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Originally published Saturday, September 5, 2009 at 12:01 AM

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Backcountry skiers glide across a semi-melted lake

Christy Kinney was well equipped for this August backcountry ski trip. Boots and skis. Check. Ski poles. Check. Inflatable raft. Check.

Yakima Herald-Republic

MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK, Wash. —

Christy Kinney was well equipped for this August backcountry ski trip. Boots and skis. Check. Ski poles. Check. Inflatable raft. Check.

Cheerleader costume. Check.

A costume may seem unusual for a ski trip. But this IS NOT an ordinary ski trip. This is the annual Slush Cup.

In the Tatoosh Range - a group of mountains just south of Mount Rainier - lies a mountain lake nestled in a rocky basin at the foot of the Pinnacle Glacier.

The tarn is frozen much of the year, but by late summer the snow and ice melt, revealing a shallow lake.

And that's when it's time for the annual Slush Cup, which got its start in 2003.

The idea is simple. Ski down the glacier that drains into the lake and then skim across the now-melted lake. All on snow skis. The goal is to ski or snowboard completely across the lake from the snow to dry land on the opposite side.

And while it's a test of skiing skills, the annual gathering is much more than that. It's a reunion and a costume contest.

"There's people here that we don't see but about once a year when they happen to get together for this event," says Ron Jarvis, one of the founders of the Slush Cup.

This year's Slush Cup included a cheerleader, a chicken, a businessman, a naughty nurse and Santa Claus.

While the Slush Cup has turned into a reunion as well as an event for spectators, it's still about skiing.

Without the skiing, there would be no costumes, no reunion and no spectators.

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The difficulty of skimming across the lake varies each year, depending on how much of the lake has melted when the skiers gather. Slush Cup participant Josh Hummel estimated the lake to be 100 feet wide and 100 feet long.

This year, skiing across the lake was tough because it had all but melted, making for a longer crossing.

In 2008, according to Slush Cup regulars, it was easier because there was more snow and ice, making for a shorter crossing.

Ski techniques vary. Slush Cup vet Chris Cass, who made it all the way across, says, "The key to getting across the pond without sinking in the middle is coming in with a lot of speed." He says it's important to "hit the water fast and keep your (ski) tips up so you don't nosedive and sink right in the middle of the pond."

But Hummel, also a Slush Cup returnee and one of the top backcountry skiers in the state, sees it differently. "You've got to sort of lean forward and you want to lean back," he said. "It's sort of like water skiing in a way. Once you're actually on the water, everything calms down a little bit - unless you're falling."

Skiers do fall as they try to traverse the lake, forcing a swim to the shore.

"That water is cold," says Jim Jarnagin. "I only went in once, I'll just put it that way."

Kinney, dressed as a cheerleader, says: "My technique is the same with jumping off cliffs or anything, it's just turning my mind off. I know what I have to do and just do it. It's a lot of fun, but definitely, you take a big risk."

Costumes have become a staple of the Slush Cup. "The costumes just kind of evolved" with the event, says Jarvis. At past Slush Cups, participants have dressed as Evel Knievel, a Viking and a commercial fisherman.

Last year, Kinney dressed as a Hawaiian hula dancer. This year, she donned an authentic Centralia High School cheerleader's uniform, complete with pompoms.

"I thought it would be kind of fun, in team spirit," she said.

Ashlie Solow came as Santa Claus, "Because it's Christmas in August," she explained.

Greg Mueller wore a long, leopard-skin print dress at this year's Slush Cup. "The leopard skin is wild and that's what this is all about: wildness," he said.

The lake skimming, costumes and party atmosphere (bolstered by a boom box blaring out music by a variety of artists, including the Ventures, the Beach Boys, Jimmy Buffet and Van Morrison) have made the Slush Cup a spectator event as well as a ski trip.

Some of those on the sidelines were content with skiing down the glacier but forgoing the water skiing, while others just hiked up to watch, laugh and cheer on the water skiers.

Alyssa Lee was content to watch as she spread peanut butter onto a banana. "I'm just looking today. I didn't want to hurt my knees because I've got a marathon coming up."

When the event got started, there were simply three skiers looking for a place to ski.

Jarvis dared another member of the trio to ski across the lake.

And so it started.

The annual event isn't really organized, says Jarvis. It's "kind of a spontaneous gathering of backcountry skiers.

"Sometimes different people in different years point out that the pond is just about ready."

Once a date is proposed, the word spreads, mainly through the Internet. Attendance varies; this year more than 50 spectators and skiers gathered for the Slush Cup.

There's no schedule; the first skiers start hiking up from the Reflection Lakes parking lot about 9 a.m., but participants and spectators drift up to the lake throughout the morning and early afternoon.

Skiers usually head down by late afternoon for the customary barbecue in the parking lot.

For the Hummel family, the Slush Cup is a family affair with father Kurt and sons Jessy, Jason and Josh all skiing across the lake. Kurt has attended the Slush Cup for several years and continues to go "because it's a wonderful party with lot of friends you haven't seen since the winter snows. It's really become a good time and it's just a fun scene to watch."

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Information from: Yakima Herald-Republic, http://www.yakima-herald.com

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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