its inspiration to the seemingly limitless human curiosity.

As a skier who has been lucky enough to taste our world's greatest skiing, I can't help but be curious about what it would be like to shred huge Martian peaks, ripping turns in crystalline dry ice. For starters, those Martian face shots would really hurt.  

Photo composite of Jordy demonstrating a Martian Kicker in the Bugaboos by Topher Donahue.

What is it about tracks in the snow?

  
  
  

ski track fun"I don’t know what that is, but it’s not skiing.” I overheard one heliskier say to another as they watched one of the group's last skiers make their way to the lunch spot at CMH Bobbie Burns. “Look. He started way over there on the left, crossed all our tracks, and skied down the other side. That’s not skiing!”

bugaboo ski trackIt was one of those perfect bluebird days with CMH, with the mountains generously blanketed in easy-to-ski powder, and a group of guides who were fired up about getting in as much skiing as a twin-engine jet helicopter could provide. 

Everyone was having a blast, and even the skier who was irritated by the cutting of the tracks didn’t stay grumpy for long. But it made me wonder. What is up with our fascination with tracks in the snow?

I enjoy looking back up the hill at ski and snowboard tracks as much as anyone. The tracks tell a story. The long arcs of the snowboarders, the symmetrical lines left by good powder skiers, the chaotic patterns of a heavily skied powder slope that shows the crashes, the timid traverses, the big airs, landing craters, the speed demon's lines, and slow zen-like lines all reveal the fun of a powder day.

There are still a few heliski groups who choose to adhere to the "Arlberg style" where each track spoons agains the next, leaving a perfect comb-like pattern. Largely, however, thanks first to snowboarding and now to big mountain freeskiing, diversity is the name of the game and each skier, safety and space allowing, can leave their own mark, from straight-lines, to 50-metre arcs, to tight parabolas.

Joe Vallone, a new-school ski pro who has skied the Eiger, is a skilled jibber in the terrain park, an experienced alpine climber and UIAGM Mountain Guide, says, “I like to make every kind of turn I know on every run I make.” 

Some might argue that snowshoes don’t leave as nice of a track as skis or snowboards, but French artist Simon Beck, after foot problems forced him to give up running, began making massive patterns in the snow while wearing snowshoes, sometimes working several days on a design like the one below.  More if his spectacular snow art can be seen here

snowshoe track art

Even in the summertime, leaving tracks in the snow is a blast, as shown below in a photo by CMH hiking guide Lyle Grisedale of a Bugaboos-sized bumslide during a CMH Summer Adventures fun-fest. These adventure travellers might have ridden a zipline over a canyon the day before, and climbed a via ferrata the next day; standard fare with CMH Summer Adventures.

bumslide track CMH summer

In the concluding lines of Bugaboo Dreams, the book about the invention and state-of-the-art of heliskiing, I wrote: “There is poetry to it: perhaps the most fitting monuments to his (Hans Gmoser) team’s contribution to the mountains are the countless tracks left beside each other each winter in the snows of the Columbias, as impermanent as one man’s life, yet telling a story of excitement and friendship in the mountains.”

Pond skimming - bound for the X-Games?

  
  
  

There’s nothing wrong with snow-riding as fast as possible into the water for fun, but if you think about other sports, there is no other momentum sport that has a tradition quite like pond skimming.    

pond skim monashees

Imagine mountain bikers in high gear pedaling full power into a mud hole to see how far they can go before the inevitable face plant, surfers chattering onto a rocky shoreline to see how far inland they can make it, skateboarders riding onto ice to see how long they can keep it together - and then the sport’s aficionados going on to make a tradition out of it.   

Squaw Valley claims the first organized pond skimming event, in 1990, on Lake Cushing, with a Ski Patrol party that included the brilliant idea of trying to ski across the lake.  Today, the wild event is known as the Lake Cushing Classic, explained nicely here by a Transworld Snowboard writer, and it's the Tour de France of pond skimming events with life preservers and helmets as mandatory equipment.



Warren Miller popularized the pond skim in the vaudeville sections of his ski films, and the idea caught on.  Now many ski resorts hold springtime pond skim parties - and in the process have risen the bar in both silliness and innovation.  The double-pond shown in the clip below from last year’s Big Sky event has taken the pond-skim construction to terrain park levels of engineering. 



This coming weekend, April 14-15, there’s a Pond Skimming Championship at Heavenly where contestants are judged on success (staying dry) and distance, as well as the more esoteric criteria of style and crowd appeal.

And crowd appeal it certainly has.  The unpredictable nature of snowboards and skis moving at high speed on water creates a rodeo-like spectacle.  The bull might throw the cowboy immediately, or he may hang on for a bit, but most of the time it all ends with a spectacular wreck. 

The magnitude of the stunts reveal that people are taking their pond-skimming efforts to a higher level.  Last year at Big Sky, on the kicker between the two pools, jibbers were pulling aerials, sometimes sticking the second pond, other times not...

The floatation of fat skis has changed pond skimming every bit as much as it has changed skiing; maybe for the next generation of the X-Games we’ll see skier- and boarder-cross courses with water sections and wave pools, but for now the fun factor of the pond skim still rules.

Photo by Topher Donahue of the Mt. Everest of pond-skimming potential: CMH Monashees...



 

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