To get to the heart of Jay Bennett's water skiing enterprise just outside Zachary, Louisiana, you have to go to the end of the 30-acre, “hand-scaped” lawn. Stop short of the three man-made ski lakes. Turn left at the personally constructed two-story pro shop, walk halfway to the cottage duplex that was built with novice fingers and head to the top floor of the main structure, where the man who assembled all 6,700 square feet of it has stopped trying to sleep. It's a few minutes past three in the morning, and Bennett is scrawling reminders on a notepad next to the bed.
At 8 a.m., Bennett, 44, will escape his office to meet with his 20-person staff that's arguably the most impressive collection of talent in the ski-school world. He'll be nearly five hours into his work day.
Stand in a mud puddle. If you can visualize it extending to the horizon, then you can imagine what Jay and his wife, Anne, had underfoot when they made the decision of their lives in 1978. Jay was 24 and making a good salary with benefits as a maintenance man with the Ethyl Corporation in Baton Rouge when he went in and made an announcement that he was quitting to start a ski school.
Twenty years have passed, and Bennett's Ski School, a.k.a. Tri Lakes Inc., is now considered by many to be the best facility in the world. And it's still under construction.
See a nail on one of the cottage decks? Jay pounded it. A bush? He planted it. Meantime, Anne wonders when a certain someone will fix their bathroom floor.
“He doesn't have a set schedule,” Anne says. “He has too much going on.”
Jay won't hire an instructor until he or she is world-class, or at least national caliber and he calls all the instructors that have worked at Tri Lakes his kids. So when J.D. Wiswall – a five-time national jump champion and a Bennett instructor for seven years – is lying on an operating table for major knee surgery the following week, standing over him are the chief surgeon, the anesthesiologist, an assistant and Jay.
Bennett has also been known to give his credit card to skiers so they could afford to travel to compete.
“More than the material things,” says Slone, “is he gives himself. I'm one of probably 300 people who call him for advice. That's a lot harder than giving out a credit card.”
Charitable as he is, Bennett is a stickler for rules. No earrings for the guys. No body piercing. No shorts hanging down plumber-style and no cussing in front of students. As he says, “It's still a business.”
“You work all these years to be big,” says Bennett, “then wonder if maybe it's too big. Sometimes I think about bringing it down, maybe getting smaller.”
A moment later he's gesturing toward the front lawn.
“I think we'll put in a big court out there for tennis and basketball this summer.” More skiers will step up to enjoy the fruits of Jay Bennett's labor this year. And he'll stay off to the side, palming a hedge trimmer or a monkey wrench. One day maybe he'll pick a ripe, juicy plum for himself.
(For more information about skiing with Jay Bennett and his all-star staff in Zachary, Louisiana, call 800-869-7297.)
Categories: Site to Ski