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Retro Corner: SkiFree


I remember the first PC I ever owned. It was a vast, white monstrosity about the size of your average studio apartment. The brand was Siemens Nixdorf, which isn’t even a damn thing any more and hasn’t been for a decade and a half. There was none of this newfangled ‘internet’ thing at this time (not for me, at any rate), and my computing time with the big ol’ Nixdorf mostly consisted of making pictures with Paint and clipart.

There is a point to all of this prattle. Hold on to your underpants, because here it comes now: one of my earliest memories of the brave new IT (not ICT, I’m much too old for that) world was SkiFree. I get powerful nostalgia-pangs just from hearing the name, so here’s my little ode to it.

If you’re not as decrepit as I am, SkiFree was released in 1991. It’s a simple arcade affair for Windows (later ported to Mac, and Game Boy Color of all things), which sees you slalom down and endless slope and try to reach the furthest point you can.

SkiFree 2

There are various play options. The slalom course is a straight up time attack run, while on the freestyle course you instead aim for the highest score by accumulating ‘style points’ (by performing jumps and such). More able players can opt to take the tree slalom course, which is longer and more difficult. You can also opt to eschew all of these and just ski about. Y’know, freely, hence the name.

The controls are just as spartan as the presentation. You use the arrow keys to move, and the space bar to jump. Like most arcade games, it’s one you can pick up almost instantly, but it’ll take some time to uncover all the little tricks and techniques to get the best out of your scores and times. SkiFree is a game that demands quick reflexes, as the perspective means that you can careen at obstacles (poles, trees, other skiers, abominable snowmen) with little warning.

It’s a simple little thing, but the game had that one-more-try factor that all the best quickfire ones do. It also has a unique charm and quirky humour that’s difficult to convey with such limited resources. Startled dogs you speed past or barrel into on the course will pee in the snow in fright, and the stickman abominable snowman will eat you at the bottom on the mountain to herald the end of your run.

I’ll say it again: ah, SkiFree.

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