Taking the plunge

WILMINGTON – When a skier dressed in a multi-colored parrot suit and red, white and blue long johns can be seen walking around the base lodge at Whiteface, that’s a sure sign that it’s Pond Skimming time at the mountain.

Under sunny skies Sunday, a field of 65 costume-clad skiers and snow boarders braved chilly waters as they attempted to skim their way across the man-made pond at the base of the mountain during Whiteface’s traditional early-April event. A handful of skiers and one boarder made it, most of the others tried, failed and sunk, and a few – those who knew they’d never reach dry land – just tried to create the biggest splash.

The event, which was witnessed by at least a couple hundred spectators, got off to an exciting start.

The parrot was the first to go. Ted Blazer, CEO of the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, which runs Whiteface, was the skier who donned the feathery attire. He skidded about halfway across the water before sinking into the slushy mix. Whiteface General Manager Aaron Kellet was next, and he made reaching the pond’s outlet in a dry state look easy. Then, two young brothers from Saranac Lake – Camden and Kaylen Reiley – got a push down the in-run in an inflatable raft. They went off course and wound up crashing into the orange fencing that separated onlookers from the course.

“So many of these people are really into this,” said the contest’s zany master of ceremonies, Randy Preston, who is also the supervisor of the town of Wilmington, the home of Whiteface Mountain. “Whether you’re 2 feet tall or 6 feet, it’s a good time for everyone. The competitors, the spectators, everybody has fun.”

Kellet, who grew up skiing at Whiteface and recalled first participating in Pond Skimming as an 11-year-old, said he always looks forward to annual contest.

“This is the biggest spring tradition we have here. I think this has been going on for 54 years,” Kellet said with a laugh. “The whole year leads up to this event, and training for Pond Skimming lasts the whole year.”

Nate Hofrichter, who runs the rental shop at the mountain, was the next to glide in dry fashion across the pond. He found success on a snowboard, just like he has in the past, and was more than happy to relay his strategy.

“It’s all in the wax,” Hofrichter quipped. “How you handle the first 10 meters are the key if you want to get across. I’ve always done this on a board, never on skis. I’d do it on skis if they pay me, but they never do, so a board it is.”

Nobody in the field after Kellet and Hofrichter was able to stay dry until late in the competition, when four or five skiers hiked up to a higher start to get more speed on the in-run. Grumblings of possible cheating were mumbled by some of the contestants who went earlier from the lower start, but no action was taken.

One of those skiers who remained upright was John Williams, a teacher and boys ice hockey coach at the National Sports Academy in Lake Placid. Originally from Baltimore, Williams moved to the Olympic Village last fall and was a first-time pond skimmer.

“I’ve never done this, and that’s what inspired me,” Williams said. “I was thinking about the end of the day and if I looked back regretting that I hadn’t done it. So I put my name in. I just knew I had to do it.

“Thinking about being wet and listening to the music afterward, I had second thoughts about it,” Williams continued. “But then like I said, ‘Which would I be more proud about at the end of the day?’ It’s always about participating, in my opinion. It’s a beautiful day, and seeing everyone in their retro gear is awesome. It’s a great community event that receives a lot of support.”

Two first-time visitors to Whiteface who entered the Pond Skimming contest were father and son Rik and Dean Misiura of New York City, and they both walked away with prizes. Rik, the father, received a new pair of goggles, and Dean won a snowboard as the overall winner in the men’s division.

“Trying the pond skimming is one reason we came, and besides, at this time of year, this is the one of the best places for good snow,” said Dean, who plans on being a physical therapist after he graduates from New York University. “Look at this snowboard. I’ve got a good first impression of this place. This has been a great experience.”