QUEENSBURY - The change of seasons could be seen at West Mountain Ski Center on Saturday in the warm rays of sunshine beaming from sapphire skies above, in the convivial atmosphere of spring's first outdoor party … and in the chilly pink butt cheeks of Austin Iuliano.
Iuliano was one of 40 or so competitors in the 14th annual Slush Cup, an event in which skiers and snowboarders fly down the mountain face and off a slight jump before attempting to glide across a pool of slushy water to the other side.
The event has become a way to say goodbye to winter and hello to spring, and it certainly felt that way. Carving became hydroplaning. Schusshing became splashing. Instead of leaving tracks, they left waves. But wipeouts remained wipeouts, transforming ski instructors into lifeguards.
A couple of hundred people gathered in the good weather to watch the spectacle, but Iuliano, 18, of Schuylerville, wearing nothing but a leopard-skin string thong, stole the show.
A Queen song boomed in the background (which was fitting, considering his tight-fitting outfit) as the skinny teen flew down the mountain and skimmed skillfully over the water and back onto the snow. There he stood, triumphantly pumping his fists in the air, whipping the crowd into a minor frenzy of giggles and wiggling his bare behind for their delight.
He even went back for a second run, promising to wear more appropriate clothing this time.
But halfway down the mountain, the curly-haired showman and would-be stripper threw off his T-shirt and tried in vain to get his pants off, all while riding a board and grooving to the tune of "Jungle Boogie."
When the run ended in a large splash, members of the crowd speculated that the wind resistance generated by his pants - as opposed to the aerodynamics of his near-naked body - is what led to his downfall, but Iuliano had his own explanation.
"I cared more about being stupid than going fast that time," he said, smirking, before running back up the hill to retrieve his shirt - and perhaps a little dignity.
Other than that, the early rounds were uneventful.
As one racer after another leapt, skipped, skimmed and fell into the dark-blue water, the need for more speed and less air became apparent, and they moved the starting point up the hill slightly.
Puffing on a stogie and smiling, Bill Brown, a ski racing team coach at West Mountain, said "speed is the key."
"The fast ones make it, the slow ones don't," Brown said. "They start getting a little freaked out near the bottom, and they slow down, and they end up in it. My son, Stephen, is up there. He's never done it before. I told him to sit back and go fast. But I'm betting on Beau Schwab."
A few moments later, Stephen, 14, crossed the pond without getting wet, save for a small spray on his goggles.
"It felt good," Stephen said. "I watched all my friends dump, and I thought I was really done. I went for it, and … "
"He's a speed man!" interrupted his proud father.
"I didn't think I'd make it," Stephen continued. "I just skated a little, then got into my tuck, and I was really hauling when I got to the bottom. I hit the water, sat back and it was smooth sailing."
It seemed like the older Brown had his money on the wrong kid.
"No, I didn't doubt him," Brown said. "I just didn't know."
For the record, though, Brown was right - Beau Schwab got more air off the lip on the far side of the pond than anyone.