THE LAST WEEK OF THE SKI SEASON IS FULL OF MUSIC, COSTUMES, REVELRY — AND POND SKIMMING
In those halcyon days of spring, there’s a unique feeling emanating from folks on the mountain. It’s a mix of joy and wistfulness, a desire to soak every last sensation out of the season while reveling in the memories of unforgettable skiing. It’s celebration and commemoration, all wrapped into a few fervent days.
The Vail Valley knows how to say farewell to the lift-served season in style. Accentuating the joy of sun-filled days and spring snow, the week (plus) of live music, contests and activities of Spring Back to Vail celebrates the end of the season. Add to that the costumed chicanery of closing day and inimitable exuberance of “one last run,” there’s no better place to say sayonara to ski season.
THERE’S NO BETTER TO TIME TO SPRING BACK…TO VAIL
After the success of the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Vail in 1999, the powers that be were trying to figure out how to extend the ski season. Spring skiing was fantastic (a fact that locals knew all too well), but the secret had not been leaked to the wider world. To draw skiers and riders to the slopes before closing, the Town of Vail tasked Highline, an entertainment and events company, to create something amazing.
“We wanted to do something kind of zany and different and crazy that nobody took too seriously,” explains James Deighan, a partner at Highline. “So we looked at all kinds of different existing events at mountains. And one thing we had seen on a loose level was a pond skimming-type event. And instead of just doing another one, we did a spoof on the World Alpine Skiing Championships and called it the World Alpine Pond Skimming Championships.”
That spoof, first held in 2002, is now one of the biggest spring events in Vail.
And in April 2003, the party known as Spring Back to Vail held its first bash. Deighan, says they looked to ski resorts around the world to see what was working well. Ski resorts in Austria held concerts with big-name acts like Eric Clapton and Elton John and attracted more than 10,000 people, so live music went into the mix.
The original Spring Back to Vail’s registration was $25 per person, according to a Vail Daily article in March 2003. That included ski-race entry, three street parties, up-front seats for the World Alpine Pond Skimming Championships, a goodie bag and a coupon book for Vail discounts. Spring Back to Vail participants could also get six days of skiing for $99, which would be worth the trip in and of itself.
As the years progressed, the nuts and bolts of the event changed: Sometimes the concerts were free and sometimes they were ticketed; Snuggies were distributed and bar crawls came and went. The Spring Back to Vail stage hosted everyone from Kid Rock and Snoop Dogg to Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Sublime and O.A.R. There’s nothing quite like skiing all day in perfect spring conditions then heading into the village to listen to one of your favorite bands. As the music echoes off the mountain and you’re bouncing along to the music with 20,000 of your closest friends, the memory will remain an integral highlight of the season.
Through the years, concerts, costumes and cruising over a pool in a pair of skis remain integral parts of closing weekend. Thanks to an influx of funds, Spring Back to Vail 2020 promises to be bigger and better than ever.
HOW TO DOMINATE AT THE WORLD POND SKIMMING CHAMPIONSHIPS
Pond skimming is a not-to-miss element of closing week. It is a fine art that takes months of practicing…but who has a snow-covered incline and a pool for practice? Instead, contestants count on their inherent abilities and the roar of the crowd to propel them across the 60+ foot pond…and the costume.
Style matters at pond skimming: Rocking a funny/clever/skimpy costume can get the crowd involved, which helps buoyancy across the water. In addition to the costume, adding flair to your run can get the crowd on your side: Throw in a spin, a grab, or even a wacky wave to spice things up and stand out to the crowd.
Make sure you pick the correct gear (bigger is better in this case, so break out your fattest skis or a snowboard to help you float), get some speed (you’ll need more than you think to keep up your velocity and propel you across the pond) and lean back: If you catch your tips, you’ll end up face-first in an icy pond, which is not an ideal landing spot.
The last tip? Bring a cheering squad. Vail’s competition is based partially on judging and partially on crowd response, so the more people you have with you to cheer for you, the better you’ll do.
But even if you don’t dominate in pond skimming, the experience is a sort of rite of passage. Register early, plan your costume and gather up the best cheering section you can wrangle.
DRESS FOR SUCCESS
When it comes to costumes, Pond Skimming is not the only excuse to bust out the onesie, gorilla suit or whatever suits your fancy. April Fool’s Day is like the warm-up session of crazy costumes, but Closing Day is the final catwalk.
There are many different avenues for sartorial excellence on closing day. There’s the retro look, complete with a onesie, neon ski clothing, headbands or rear-entry boots (or a combination of all of the above). There’s the full-on costume, channeling an inner superhero or favorite primate. Then there are those who ascribe to the idea that less is more, busting out board shorts or bikinis for a little extra oomph (and ouch, if a wipe-out occurs).
No matter what flavor of fashion you choose, just make sure that your vision is clear and your costume is free from anything that might snag on a chairlift — that’s not the type of flying you want to do on closing day.
But the end of the season is more than the outfit its packaged in (though that’s a fun element).
“For me, it’s seeing the town just packed with people and everybody, like every single person walking around town, just has the biggest smile on their face, out having some amazing time with friends,” Deighan says. “They’re all dressed up in crazy, zany costumes and everything and it’s normal to them. And if anybody came here and just randomly and saw (the crowds), they’d be like, ‘what is going on here?’ But it’s just so neat to see everybody truly celebrating spring, celebrating the closing of the season, the end of the year, the last hurrah.”
So bust out your best costumes, start practicing for pond skimming and get ready for some world-class entertainment. The last chair is a celebration of a season well-spent — get ready to send it out in style.