Story and Photos by Todd Ristorcelli
It’s almost that time. Some locals call it God’s hour — it comes right after the sun peeks through the towering Australian pines that line the west side of the lake. There’s more than enough light to see where you’re skiing, but not a smidge of glare on the strip of the Chilean lake water surrounded by goliath mountains and vibrant green foliage. The water is as smooth as a freshly polished ice rink.
Thirty-five-year-old Jose Moreno, aka “Pepe,” has enjoyed moments like this ever since his father (who has the same first name) created their skiing nirvana in Paine, Chile, in 1994. It’s the first man-made ski lake in Chile, the first of a few that have since emerged near Santiago.
“It was risky to build the first tournament lake here with no prior knowledge of how to do it,” says Jose Jr., marketing director for Vina Errazuriz (the premier wine estate in Chile). The former Chilean ski team member grew up slicing the wakes behind the boat with his younger brother Guillermo (who is training to climb Mount Aconcagua in Argentina next year, which, at 22,841 feet, is the highest mountain in the Americas) and their father on Lake Aculeo. The large public lake, not far from where their man-made lake now lies, is where quite a few Chilean water skiers got their start in the ’70s and ’80s. “The lake became very popular for vacations,” Jose Jr. says. “But when people started to build seawalls in front of their properties, it became a bumpy place to ski and train.”
When the Moreno brothers started traveling abroad with their father in the early ’90s to ski tournaments in other parts of Latin America, they discovered the many benefits of a manmade lake. It was their time at Aqua Ski in Tequesquitengo, Mexico, during the ’93 Latin American Championships, that the Moreno family decided to build their own lake. Since then, three more man-made lakes have been built near Santiago, and over the last few years, we’ve begun to see some of country’s best athletes competing on the pro tour, with more talent moving up the ranks in the next few years.
The Miranda family’s ski school in San Bernardo has hosted record events as well as international tournaments like the Pan American Games, the Chile Night Jump, the first stop of the 2013 Nautique Big Dawg World Tour (which was represented well by local skier Rodolfo Guzman, who placed third) and, later this year, the World Water Ski Championships. Three Miranda sons — Felipe, Francisco and Rodrigo — and one daughter, Tiare, have competed as Open-rated three-event skiers and have represented their country in international competition.
“We grew up in a house on Lake Aculeo, and we all trained since we were young,” says Felipe, age 26 , the second-to-youngest of the Miranda siblings. “Then we built our own lake in 1995, and it was completed within six months.”
The complex is a magnet for active families. There are soccer fi elds, a pro shop, a cafe and a gym, plus the lake, which is about 7 feet deep, 260 feet wide and close to 2,000 feet long.
“For me, the most memorable thing from our lake is my first junior worlds, in 2003. I trained so hard for that one, and it was the first-ever junior worlds hosted in Chile. Everyone was pretty much expecting me to do really well at that tournament, and then I did. I won overall and jump,” Felipe says.
If the junior worlds inspired Felipe to rise to the occasion, worlds is bringing out his fiercest determination. “It’s amazing. It’s going to be a very memorable time having the worlds here. I’m not saying I’m going to win; I’m saying that the whole federation, everybody, is putting forth so much effort to make this tournament happen. It’s nice to have it here, and that’s why I’m going to train as hard as I can to ski my best,” he says.
For Dr. Ruben Rosenberg, there’s nothing like waking up and walking 20 yards from the back door of his modern contemporary home to his boat. The 55-year-old oral surgeon, born in Santiago, embodies the vitality of the sport. This guy’s driven to have fun, always smiling, and is at times a real jokester. If he’s picking up out-of-town skiers from the airport who he hasn’t met yet, he instructs them to “look for a guy who resembles Brad Pitt.” Note that Rosenberg doesn’t have a strand of hair on his smooth cranium.
Rosenberg’s dream lake is located a short drive north of Santiago, in Chicureo (the lake is also called Chicureo). He says that lately he’s been trying to ski a lot more than he works, and with 38 years of glass- cutting experience and dedicated shortline slalom training, the cheery-eyed doc has a tournament personal best of 2 at39½. Rosenberg and four of his ski buddies partnered in 2003 to build the lake, complete with a Nautique 200 and a communal clubhouse, which has multiple bathrooms and showers, changing areas, equipment storage areas, and a bar and small kitchen. Lake Chicureo hosts at least one national tournament a year, and conditions are perfect during the Southern Hemisphere’s warm months of December through March. Although the cooler winter temps’ lows average near 40 F, Rosenberg says it’s no big deal. “Of course it’s a little chilly, but all you need is a decent wetsuit and you can brave the water with no problem.”
Santiago is a special place to live for the active, multidimensional athlete. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can water ski, snow ski, surf and white-water raft in the same day if you choose. It’s nice to have options! The Latin American Senior Tour was held on Lake Chicureo in 2006, and Rosenburg vividly recalls one of his best moments in the sport happened there. “That tournament was the first event I ran 38 of . People from all over South America, and a few European skiers, were right in my backyard enjoying the lake. What a day!” He says that later this year, his lake will host many visiting skiers, who will be preparing for the world championships a few weeks before the event in late November. For other passionate Chilean water skiers, the thought of lake ownership and turning buoys evolved over time.
“Although I had been a subscriber to WATERSKI magazine since I was 18 years old and loved the concept of chasing buoys, I never skied a course until my mid-30s,” Rodrigo Andai says. “I saw a story about a man-made lake in Colorado in the magazine in the ’90s and nurtured a dream of building my own for years. When I met Carlos Chicharro, who was a legend in Chilean water skiing, we started looking for a suitable piece of land.”
When the two friends first found the land for their future Lake Chacabuco in Colina, they knew it was the place. They endured a rigorous environmental approval process and still managed to enjoy every bit of the experience. “A notable moment was just before we started filling the lake, just after the course was placed. Carlos and I ran the course for the first time … in my car,” Andai recalls. Sadly, Chicharro passed away not long after the lake was completed and was not able to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Although the lake is located on a housing development, Andai says the water is independent from the lots and is open to visiting skiers. “It’s the only lake in Chile fed by clear, deep well water,” he says. “You can actually drink it!” Nothing like a big gulp from a special sliver of Chilean water.
SOME OF SOUTH AMERICA’S TOP YOUNG TALENT
Ever since Miranda’s Ski School, in San Bernardo, Chile, opened its waters to visiting skiers after the lake was dug in 1995, it’s been a hub for talented young rippers coming up through the ranks in South America. “We have a big group of kids right now that are really skiing well,” Felipe Miranda says. “Valentina Gonzales [2013 Under-13 Pan American champ] and Fernanda Naser [sixth overall at the 2013 junior worlds] are some of the most well-known Chilean skiers right now.” Felipe also points out that there are many more who people just don’t know about yet.
Take, for example, the Girogis brothers from Rosario, Argentina: 12-year-old Nacho and 10-year-old Tobias, who both have an impressive number of records and achievements. These two young talents travel with their father, German, to the Mirandas’ lake a couple of times a year to train with Felipe and Rodrigo and compete in their events. The Girogis family loves the laid-back yet enlightening environment at the school. It’s the same reason why junior world competitor Alejandra de Osma travels there from Peru with her parents to prepare for elite international events.