A Tale of Two Ski Lakes
Imagine this scene: You're on a perfectly glassy lake, ready to take what is sure to be your personal best slalom ride. You stretch, hop on the swim step, push yourfeet into your bindings, slither into the unbelievably smoothwater, and give the signal that everything is all clear. Wait. Here comes Joe I/O cruising exactly perpendicular to the slalom course between you and the end gates. He waves ashe goes by because he knows he has been an outstanding boater by refraining from actually going through the course. Nice rollers.Sound familiar? Public lakes, private lakes. What's the difference? If there is more than one boat operating at a time on any lake, there is the potential for bitterness. Why not direct that anger and negative energy into something more positive? Like building a private ski lake!
If you're ready to take the plunge into this twisted form of land development, you need to know this is notsomething you will be able to do in a month or even a year. It will take money, time, dedication and, above all, anunderstanding boss. It will cost more than twice as muchmoney and take more than twice the time you can possiblyestimate. You will make enemies. People will think you're going to ruin their lives and kill their children. Your phone bills will skyrocket and your money will evaporate. Yourfriends will give you advice or convince you to give up, and thegovernment will tell you what to do. You will get very muddy.
I am an electrical engineer and my partner,Randy Hocking, is a CPA. So why should you listen to us? In our quest for the ultimate ski site, we acquired somewisdom we would like to share. We spent countless hoursresearching and preparing plans, permits, and contracts, and madepresentations to town councils and county commissioners. We learned to use computers in ways Hewlett and Packard never intended and put up barbed wire fences wearing suits and ties. Does one go to school to learn how to seek out and create perfect water skilakes? Not usually. By telling you some of the highlights of our project, from finding the site and getting thepermits to its design and construction, you will surely see howthese different aspects could apply to your own site-should you be obsessed and/or possessed enough to build one.
Our project, called ''Laku Landing''(pronounced Lock-oo) is finished with the permitting and designphase, and is now under construction. The property is located 40 minutes north of Denver in Windsor, Colorado, and will consist of two tournaments ski lakes, six homesites, and a Christmas tree farm. Laku, we think, is from the Latin word lacu, meaninglake. To this day we are not completely sure how we came upwith ''Laku Landing'' in one of your late-night planning sessions,but we are sure there were many late-night planning sessions.
Finding A Perfect Site And Striking A Deal
What is perfect? In building your ski lake, the obvious first step is finding the site. There are many factors that will indicate if you have found it or if you should keep looking. How much can you spend? Shat will the watersource be? Are the size and shape adequate for the lakes andother development? Where is it located? How will youdig it? All these things are interrelated. The farther you are from an urban center, the less expensive the land may be,but remember that a piece of land 20 minutes from downtown LosAngeles might cost $1 million an acre, while property 20 minutesfrom Denver may cost $1,000 an acre.
One of the first things we did when studying a potential site was to buy aerial photos from the county courthouse. These photos were then digitized into a computer and different lake designs were super imposed on them. From this we could tell the size and shape of the lake(s) we couldbuild. If you don't have a computer with adequate software, lakes can be cut out to scale on paper and placed on the aerialphotos.
Dollars vs. Partners
How much land can you afford? What is the down payment? How will it be financed? How many partners do you want? The more partners you have, the more property you will probably beable to afford. In addition, the amount of work ahead isstaggering, so you will probably want some help. On the other hand, imagine getting anything done with eight partners who all think they re in charge-but don't really do any work.
Remember, you probably want to ski togetheronce the site is finished. Just Add Water; Depending on the location, your water can come from the ground water table through see page or a well, an irrigation ditch, a river, rain water drainage, or any other legal water sourceavailable. It is not likely you will use a garden hose hooked to city water because you will be needing millions of gallons, not only to fill the lake, but also to replace any loss caused by evaporation.
Our Property is adjacent to the Cache la Poudre River, right next to the Rocky Mountains of Northern Colorado. This means we can expect a good year-round waterflow and hence a high water table; although in Colorado, there is alaw that states we must pay for the evaporation caused by exposing ground water to the atmosphere. You need to be aware of similar laws in your area.
How Big Should It Be?
Laku Landing is 133 acres, but not all of thatis needed for the ski lakes. In determining the required property size keep in mind you will need about 15 water-surface acres for a comfortable three-event lake that's 2,200 by 300 feet. Because nobody wants the shores of their lake to becoincident with their property line, you should have a minimum of 75 feet of solid ground surrounding the lake. This will allowfor spectators, RV parking, and camping. Therefore, you can figure the minimum size chunk of ground you will need is no less than about 23 acres.
Be aware that 23 acres is useless if it is not the right shape. Limit your search to property that's nearly a half-mile long, so it can accommodate a lake at least 2,150 feetin length. It's possible to have a shorter lake, but then the set-ups will be tight, but then the set-ups will be tight, rollers will not dissipate before the next pass, and you'll be sorry.
Let's Make a Deal
Up until this point, you have been trying to make a decision as to whether or not a certain site is right for your project. If everything appears to be suitable, it's time you may want to consider hiring an attorney.
The cost of legal advice sometimes clouds a person's decision to retain it. Usually, a good lawyer can recognize a potential problem in your deal and easily save you the amount of his or her fees should the problem go unnoticed.
Our recommendation is to get an attorney involved early in the project so he or she can be familiar with the deal, but do all the leg work yourself and let the lawyer look over the final product before anything is signed. That way, when you have a question, the attorney will not need to spend a great deal of time becoming familiar with your entire project and will beable to study only the question at hand. If the attorney does everything from drafting the contract to presenting the seller with the offer, you will rack up substantial legal fees. In contrast, if you get a few hours of legal advice at different times during contract negotiations, the cost will be tolerable and potential problems may be avoided.
Real estate offers are usually initiated by the buyer and use a standardized, fill-in-the-blank contract youcan buy from most stationery stores. The terms of the off
er will spell out the price, financing, down payment, earnest money,closing date, and other details pertaining to what you will actually be purchasing. Although the terms are important, itis crucial you build enough contingencies into the contract. This will enable you to get out the deal if something goes wrong, even if you happen to find a better piece of land. The contingencies you'll need will depend mostly on the land you're purchasing, but some example contingencies that should render your contract null and void are:
-Procurement of the necessary permits needed to implement your project
-Indication of sufficient water to maintain a certain lake depth
-Satisfactory completion of a soil/geological survey
-Usable access to the property
The first contingency listed above will workfor most anything if you simply don't apply for the permits by theclosing date. A competent real estate attorney will help you with any other contingencies you will need, so make sure you retain one.
Getting The Permits And Dealing With Your Enemies
We have heard stories of two sites not getting the required permits where the owners just went ahead with their project. Once discovered, the lakes had to be drained and all activities shut down while the owners went through the correct process. If the hadn't been able to get their permits, they would have been stuck with the land anyway. Never buy any land unless you already have the permits to implement your project. If you have the land under contract with a contingency for getting all necessary permits, you are covered.
What Permits Will You Need?
Do your research by going to the planningdepartment of the county of city that has jurisdiction over theproperty in question. Be prepared to jump through hoops, butmost of all get to be friends with the planner, because he or shecan make your like miserable or wonderful.
The permits needed will vary from region toregion, but the overall theme of most permits is to make sure you(a) don't ruin your neighbors' lives; (b) have thought out and documented every aspect of your project; and (c) let the public have a chance to complain. Here are the permits we needed to obtain:
-Special Use Permit. This is needed because our usegoes beyond the uses allowed by right (i.e., ski tournaments).
-Construction Dewatering Permit. This allows us to pump water out of the lake area so we can drive excavation machinery in and drive it out again.
-Evaporative Augmentation Plan. In Colorado, the WaterCourt (a court that makes rulings on water rights) determines how much evaporation we are causing by exposing underground water to the atmosphere. We must pay for this.
-Dust Control Permit. The health department uses this permit to ensure reasonable dust levels are maintained during construction.
-Mined Lake Reclamation Permit. A sufficient bond mustbe posted to guarantee that if we don't complete the project, theland will be returned to its initial condition.
-Building Permits. Every structure to be built onsite, including our entrance sign, needs a building permit.
-Food Hazard Permit. We had a study performed showing we would not adversely affect the food plain.
-A waiver stating we would not sue the Department of Wildlife for any damage caused by reindeer to our Christmas treefarm. We think this was a joke.
Application For Permits Of all the described permits, the Special Use Permit was the most important. Itwas the cornerstone of the whole permitting process from which allother permits were based. It required a detailed textual and graphic description of the project, two planning commission public hearings, and a final public hearing before the county commissioners.
All of the other permits used date generatedfrom the special Use Permit. The key to success for any ''use permit'' such as this is toprepare and present your plan with lots of graphics and easy- to-understand concepts. For example, a key theme to ours was the lack of suitable ski sites in the area for national-level competitive training. Another point we tried to stress is thecontrast between competitive skiing and recreational boating andhow these two legitimate activities cannot exist on common bodies of water.
There are two extremes when preparing permits: Do everything yourself or pay somebody to do it for you. The textual description of your project is something you should do yourself, while the graphic descriptions can be done by an engineering consulting or graphics arts firm, but the cost can behigh. We did it ourselves, but we had access to good computers and powerful software. Hand- drawn sketches will notdo the job unless they are done carefully and to scale. The more professional your presentation looks, the better chance you have of convincing people you know what you're doing.
After submitting your complete proposal, our planner distributed the proposal to all the governmental agencies she thought appropriate: the Army Corps of Engineers, EPA, Department of Wildlife, Soil Conservation Service, Fire Protection District, Health Department, and many more. Every agency thatcould possibly object to any part of the project, ''Gravel Mine,''and the dates of our public hearings were sent to the adjacent property owners.
They're Building A Toxic Waste Dump
We might as well have. Word spread like wildfire of developers who were going to rape the land, flood thecountryside, and quadruple the mosquito population. A fewnegative letters letters to the editor in Windsor newspaper defined what the enemy hated about our project. The issues expressed included noise, gravel truck traffic, and the ''what is this going to do for me'' syndrome. As it turned out, there were five people who were strongly opposed tour project. Once theydistributed leaflets, almost 100 people showed up at our first public hearing with the word ''lynch'' written on their faces.
This hearing lasted for two hours withconcerns and complaints getting repeated again and again. Ourpatience wore thin, and it was difficult to answer people'saccusations with a smile and a ''yes, sir no, ma'am.'' But we kept our composure.
When the barrage of grunts and moans finallysubsided, it was the planning commissioners' turn to state their concerns. We were prepared for the worst, but we never could have anticipated what followed. Instead of the commissioners accusing us of pillage, they attacked the audience: How can you treat thesegentlemen this way after all the time and professionalism they put into this presentation? If any other developers were treated the way you have treated these men tonight, there wouldn't be anydevelopment anywhere. How can you ask what this project will do for you? When you build a barbecue pit in your back yard, do youinvite me? We were loving it. This was the beginning of theend for our rivals. And it was all because we were preparedand never argued with the enemy. It was important to makethem appear they had lost control of themselves, while we had a level headed answer for everything, even if it was ''I don't know.''
By a complete coincidence, another item onthat evening's agenda was the announcement of the construction of a multimillion-dollar sewage treatment facility on the JacobyFarm. The Jacoby Farm was a previous candidate for Laku Landing before that deal fell through. Perhaps it made peoplewonder if the qualities desirable for a ski lake might also bedesirable
for a sewage treatment plant. This could have beenan interesting defense to any opposition, although we didn't use it.
At the next two hearings, fewer and fewer people presented opposing arguments. We had heard theirnegative remarks repeated so many times, we were too well prepared for them to do any damage. If you let the opposition knowabout your project early, you can find out what they're upset about and project early, you can find out what they're upset about and proceed to appease them, or classify them as non-threatening.
A perfect example of this was the amount of noise (in our hearings we always used the word ''sound'') the enemy expected from a tournament ski site. I researched the laws onthe topic of legal sound levels and performed and published anextensive analysis of the sound levels generated by lake construction and tournament towboats. This made the opposition sound stupid when they made their complaints because wehad proven we would easily be within legal noise limits.
At the final hearing, we received unanimousapproval of our project. The time and effort we put into our documentation and presentation made the difference between approval and denial. Remember, it pays to do your homework.
A Tale of Two Ski Lakes
Specialty Ski Lake Design, Dimensions, And Construction
When we left off with the first part of this article last issue, we had received all the permits necessary forthe construction and use of two world-class tournament lakessituated just outside of Denver, Colorado, a project we named Laku Landing. We were on top of the world, but if there was ever ananalogy in were skiing comparable to the mountain climber's ''false summit,'' we were there. The onlything standing between us and the ultimate ski site was about 500,000 cubic yards of dirt, clay, sand, and gravel. We were at the costliest, most difficult, and by far the most crucial stage in our project. A poorly designed lake is pretty tough to change onceit's finished-if it ever gets finished.
If you pay someone to do it for you, atournament-quality ski lake can be dug in about 30 to 45 days.Granted, you could be skiing in less than two months, but the priceof a private contractor can be astronomical.
Cost is also the reason many man-made skisites are so shallow, running anywhere from ankle-to waist-deep.For example, in the deserts of California, most of the lakes areabout four feet deep in the middle, with the bottoms tapering upgently all the way toward the shore. This saves on excavationcosts, and you'll use less electricity pumping waterinto the lakes than you would if they were deeper.
A reasonable charge to move one cubic yard ofmaterial is about $1, although this figure varies depending on manyfactors especially the distance it must be moved and the currentprice of fuel. For a comfortably sized lake that is 15 acres wide(43,560 square feet to an acre) and four feet deep (minimum), youhave 2,613,600 cubic feet (or 96,800 cubic yards) of material todig. Therefore, the cost would be about $96,800 to have that 15acrelake dug for you. Ouch.
In the case of Lake Landing, we rely on thegroundwater table for our water supply, and it fluctuates betweenzero and five feet below ground level. Clearly, a lake four deepwas unacceptable in our situation, so we decided to dig a minimumof 10 feet down. Suddenly the cost is up to almost $250,000 perlake-a whopping half a million dollars for the two lakes. There arepeople out there who can afford this, but why spend it if there arealternatives?
For example, you can dig the lake yourself.You can rent heavy equipment to get the job done, and if you planto have a ski club at your new site, the members can be a goodsourcee of labor. The equipment you need depends on the type of soilto be removed, but a loader, excavator, and dump truck can worktogether as a good team. The excavator breaks up the ground and theloader puts it in the dump truck to be carried away. Digging a 96,800-cubic-yard lake with a five-cubic-yard loader takes 19,360 scoops. Obviously, digging a lake in 30 days would require manyteams. If the ground is relatively dry, earthmovers or scrapers aremore efficient, but they get stuck easily.
If you decide to do it yourself-beware.Consider what happened the last time you thought you could dosomething cheaper than the experts. If it actually turned out to becheaper, it probably looked it, too.
Another option is to find contractor who wantsthe material enough to dig the lake for free or maybe even pay you.The key is to find the correct market. Our property is rich withgravel, and there are many companies that use considerable amountsof gravel for contracted jobs. Unfortunately, the distance from thesite to the job where the material is needed will significantlyaffect the demand for your free material. This is because the costof trucking is usually greater than the cost of the materialitself.
Specialty Lake Design
The design of a tournament ski lake isdictated by the type of skiing for which it will be used. If it is used for all events, compromises must be made because the needs of some events conflict with the needs of others.
So what constitutes the perfect four-eventlake (slalom, tricks, jumping, and barefooting)? The dimensionschart shows minimum, nominal, and luxury dimensions needed for eachevent. A minimum dimension means minimum acceptable safety andconvenience levels can be met. Nominal is a more comfortabledimension that requires fewer special driving techniques to providegood water to the skier. A luxury dimension is not completelynecessary, but if you can get way with it, you will be happy everypass down the lake. Our table merely sets guidelines-some skiersmight have different reasons for using different dimensions. Anycomments with regard to lake dimensions are welcomed so informationcan be passed on to other readers.
The Slalom Lake
Barefoot Lake in Fort Collins, Colorado, iswhat can be described as a minimum-length ski lake for an 850-foot,six-buoy slalom course. It has 1,600 usable feet, which leaves only 375 feet at either end for the turnaround and setup. This situationusually forces the skier to drop at each end and wait about 15seconds for the rollers to clear from the previous pass. A 2,150-foot lake will have 650-foot setups at either end. This is agood amount, although the driver must swing little to the right asthe skier leaves the course so there are no rollers on the setupfor the next pass.
These problems vanish when the lake 2,400 feetlong. If it is any longer, a big disadvantage is the amount of gasand time that is wasted traveling the extra distance each time theboat makes another pass.
When considering the width needed for a slalomlake, there are a couple of conflicting elements: wind protectionand safety. The prime motivation for building narrow ski lakes isto prevent waves from forming in strong winds. The shorter thereach, or the surface the wind is blowing across, the better. A175-foot-wide lake will have 50 feet of water between the buoy andthe shoreline. Anything less than this and the skier runs the riskof tumbling onto shore after going out the front. At a 225-footwidth, there are 75 feet of margin, which is more than adequate.Any wider than this, and the reach is greater for waves to formfrom the wind.
The Jump Lake
Of all the dimensions needed for a jump lake,perhaps the most critical is to have about 125 feet of waterbetween the jump and the adjacent shoreline. Assuming the boattravels a maximum of 75 feet from the far edge of the jump, and theskier travels a maximum of 75 feet away from the boat before thefinal cut to jump, the minimum width of the lake at the jump isnearly 275 feet. A typical jump lake will be abut 300 feet wide atthe jump to allow for some spaced between the skier and theshoreline during the pre-jump
cuts. Because of the desire to havethe narrowest lake possible for wind concerns and lower excavationcosts, it's common for lakes to flair out near thelocation of the jump.
There are a few options when figuring thelength of a jump lake. The jump course itself is about 920 feet long, and after taking into account the distance used for the setupbefore and the ride-out after the course, 2,00 feet is the absolute minimum needed. Those who jump shorter distances will be able toget away with a shorter lake, but for a world-record pop, thejumper will use every inch available.
The basic problem with a short jump lake isthat the jump will be located between the four and five ball of theslalom course, so the lake will need to be wider there. This cancause rough-water problems for the slalomers. If the lake is longer than 2,150 feet, the jump can be adjacent to or even beyond theentrance gates, leaving the slalom-course portion of the lake asnarrow as possible.
Figure 1 shows three such configurationsgraphically. In all of these scenarios, the slalom and jump coursesoverlap, so three to five buoys may need to be removed from theslalom course when jumping. Depending on the buoy anchor system, itcan be relatively simple to either submerge or remove theconflicting buoys.
The Trick Lake
A trick lake has the fewest constraints, sincethe boat speeds are so much slower than in the other events. Forexample, if a skier is tricking at a speed of 18 mph, the distancetraversed during a 20-second pass is 528 feet. Even though room isneeded at each end for the turnaround and warm-up before the startof the trick course, a 1,200-foot-long lake is quite adequate forany level tricker. Most of the time when working on a new trick,many attempts will be made before you get it. (How many times doesit take to learn a hand-to-hand wake O without sliding it?) Thisscenario illustrates when it's nice to have a longerlake.
The width basically doesn't matter as long asit is greater than 100 feet. Most trickers use ropes shorter than 50 feet, and a tricker hardly ever pulls wider than 15 feet fromthe wake. At 100 feet wide, the daredevil stunt tricker who gets aswide of the boat as possible, explodes toward the wake, launchesinto the air, performs a tucked front flip, and lands on his head 20 feet beyond the wake will still have a little room to spare.These dimensions are also appropriate fro kneeboarders.
The Barefoot Lake
My limited barefooting ability furtheraccentuates the footer's need for glassy water. The smoother thewater, the less the likelihood of catching a toe. Using thereasoning given earlier, this means the lake should be as narrow aspossible. Also, if the lake is oriented so that the prevailingwinds are blowing across the lake instead of down it, the waterwill be smoother.
The barefooters who ski at Barefoot Lake dotheir thing over only 1,600 feet of water. This seems a littleridiculous, but they are happy with the situation. Assuming a lakewill be used for barefooting as well as slalom, 2,150 feet is areasonable dimension to consider. A 2,600-foot lake, however, willhelp give the footer more time-especially as the boat speedapproaches 40mph.
A Bird's Eye View
Figure 2 shows the designs of the lakes atLaku Landing, excluding the turn islands. Although the reasonsbehind the dimensions we chose are described above, be aware thereare many right answers to the question, ''What are the perfect lakedimensions?'' and an infinite number of wrong answers. Our lakesappear to be wider than the dimensions given above because we haveaccounted for fluctuation in water level. The sloped shorelineswill cause the lakes to narrow as the water level drops.
Depth, Shorelines, and Turn Islands
The deeper a lake is, the cleaner it will be,because the sun will not be able to penetrate to the bottom, andplant life will not grow as rapidly. This is why shallow lakes canhave a disgusting seaweed and/or algae problem. There are someshallow lakes with very rocky bottoms that do not exhibit thiscondition because vegetation cannot grow through the rocks veryeasily.
If the shorelines of the lake are too steep,the boat wakes will reflect off of them, creating backwash. This isa terrible problem because the boat must stop every few passes andlet the water settle out. If the shorelines are gradually sloped,the boat wakes will dissipate as they hit them, and no reflectionswill occur. If the slope is too gentle, the water will be veryshallow extending away from the lake edge, and it may not be safefor skiing. Also, there will be a greater vegetation problem nearthe lake edge since sunlight can penetrate to the bottom.
Figure 3 illustrates our shoreline design. Theslope of the bottom at the point where it intersects water surfaceis about 10:1. This means for every 10 feet you travel away fromthe lake edge, the water gets one foot deeper. After a certaindistance we increase to a steeper slope of 3:1. Any sharp edgecaused by a slope change will be smoothed out in time erosion.
The purpose of a turn island is to create aconvergence point for the boat wake as the boat makes a turn at theend of a lake. Otherwise, a nice big roller can be sent back downthe course. Many tournament lakes get by just fine without turnislands, but there is less room for error in the driver'stechnique.
The big question in the design of turn islandsis what you build them with. If you dig your lake and just leavethe islands at each end, be aware of the potential for them toerode away. Some lakes have the channel between the islands and thelake edge dredged out every few yards, with the material piledright back on top of the islands. The islands can also be made oflogs, railroad ties, old tires, or anything that is cheap and inabundance, provided it is a workable design. In any case, theislands must be a minimum of 40 feet in diameter and theirshorelines must meet the requirements described above to eliminatebackwash.
If you are serious about building a ski lake,remember that all sites are different, and what may work perfectlywell for one may not work for another. In these two articles, wehave looked at finding the site, striking a deal with theappropriate terms, designing the lakes, and building them. Thebreadth a depth of a project like this could easily fill a book,and these articles only attempt to cover the basics.
Perhaps the most important information to be learned here is that there are many man-made lakes in existence,and nobody should attempt a feat of these proportions without studying what other people have done. Maybe someday people in everyday life will use the phrase, ''Let's try not to reinvent the ski lake.''