The Grandaddy of casual gaming: SkiFree

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It’s that time of year; the Earth is tilting at just such an angle that some of us are already freezing our asses off. Here in Bellingham, Washington, thirty miles shy of the Canadian border, there’s already a rumbling of weekend warriors preparing to gear up for the coming winter ski and snowboard seasons. All that snow, that fresh air, the rush of zipping down fresh slopes of powder — bah.

Have fun pulling your dad’s Hummer out of a ditch. Us gamers, armed to the teeth with technology, will enjoy our snowy sports in a much more convenient fashion. Some might suggest SSX, but does that title include abominable snowmen to leap out of nowhere and devour your pitiful, frail mortal form at unreal speed? Hell no. Enter SkiFree

You probably remember the title, even if you don’t necessarily remember playing it. It was everywhere. Originally coded by Microsoft programmer Chris Pirih in his spare time, SkiFree was picked up by the Microsoft Entertainment Pack project lead when he noticed Pirih playing it at work. It was included in the next version of the Microsoft Entertainment Pack and even ported to the Mac. SkiFree was the ultimate time waster, a pick-up-and-play game that was fast-paced but not difficult to play, and damn near impossible not to have fun with.

With Nintendo’s newest marketing mantra being that of incorporating gamers of all walks of life into its fold, the “casual gaming” sect has had a rather large boost these days. Give Brain Age to Grandma and see if she quits talking to herself, beat the crap out of your family in the glorious bloodsport of Wii Sports Boxing — all fantastic options, but they’ve only just become available to us. Since the days of Windows 95, however, SkiFree has united people of all ages, professions, creed and culture long before PC gaming had any real solid backing. Just by virtue of being included with some installations of Windows, some bajillion-odd man hours have been logged on this game.

Perhaps most importantly, like any good casual game, it had no explicit goal or end-game. When Solitaire wore out its welcome, SkiFree was the place to go. Pirih has slapped together one hell of a page to sit as your one-stop-shopping destination for all things free (as well as ski). Recently, he even located and updated the original source code to allow for playable SkiFree on both 32- and 64-bit incarnations of Windows XP. If you’re looking to kill an hour, here’s a great place to start. And if that’s not enough, Pirih also included an animated .gif of two Abominables, you know, gettin’ down. Feel that? That’s nostalgia!

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Aaron Linde
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