From the mellow-minded West Coast to the tournament-focused Southeast, these are the top 10 best cities to rip up a set and call home.
• Sacramento, California
If you’re a hard-core skier in the greater Sacramento area, chances are you belong to one of many private ski clubs that flourish there. Clubs like Bell Acqua, Ski Sunset Ranch, Liquid Zone and Stillwater Ranch are where most Sacramento tournament skiers go for great skiing on exclusive lakes. While initially this might sound a bit constricting, full access to pristine conditions and gear as well as a built-in group of ski buddies make membership an attractive option. For skiers who don’t want to carve turns in the confi nes of a 2,000-foot-long, man-made lake, Sacramento is known as the “River City” due to two major rivers converging near its downtown area. Both the American and Sacramento Rivers offer an abundance of glassy free-skiing runs. Weekend river rats will feel right at home here. Another trend among residents is to become a skier on land as well as water. Most in the area are as versed in snow skiing as they are in water, and with Lake Tahoe just a few hours away, Sacramento makes it extremely easy to indulge both sports to the heart’s content.
Population (estimated in 2006): 453,781
Average days at or above 75 degrees: 192
Average days of sun: 265
Selling point: Sacramento is a robust, outdoorsy city where most skiers are part of their own exclusive ski community. If you don’t mind packing your membership card in with your gear, perfect glass and a built-in crew of ski buddies are waiting in the Golden State’s capital.
More info: sacwaterskiclub.com
• Lake Havasu City, Arizona
Play the word-association game with Lake Havasu and most people will call out things like “clear water,” “vacation spot” or “spring break.” And it’s true that the beautiful turquoise waters and amazing weather conditions have made Lake Havasu one of the most popular dream destination spots for skiers, wakeboarders and boaters alike. But the phrase “it’s a nice place to visit, but I’d never want to live there” doesn’t apply here. Lake Havasu City somehow manages to be on one of the most popular destination lakes in the country, while still being ranked on Money magazine’s 2006 list of “Best Places to Live” by taking the top spot for cleanest air. Nature-minded skiers are sure to love the small-town atmosphere of the city, especially considering the 45-mile-long, 19,300-square-foot aquatic paradise it’s built beside. There’s no such thing as an off-season in the Arizona desert. In addition to the lake itself, the Colorado River that feeds it features many areas to do some serious river skiing as well.
Population (estimated in 2006): 56,355
Average days at or above 75 degrees: 250
Average days of sun: 290
Selling point: Countless skiers travel thousands of miles to experience the beauty and picture-perfect conditions of Lake Havasu. Live here and you need only walk outside. It’s the perfect place to live for the year-round skier who values living in a small- town atmosphere and doesn’t consider “tourist” a dirty word.
More info: lhcaz.gov
• San Diego, California
In a perfect world, you’d never be more than 10 minutes away from a ski session. But the world isn’t perfect — unless you happen to live in San Diego. This Southern California gem is built around the water and its diverse, laid-back inhabitants know exactly what the endless summer lifestyle is all about. Most of the action takes place in one of San Diego’s two huge bays. Mission Bay is the most popular and is home to several ski clubs. As the country’s largest manmade aquatic park, Mission Bay is home to the only public three-event competition water ski site in Southern California. And at a location that allows skiers to go from downtown to 15 off in less than 10 minutes, Mission Bay is beyond convenient. Less popular, but still quite skiable, is San Diego Bay, where you can carve turns in close proximity to Navy ships and huge freighters. Skiers truly adverse to salt water can ditch the bays in favor of lakes outside the city, but they’d give up the chance to dawn patrol Mission Bay and still be at the office before 9 a.m.
Population (estimated in 2006): 1,256,951
Average days at or above 75 degrees: 101
Average days of sun: 264
Selling point: Living in a city that literally grew out of the water means skiing isn’t a weekend getaway but a daily routine. A skier who enjoys surfing as much as ripping buoys will be in heaven in San Diego.
More info: sdchamber.org
• Seattle, Washington
You’re probably thinking, “Seattle? But it rains half the year and it’s gloomy.” However, understand this — true or not, it simply does not matter when July hits and the humidity-free, 80-degree air temperature and glass-calm skiing conditions make you realize that there is no better place to be on the planet. And don’t just take our word for it. Water ski manufacturers like Herb O’Brien, Pat Connelly, Jeff Jobe and Denny Kidder all made the Emerald City their home long ago, choosing to design and test skis on the same bodies of water — Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish. The inspiration and overwhelming calm that comes from skiing on lakes like these are unbeatable. With the lush evergreens and the remarkable views of Mount Rainer, nothing compares to seeing the fog come off the glass at 7 a.m. while you and your buddies prepare to shred the idle waters. So, whether you choose to live in the city or in a breathtaking lakeside home just outside bustling downtown, Seattle is the city to live and share your sheer passion for the sport.
Population (estimated in 2006): 582,454
Average days at or above 75 degrees: 61
Average days of sun: 164
Selling point: This city can’t be beat in natural beauty, mysterious allure and just plain love for water skiing. If you’re looking to surround yourself with other like-minded skiers and don’t mind the occasional overcast set, start packing.
More info: lswsc.org
• West Palm Beach, Florida
How can you not be inspired to get on the water in a city where the average air temperature is 83 degrees? Welcome, water skiers, to West Palm Beach — the city of perpetual warmth, where the unbeatable climate is only overshadowed by one thing: Okeeheelee Park. The custom, fi ve-lake, 900-acre facility has been the site of choice for amateurs and professionals alike who desire epic skiing conditions. Sure, there are other canals and small lakes to ski in West Palm Beach, but with Okeeheelee Park in your backyard — and for a yearly fee of only $60 for county residents — why would you want to ski anywhere else? After all, it has a tightknit, long-standing ski club (Ski Club of Palm Beaches) that is very active in hosting tournaments, maintaining the high standard of the worldclass ski facility and sharing their passion for the sport. Plus, with Chet Raley’s celebrated ski school only 20 minutes away, instruction is as available as the water waiting for you in your own backyard.
Population (estimated in 2006): 107,617
Average days at or above 75 degrees: 365
Average days of sun: 234
Selling Point: Drive 10 minutes one way, you’re at Okeeheelee; drive five minutes another way, you’re at the beach; walk out your back door, you’re looking at an intercoastal canal — there is just no beating that.
More info: okeeski.com
• Austin, Texas
Although known for its legendary music scene, Austin’s allure as a great ski city is undeniable. The popular Lake Austin and Lake Travis offer many possibilities for everyone in the skiing family. But if things get too busy on these waters, the private man-made lakes are just a few miles and a membership away. Sites such as Austin Aquaplex, Guadalupe Ski Plex and Utopia River Ranch are set up for the discerning skier who appreciates a high-end skiing facility, designed with gently sloped shorelines for minimal back- wash. With short winters and long summers, Austin has just as much appeal to the pro ripper as it does the passionate amateur skier who wants to optimize their water time. As far as lakeside camaraderie is concerned, the Capital Area Water Ski Club has a great social network for meeting new people to share sets with. Plus, with miles of biking and jogging trails, it comes as no surprise that Austin is seriously driven by a young, active lifestyle. With remarkable views of sheer cliffs and lush foliage, Austin provides the perfect backdrop for any water skier.
Population (estimated in 2006): 709,893
Average days at or above 75 degrees: 213
Average days of sun: 230
Selling point: An award-winning city that offers great weather, an eclectic mix of people and a bustling water-skiing and outdoor atmosphere? You can’t go wrong.
More info: waterskiaustin.com
• Grand Rapids, Michigan
There’s no denying that Michigan is cold. So why are we including Grand Rapids on the same list as cities with never-ending seasons and absolutely no market for snow tires? Well, because Grand Rapids has passion. Though some “sane” people would mark the ski season of Grand Rapids between Memorial Day and Labor Day, ski fanatics like the members of the Grand City Show Skiers throw caution to the chilly wind and hit the water even on New Year’s Day. The crystal-clear waterways — like Reeds Lake, which is merely a block from downtown East Grand Rapids — are scattered everywhere in the area. All these lakes, devoid of traffic and protected from winds, entice whole families to ignore the temperature and fire up the boat. Another thing that helps spread the ski love here is the sport’s visibility. Show clubs like Grand City are common in western Michigan, and locals regularly grow up attending performances. Water skiing seems to be part of the community here, with whole families hitting the water together come sun, clouds or frost.
Population (estimated in 2006): 193,083
Average days at or above 75 degrees: 163
Average days of sun: 159
Selling point: If skiing is part of your life, if slalom is all your teenage kids and you can rationally discuss, if family fun day involves buoys instead of board games, Grand Rapids will appeal to you. But buy a wet suit.
More info: wmwsa.org
• Orlando, Florida
It’s tough to debate Orlando’s legitimacy of being the best city to dwell in if you’re a serious water skier, based on the weather and the abundance of unpopulated, skiable lakes alone. And that’s exactly why the majority of the world’s best skiers call Orlando home. Not only is it the epicenter and birthplace of pro skiing, but skiers of all abilities have long appreciated the city’s year-round warmth and predominately light wind. A 2-millimeter wetsuit top or spring suit is all you need to be comfortable during the easy winters, and the numerous world-class ski schools located in and just outside the city limits guarantee skiing shorter-line come summer. Availability of cutting-edge instruction and innovative techniques are at an all-time high. Tournament-oriented skiers can also pick and choose from a slew of weekend events from early spring through November. If you’re more of the weekend warrior type, the Butler Chain of Lakes is the place to be because of its multimillion-dollar scenic homes, nature preserved backdrops and skiable water.
Population (estimated in 2006): 220,186
Average days at or above 75 degrees: 333
Average days of sun: 237
Selling point: The weather here is sweeter than a honey-coated sugar cube, and if you want to surround yourself with a fl owing fountain of inspiration, look no further.
More info: cityoforlando.net
• Madison, Wisconsin
The northern states in the Midwest are popular for a few things: long winters, strong accents and water. Madison may have a shorter season than others on our list, but what it lacks in warm, sunny months, it more than makes up for in sheer, unadulterated water-skiing passion. From show skiing to boating, the words “hit the lake” are never too far from a conversation, no matter who you talk to, it seems. Even at the peak of winter, it’s not surprising to see someone out on Lake Mendota or Lake Monona in a dry suit with a smile on their wind-chapped faces, ice-laden water be damned. But, if battling pneumonia isn’t your thing, you can always trade in your summer gear for snow skis and goggles and get some cross-training in with the huge community of cross-country skiers. Mad City may be known as the show skier’s haven, but trust us, there might as well be a sign outside the city limits that reads “Everyone’s welcome.”
Population (estimated in 2006): 223,389
Average days at or above 75 degrees: 91
Average days of sun: 186
Selling point: Minnesota may be the “land of 10,000 lakes,” but Wisconsin does not fall far behind, with abundant opportunities to take to the water, weather permitting. If you are looking for a friendly, lively city scene, just make sure you leave behind your snow aversions before calling your Realtor.
More info: wwsf.waterski.org
• Charlotte, North Carolina
Walk into a store near Charlotte’s Lake Norman anytime between noon and 5 p.m. on a weekend and you sure won’t have to deal with any lines. As any resident knows, the weekends are for the lake. Lake Norman, as well as nearby Lake Wylie — located right across the South Carolina border — is packed every weekend with skiers and other water-sports enthusiasts. Even during the week, it’d be rare to catch either lake without a few skiers looking for some laid-back sessions. Other area lakes, such as the 3,200-acre Mountain Island Lake, offer great skiing without the crowds — if you’re more into a serious run than a serious party. The lakes offer a nice contrast to Charlotte’s diverse, busy downtown. A lively nightlife, active business district and devoted pro sports following set the city abuzz around the clock, so it’s no surprise that so many residents make it a habit to wind down and hit some runs at these or other smaller lakes in the region every weekend. Many skiers also look forward to the annual Charlotte Boat Show, which has a decidedly water-sports feel to it.
Population (estimated in 2006): 630,478
Average days at or above 75 degrees: 171
Average days of sun: 214
Selling point: Charlotte is an active Southern metropolis with much to do. It allows skiing to act as the perfect relaxing counter- balance. Those who like their recreation and excitement in many flavors, skiing being the all-time favorite, should give it a try.
More info: charlottechamber.com