This Mortal Coyle

The Abominable Snow Monster from SkiFree

This column is reprinted from Unwinnable Monthly #114. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.


Fictional companions and goth concerns.


In 1991, Microsoft released their third Entertainment Pack for Windows, bringing SkiFree to my home computer. In this top-down runner, you ski an infinite slope (the course “ends,” but loops), using the arrow keys to avoid rocks, trees, snowboarders, and the occasional dog. The game is simple, but it frustrated me as a child, my hand-eye coordination not quite up to par. When I finally reached the finish line, I was elated. I thought I’d beaten the game.

Then, a greyish monster ran over from off screen and shoved my avatar into his mouth –skis and all. Pretty rude. This Yeti – canonically dubbed the “Abominable Snow Monster” –jumped up and down gleefully, claws out, teeth bared. He taunted me from the other side of the screen.

If you leave the game running, he will do this indefinitely.

Before writing this column, I don’t recall ever talking to another human about SkiFree. But I distinctly remember the monster’s merciless taunts and the fondness I felt for him in spite of everything. What I didn’t realize, never having broached the topic publicly, was that the Abominable Snow Monster lives large in the minds of many.

A story by Jose Philipe Mendola on describes the monster’s mouth as “a gaping maw that remained open in a silent, eternal scream,” his eyes “A Burning pit of eternal Hell.”

In another fanfiction work by Gothenheim.J, the Abominable Snow Monster feels remorse for hurting the skier and carries him back to a cave. After awakening, the human stares into the monster’s “deep, soulful brown eyes.” Then – yes – the “human met the monster’s mouth with its own, the monster’s rough tongue clashing sensually with the human’s light one.”

This is not how I, personally, reminisce about the monster.

[pullquote]This is not how I, personally, reminisce about the monster.[/pullquote]

My nostalgia is more akin to Brittany Vincent’s coverage of “the Yeti that still haunts our dreams” for PC Gamer. “I was always upset when the Yeti ate me and could never figure out how to avoid it,” Vincent writes of her childhood SkiFree angst. “In those days you couldn’t throw a query into Google and instantly get an answer to a game-related problem,” a problem I had in the early ’90s as well.

The game was created by Microsoft programmer Chris Pirih, whose website has a treasure trove of SkiFree nostalgia: a brief history, a free download of the game, a gif of two snow monsters having sex, and, best of all, an email Pirih received from a disgruntled “fan” in 1996: “please tell me why the stupid fucking monster comes out from nowhere and eats my main guy before he gets to the bottom of the hill. Nothing personal, but this is Sunday morning & I really did not like the idea of getting eaten by the monster this early. What I am really trying to say is fix the program or stop making games for the likes of me, who can’t win.”

This column was meant to be about the Abominable Snow Monster representing the inevitability of death, regardless of our successes and failures in life. Then I did some research and realized that XKCD already covered this in thirty-one words. In XKCD’s stick figure universe, a woman says, “I’ve always thought of the SkiFree monster as a metaphor for the inevitability of death.” Her companion replies, “SkiFree, huh? You know you can press ‘F’ to go faster than the monster and escape.” The woman sits at her desk in an otherwise blank panel, presumably reassessing her life. Likewise, I was shaken after reading the comic. I also hadn’t known that you could use the “F” key to escape the monster. But even if I had known, what would that knowledge have accomplished? If you outrun the monster, you still can’t defeat him. You just . . . keep running.

A simple villain can be the most terrifying. No matter how we play the game, this collection of grey circles and sticks will destroy us in the end. We can loop the course three hundred times, but if we trip up or pause for even a moment, we expire.

No true antagonists have made it onto my Unwinnable “friends list,” until today. The Abominable Snow Monster is cute, charismatic and tirelessly devoted to his task. And even if I’m the millionth person to make this observation, this monster is the perfect metaphor for the inevitability of death. Besides, all cryptids are goth.


Deirdre Coyle is a goth living in Brooklyn. Find her at deirdrecoyle.comor on Twitter @deirdrekoala.

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