Bennett’s Ski School - Waterski Site

Wild in the Big Easy

Ever since Sully left Orlando in pursuit of business endeavors

in Louisiana, he has been raving about how much fun he’s

having and how good the skiing is. “Dude, it’s unreal

here! The wind is almost nonexistent, there’s a ton of young

skiers who are rippin’ it up, and the nightlife goes

off,” pro water skier Chris Sullivan says. It was  the

first of many phone exchanges in the months prior to my visit to a

place where locals live by the motto “Let the good times

roll.”

Sully’s new home base is Zachary, Louisiana, which is also

home to Bennett’s Ski School, one of finest training grounds

in the country. It also happens to be within a 20-minute drive of

the Louisiana State University campus in Baton Rouge and less than

an hour from New Orleans. Ahh, New Orleans. Home of Mardi Gras,

Jazz Fest, the Sugar Bowl and countless Girls Gone Wild

videos. This fact alone was the clincher that got me to book an

airline ticket through Southwest for $87. (Can you say

“score”?) I had to witness the craziness.

I was pumped about the trip, and Sully had everything lined up

perfectly. His plan of attack was to get the party started at

Bennett’s for a couple of days of solid skiing while trying

to stay out of trouble, and then head over to the Tchefuncta River

(love the name) for a laid-back session with all of the water toys.

We would then cap things off with a night of excess and debauchery

in New Orleans.

In its 26th year of operation, Bennett’s Ski School knows

how to satisfy the needs of skiers -- from a world-class competitor

in training to the beginner looking to round the first buoy. Owner

and operator Jay Bennett has it dialed. Three butter-sweet man-made

lakes, lakefront cottages and a fully stocked pro shop play host to

an international ski scene. “We get students from Denmark,

Japan, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Mexico and Canada as well as the

United States,” Bennett tells me upon my arrival.

Nick Boettcher, a 200-foot-plus jumper, three-time national

German overall champion and instructor at Bennett’s, fell in

love with the site years ago. “It’s the perfect place

to ski,” he says. “I work with a great group of

instructors and we’re all like best friends. We push each

other skiing and coaching every day, and the conditions are

incredible here.”

Nick’s assessment of the skiing conditions are right

on target. Jimmy Siemmers set the world jump record with a

233-footer and Will Asher (another Bennett’s instructor from

England) ran 2 ½  @ 41 off in a record tournament last

fall. With scores like that, you know it’s good.

“Right-on to the real and death to the fakers,” says

Dane Puxty from Newcastle, Australia, a collegiate competitor and

instructor at Bennett’s. “What exactly do you

mean?” I ask.

With a laid-back Australian accent Dane responds, “When

you come to ski at Bennett’s, don’t bring a front. Have

fun, ski hard and just be yourself.”

The lakes stayed virtually flat during my two-day visit, and I

was anticipating a few ski rides at the highly touted site. With

perfectly sloped shorelines and long setups into the slalom course

and the jump ramp, it’s no wonder personal bests are broken

every day in practice and in several record-capability tournaments

that Bennett’s runs every year.

Skiing with Sully again was great. Things always get a little

wacky when we hang out. We’re always good for at least a

couple of hysterical laughs in the boat -- cutting up, acting

stupid and doing silly impersonations of people we know in the

skiing world. (Sorry, I can’t say any names.)

What made the set even better was that three-time U.S. National

Overall Champion and “good old boy” Scott Smith joined

us for some glass ripping. Scott lives nearby in Lafayette,

Louisiana, and has frequented the waters of Bennett’s for the

last seven years. Accompanying Scott was his beautiful girlfriend,

Colombian skiing sensation Lulu Botero, who was prepared to tear it

up on the water and at the bars of Baton Rouge and New Orleans. I

can still recall her sexy Colombian accent: “I can’t

believe you’ve never been to New Orleans. You’re going

to love it!”

As the sun barely peeped through the trees, and with the last

buoy rounded near day’s end, it was time to re-energize our

depleted bodies with a Cajun feast and test the waters (or should I

say adult beverages) in Baton Rouge.

Our first stop of the night was The Chimes, a seafood restaurant

within a few blocks of the North Gates of the LSU campus. With

compliments to the chef, the barbecued shrimp and the smoked duck

and sausage gumbo are unbelievable. It also washed down rather

nicely with the fine selection of imported beers from 20 countries.

Only about an hour into dinner, it appeared that some of our crew

had made it halfway around the world. Then Nick started talking up

the talent Louisiana has to offer in regard to the opposite sex.

“The most beautiful girls are in Louisiana. They’re all

really nice and they like to party and have a good time. As a

foreigner, I think it’s a little easier with the

ladies,” says Boettcher with a distinctive German accent. He

had a table of girls sitting across the restaurant on

radar.

High spirits and a craving for live music then took us to The

Caterie, a rustic bar in the heart of Baton Rouge. The local band

featured was fairly impressive and they definitely inspired us to

put on our dancing shoes.

After I fell into bed, morning came soon, and the faint growl of

a boat mowing up and down the lake slowly awakened me. As I opened

the door of my cottage to have a look, I could see massive walls of

spray emerging and quickly descending from the far lake. With a

fresh-brewed coffee in hand, I wandered over closer to the action.

Young gun Will Asher was finessing his O’Brien Mapple through

some shortline slalom passes.

“What a way to wake up in the morning,” I thought.

“Right outside your front door a fellow skier is getting the

first taste of early morning butter.” It certainly fueled my

desire to own lakefront property one day soon.

In between slalom and jump sets, all eyes were on Jacques

Favret, a Louisiana native now living in Orlando, who was sliding

himself mad on the 40-foot gap slider that shares rent with one of

the slalom courses. I could see him from a distance as I relaxed in

one of the hot tubs on the starting dock. The hot jets of water

soothed my lower back after a few ski rides as I chatted with Ian

Trapp, a 16-year-old slalom phenom from Canyon Lake, California.

Ian was visiting Bennett’s as a student for the week and

would be returning for the summer as a coach. Ian, a Boys 2

National Slalom Champion and one of the most humble junior rippers

I’ve met, has ambitions of being the youngest skier ever to

run 39½ off in a record capability tournament. With a

personal best of four at 39, I would say the kid’s well on

his way.

After slicing and riding high above the waters of

Bennett’s, it was time to let loose on the river. We packed

the coolers and munchies, loaded up the boats and put the pedal to

the metal in pursuit of the Tchefuncta River, about 80 miles

southeast of Zachary in Covington. We arrived a few hours before

sundown and the river was dead calm, with not a single boat out.

Jacques grew up on the river and recalled countless outings with

his family under similar conditions. Armed with a variety of

river-riding toys, we took to the water.

Sully started the river assault with his favorite free-ride

stick, the HO Burner. Carving turn after turn for what seemed like

miles of undisturbed water, he ended his run with a smooth-looking

tick tock.

What’s a river session without a tube ride? Ask Eric

Hoelscher, a Louisiana wild man and smooth talker who got three of

his lady friends to join us for the afternoon. After slinging him

around on the tube with one of the girls for about 15 minutes, we

could see that their friendship had blossomed. It was a bit of a

bumpy ride and Eric was wearing a permanent smile.

What a killer way to spend an afternoon. Good friends, good

times and the serenity of being on the water at sunset were

intoxicating. Before it was too dark, Will busted out his trick ski

for the day’s final ride and flipped his way back to the

dock.

Because of our extended river session, we were late getting to

downtown New Orleans, but the time on the river was well-spent.

Looking for a quick meal on the go, we found a New Orleans meat

street vendor was the perfect fix. After fueling up with a few

gut-damaging sausage gumbo specials, we headed to Razoo’s, a

well-known live music/dance club. The girls were quick to find

center stage on the dance floor, and it looked like our group was

in for a long night. The craziness continued to Pat

O’Brien’s (you gotta try the Hurricane), The

Cat’s Meow (karaoke, anyone?) and numerous other hot spots in

the French Quarter. By 3 a.m. I felt as if I’d had more than

a taste of the New Orleans nightlife -- try a gulp! From the beads,

body shots, drag queens, flashers and mimes, to the peculiar people

you run into on Bourbon Street -- I witnessed it all and was

exhausted. Sleep deprivation was setting in and I was becoming

delirious. My three-day tour of “The Big Easy” was

coming to an end.

I had been bummed when Sully left Orlando for Louisiana, but

everything happens for a reason. Now, I can’t think of a

better place to visit to catch up with an old friend for a ski

session and some night-life fraternizing. With epic skiing

conditions at Bennett’s Ski School and a party scene in New

Orleans that rivals that of any city, I think our friendship is

worth continuing.

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