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
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
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
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
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
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
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