Spills aplenty at 29th annual Cushing Crossing

After dozens of contestants had made attempts to cross the pond at Saturday’s 29th annual Cushing Crossing, the afternoon’s final skier — a man who’d competed in the inaugural event — stood atop the course at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, waiting to drop in.

With red and blue smoke rising from his ski boots and guitar in hand, Barry Thys broke into Deep Purple’s 1970s cut “Smoke on the Water,” before racing down the slope, skimming successfully across the pond, and shredding a guitar solo as hundreds of spectators exploded into applause.

The celebrity panel of judges awarded Thys a perfect score for his first outright win in the overall category. Thys, who had tied for first place at a previous Cushing Crossing, estimated he’s competed in between 15 and 20 of the events.

“It means a lot,” said Thys on the win. “My mom just died and I want to dedicate it to her. She always loved my guitar playing.

“It just means a lot. It’s the first time everything worked. I had the smoke working, I had the guitar working — other years I had one little flaw where I never really nailed it. This year I think I nailed it.”

Thys, who owns Squaw Valley Electric, teamed up with longtime restaurant owner and consultant Jean Hagan nearly three decades ago to start one of Squaw’s most iconic competitions.

“(Hagan) and I were in charge of the event,” said Thys. “That was 29 years ago. I was a former U.S. Ski Team downhiller and I originally tested on 225 Atomic downhill skis. It was really a big success it’s first year, and it’s been a big success ever since. It’s such a Squaw tradition now.

“You’re going into an arena of thousands of people and you’re up there and it’s like starting a ski race or a World Cup or something like that. I definitely had butterflies today.”

On the women’s side, Tahoe City’s Kate Cooper successfully made the crossing in a unicorn outfit to take first place in the ski category.

Cooper’s strategy for making it across the pond was simply to “Hold on,” as she became the first female athlete to make it across on the day.

“I don’t really remember from the top to down here, because I get really excited,” said Cooper, who competed last year in the tandem category with her husband Jon.

“It’s a great way to come out and celebrate spring. They had more women this year. It keeps growing — strong girls, strong women rock!”

Another local skier, Max Axelrod, donned a penguin outfit and released his skis part way across the pond before diving for the bank and doing a penguin-style belly slide on the snow to take first place in the ski category.

“This resort is legendary — a lot of down-to-earth people that just enjoy skiing and enjoy the camaraderie of this sport,” said Axelrod after competing in his fourth straight Cushing Crossing. “It’s fun being here, and then this is like the premier of pond skimming … this has that wow factor.”

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