After winning the Masters and World Water Ski Championships in a single season, what’s next on the list for a pro slalom skier? We decided to ask Will Asher, who cemented his place among slalom skiing’s elite with wins at the 2009 Masters and Worlds. We chatted up the world’s number one slalom skier about his most successful season to date, his research and development role at HO Sports alongside Bob LaPoint and his recently acquired American residency. — Megan Anderson
Can you give us a quick recap of your 2009 season? How do you feel you’ve been skiing? I would say coming into the season my goal was to win Masters and Worlds. Those were the two I had written down, so as far as my season goes, it was a success. Then I figured anything I got on top of that would be a bonus. I’ve got a couple more that I’ve won, but Masters and Worlds are the ones that I focused on. I feel like it’s been more of a rollercoaster this year. I had higher scores, but maybe not as consistent as far as I wasn’t finishing as well as I did last year. Going to Worlds where they combined the festival atmosphere with a water ski event. It was a really diverse crowd that was really motivated to watch waterskiing. I think it was a huge boost for everybody that was skiing — whether they made the finals or not, just to be there was really cool.
Can you describe the energy of that event? The energy was unbelievable. I do a lot of different events, and some are successful, some are not. But this one, we stood on the start dock and you could hear the band playing in the background in the beer garden and you look along the shore and the VIP tents are packed with lots of excited ski enthusiasts. And the far crowd, which was where the bleachers were, were all packed. That was unbelievable. You’re standing on the start dock, and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, I have to put on a show today. No backing down. This is the Worlds.’
Tell us about your R & D role with HO Sports. Well, the cool thing about being with HO is that they are very open-minded. So we get the opportunity to try pretty much whatever we want. We have the experience of Bob LaPoint, who is probably the one of the best skiers and ski designers ever, paired up with Dave Wingerter, who is one of the best engineers, and Matt Coldwell, who does the CAD design, and then me, who does most of the final testing. The team, how we work together and the amount of test sessions we have to get to the final product, I think makes us stand out from a lot of the other teams. I heard one of the other ski companies had only one, maybe two, mass testing sessions in the last two years, and we’ve had five this year. We’re always trying to push our boundaries, and we’re always trying to find the next best thing through creative thinking.
Does testing hurt or help your skiing? Trying different skis can go both ways. It can help your skiing to learn a lot of different things. When you get into a certain situation, you can fall back on your experience of testing equipment and you can get yourself out of trouble. But if you’re not structured and organized when testing skis, it’s very easy to get lost. So you can start testing a ski and you can start going down a track, which you feel is better, and then six weeks down the road you’re actually skiing worse. So testing is a funny thing. You’ve got to be willing to try things and move forward, but then you’ve got to be willing and strong enough mentally to move back and understand that maybe what you had before is better.
How is the HO A1 different from other slalom skis? The thing I like about the HO A1 is that I can ski the same whether there are perfect conditions out or if it’s a horrible site like we had at the Masters this year. Your score on any day will be different, depending on conditions, and I feel like I can get in the high percent of my average in any conditions on the HO A1.
What was it like working with legend Bob LaPoint on the A1 and S1? For me, it went from me being a one-man show when the HO Monza was out to having this whole team support system around me that has a lot of experience in ski design and bringing that ski design to mass production, which is a totally different thing. To have a team around me that can actually suggest things that work, that’s pretty amazing for me.
Tell us about HO’s new hardshell binding system? That’s our engineer Dave Wingerter’s baby. I know he did a lot of design and consulting with snow ski manufacturers. The system we use for the release was specifically built for water skiing, and it meets all the specifications for snow skiing. I wasn’t full on with the design of the binding system, but I was involved with the testing. When I was doing the testing, it was mid-season, so I wasn’t fully committed, but the first time out, I ran 39 on the system, which for the first time on the system, I was pretty excited about.
What is your plan for this off-season? After Malaysia, I’m going to relax for a little while. I feel like I’ve been going for a long time, and I’m just kind of going to step back for a few weeks and think about how the season went and which direction I would like to go in next season and that’s when I will figure out what my offseason will be. But it won’t be going out every night and partying. I plan on skiing this winter — I haven’t done that in a while. I took five months off the past two years, so I’m going to try not to take that long off this winter and just kind of keep a feel for it.
Your brother’s a pro jumper. Describe your relationship. How has he helped your skiing? He’s been my support system. I went to school in America, away from my parents and my grandparents, but I went to school with my brother. For the last seven or eight years, he’s been the one person I can go to and I can talk to about anything. He’s always been there for me and been my confidant, my friend and my coach in many ways. One of those people you can turn to, you can fall back on, you can trust.
Who’s your favorite skier to match up against head-to-head in a pro event? In the ideal situation, you would hope the person you were matched up against would be stronger than you. Some people are more fun to ski against than others. You’ve got some personalities in the sport. I like to ski against Bob LaPoint. I think that would be badass, in a respectful way. I just think that would be a great honor.
What do you like to do off the water? I like to relax. My problem is I like skiing too much, so I try to do stuff that takes my mind off skiing, which is cycling. Yeah, it’s probably good cross training for water skiing, but beyond that, it’s a release for me. I’ve had weeks where I’ve done 500-600 miles, and there have been weeks where I’ve done one, maybe two rides, 10 miles each. So it all depends on how I feel. It’s a way for me to get out, and I know I’ll be away from the house for two to six hours. It’s a time to release and get free. That’s my problem: my brain doesn’t switch off.
How do you split your time between the UK and The States? Which one feels more like home these days? Predominantly, I’m in The States now. I just got my green card, so I’m considered an American resident. You guys can’t kick me out now. When I came through immigration, they said ‘welcome home,’ so that was very nice. But I try and spend time in England when I can, mostly in the summer. They have a great facility where my grandparents live, and we train there in the summer, my brother, my uncle and cousins. I’m very fortunate in that way to have a very supporting family, which I don’t get to spend as much time as I’d like with. I guess right now the States feel more like home, but you never get that home feeling. You know you never have Mum’s cooking or Grandad’s stories.