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A new, regular feature from our in-house games master, Gale Van Rye, who talks about memorable skiing and winter sports games. This week: Skiing (Atari 2600, 1980).
"Sacre bleu! And [sic] voilà! It's Skiing by Activision!" These were the words bumbling out of Claude LaFeet's mouth in 1980; his French accent as clumsy as a drunk putting their skis on for the last run down after après ski.
In those days we'd call it naff, thanks to Ronnie Barker (and later, Princess Anne), yet the game wasn't. In fact it was one of the earliest examples of the top-down skiing game style which would be emulated by other developers for the entire next decade. This was Skiing by Activision. "Pop ze cartridge into your Atari Video Computer System..."
The Atari 2600 is the definiton of a classic console. It looked so futuristic in 1977 with its wood veneer finish. It took gaming to the next level after Pong and the Magnavox Odyssey, featuring unforgettable games like Pitfall and Breakout. In fact, it was that Breakout which was famously worked on by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak (with Jobs keeping from Woz the bonus payout from Atari!).
Activision's Skiing would come a few years later in 1980. Activision are a huge household name now, with series like Tony Hawk and Call of Duty under their belt. Back in those days though, there were no third party developers. Atari made games for the Atari console, not anybody else. Activision became the first to do it in 1980 and Skiing was one of the very first games they ever released.
Looking back now, it looks all so familiar. Yet it was fairly groundbreaking at the time. The left/right turning worked great on the Atari joystick and allowed last second adjustments just before you hit that tree. The formula would be used in many other games afterwards, including Horrace Goes Skiing (1982) and SkiFree (1991). Chris Pirih, developer of SkiFree would later admit: "[It] was itself inspired by an Activision game for the Atari 2600 console, which I enjoyed playing in my youth. I remember very little of the Activision game, but I think it looked pretty much like SkiFree".
In the same year Phillips would release the less well-remembered (but equally inspiringly named) Skiing on the Videopac (Odyssey 2 in the US). It played very similarly to Activision's Skiing, but lacked the same polish and variety, so as such never claimed itself as the orginal king of the ski games. As Claude would say: "So real you must have it!".
A new, regular feature from our in-house games master, Gale Van Rye, who talks about memorable skiing and winter sports games. This week: Slalom (Arcade, 1986 | Nintendo Entertainment System, 1987).
"The heating's broke — use this" Mum said, holding out an extra blanket. I scowled and let her drop it at my bedside. She'd just interrupted my best run yet through Snowy Hill. I skimmed a mogul off-balance and collided with a tree; the worn, sweat-covered pad slumped down into my lap and I reached for the blanket. It was Christmas '91, four years after the release of Rare's Slalom — and yet it didn't feel old or dated — it felt fresh, fast and fun.
Rareware would later go on to be the famed pixel perfectionists behind Donkey Kong Country and Goldeneye. This was their first NES game, yet it played like they were aging pros. It pushed the limit of the NES to the edge, their coding trickery producing the kind of the 3D effects that would not look out of place on Nintendo's follow-up console, the SNES.
It was quick, too. And not just in the computing sense, but in the way that it immediately immersed you from the second your left thumb pressed Up on the d-pad and you ramped up the pace. The slopes either side of you would zip by as you carved the mountain, with the pixilated backdrop range swaying gently in distance. It was that quality of immersion that kept you hooked. Time after time you'd come back, convincing yourself that this time you'll land every jump and add digits to your highscore.
Perhaps it was the satisfaction of whizzing off a mogul, pulling back a trick and then landing gracefully whilst still flying along at full speed that was the biggest pull. Or perhaps it was that despite crashing into the snow after clashing with a sledder, the delay before being back up to top speed isn't long enough to frustrate you into quitting.
It sounds like rose-tinted nostalgia, yet, it still stands proud today. I found myself immediately obsessed again and surprisingly impressed by its ability to captivate me. Since the release of the iPhone, the bedroom programmers are king again. Short, fun games that aren't graphically-obsessed are the ones making all the money. Slalom would hook you in an instant were it on the App Store.
I couldn't go without mentioning the music, either. In those days every bit of data was essential and music had to be crammed in. The skill was to compose something short but that could repeat for long periods of time without sounding annoying. You get sick of repetitive blips and beeps eventually, but Slalom's music was pleasing on the ear, suited the gameplay and helped to draw you in.
Perhaps Slalom's downfall was the inability to save your scores on the NES. It meant lots of scribbling down scores on some paper next to the console. Naturally, you'd need an independent verifier to confirm the score at the time of completion to prevent arguments, as in those days cheating was rife. I still can't help but think of Slalom at Christmas time. Now, where's that blanket?
Images via nestimes.net
According to Wikipedia: "La Niña is a coupled ocean-atmosphere phenomenon that is the counterpart of El Niño as part of the broader El Niño-Southern Oscillation climate pattern. During a period of La Niña, the sea surface temperature across the equatorial Eastern Central Pacific Ocean will be lower than normal by 3–5 °C. In the United States, an episode of La Niña is defined as a period of at least 5 months of La Niña conditions."
This translates in huge amounts of snow in North America, which last year saw many west coast Canadian and US resorts break records in terms of snowfall and powder days. So if La Niña is coming, where am I going to ski this year?
Whistler — It's Got It All
When it comes to riding powder Whistler has it all, from tree-lined skiing and deep powder-filled bowls, to a resort that offers everything you need and want on a holiday. The resort has been synonymous with powder riding and is generally considered one of the top, if not the number one, ski resort and when your locals include the likes of Devun Walsh, you can see why.
Last year was Whistler's third snowiest season ever and if the early winter signs are the same, then it will be another amazing year to enjoy British Columbia's world famous resort. If you do head out there is a local guide, only available in the resort's shops, that will let you in on the locals' secret powder stashes, and don't worry, they are usually in-bounds.
For many Whistler is the ultimate resort, it takes Val d'Isere, adds more powder, deeper bowls, more tree-lined skiing and replaces the French skiers with Americans, well, nowhere's perfect...
Revelstoke — Scare Your Pants Off
Revelstoke is one of the youngest resorts you will come across, though due to its unique set-up, it is becoming increasingly popular. Another British Columbian gem, Revelstoke's claim is that it is the only resort that offers piste skiing, cat-skiing and heli-skiing under one umbrella.
This is the kind of resort where you wake up in the morning and decide what to do, from hitting the resort's slopes to spending a day cat-skiing, as long as you get to the guides before everyone else! The resort oozes the charm of an old gold rush town, and until recently it remained a small resort filled with locals and wild-life. Don't expect über luxury five star hotels, though do expect cold beer, spicy chicken wings and stories of fresh tracks days after the last snowfall.
Beaver Creek — Luxury
Now this is where you will find five star luxury and powder skiing, perfectly placed together. Beaver Creek is known for its perfect corduroy pistes, luxury accommodation and elegant surroundings. On top of that, the Epic Pass (the resort's multi-resort lift pass) gives you access to the nearby resorts of Vail and Breckenridge, so you can follow the snow throughout your stay.
With La Niña hopefully dumping metres of fluffy, white, Colorado powder, Beaver Creek is the resort for the luxury option. The hotels, guides, ski instructors and even ski shops are renowned for offering the best you'll find in Colorado (just don't tell Vail I said that). Beaver is where wealthy Americans, movie stars and those looking for state-side luxury head year-after-year, so with metres of snow on offer, where better to enjoy a spa treatment or glass of fizz after being chest deep in the white stuff.
Breckenridge — Family
Breckenridge is another of Colorado's Epic resorts, though the mountain here is immense and offers more than enough to keep you going for a week. With ten peaks, creatively named peak 1 to peak 10, the huge snowparks, its back bowls and its welcoming atmosphere, Breckenridge is a cracking all round resort to enjoy Mother Nature's finest snow.
Breck, as it's known in the US, offers a great variety in accommodation, from budget through to five star and with the mountain offering such diverse skiing, it is a fantastic resort for a family powder adventure. The resort has a laid back feel, probably due to its close ties to freestyle and freeriding locals, has great facilities and is the highest in the US. So if you need a resort where you can hike the back bowls, send the kids to the snowparks, or enjoy a romantic lunch with the Misses, all in the same holiday, Breckenridge is where to head.
Heavenly — Sun-Filled Powder Days
California and snow are not two words you tend to associate with one another, but the Lake Tahoe area has some of the finest powder and most stunning resorts you can find. Heavenly is the king of the lake, with a huge ski area and a resort that crosses the state lines into Nevada — perfect if you fancy a flutter in the casino.
Due to its closer proximity to the West Coast and the huge lake, that is Lake Tahoe, Heavenly boasts superb snow records and with a La Niña coming, it will no doubt offer some of the best skiing and riding you will find this winter. Add in some Californian sunshine (between snow storms, of course), the stunning back-drop of the lake and the chance to ski the local resorts of Northstar-at-Tahoe, Squaw Valley and Kirkwood, and you've got more variety in terrain then you can manage in one trip.
Hopefully this year's La Niña will share the love with Europe, but if it doesn't it will be worth saving up the extra to ski in North America this winter. From intermediate skiers, to park rats and powder hounds, you'll be glad of the 8+hr flight home, just to put your feet up. Take your friends, your wife or the family, it doesn't matter who you ski with, there is a resort out there perfect for you and hopefully just waiting for you to make some first tracks in its fresh snow...
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