Who’s afraid of a little icy water, howling wind and plummeting temperatures? Not these pros and top amateurs who, despite calling the North home, still rip with the best.
By its very nature, water skiing is a warm-weather sport, so it’s no surprise that the majority of pros and top amateurs live in warm locales. After all, living down South gives you a longer season, better access to coaching and training partners, and your head is much less likely to feel like it’s been put through a snow-cone machine after an offseason set.
Believe it or not, some of the world’s best skiers have no interest in moving South, and they have proven that you can still live up North and kick butt.
Look no further than the current king of men’s slalom, Nate Smith.
“Personally, I like Indiana and the Midwest,” says Smith, who spends all of 30 days of winter at home in Indiana. “I have considered spending some more time in Florida during winter months, but I would rather ski at home.”
While longtime pro Nick Parsons has spent his fair share of training time in Florida, he’s never seriously considered moving there.
“Florida just doesn’t fit my lifestyle,” says Parsons, who has competed on the pro circuit for more than a decade while calling Bountiful, Utah, his year-round home. “Summers are too hot and muggy for me, and I don’t enjoy being outside when it’s like that. Living down South does allow you to have a much longer skiing season, but I like to do other things than just water ski. Mountains are a big part of my life, and I enjoy just being near them.”
The draw of the mountains, and the offseason activities they provide, also played a big role in Chris Rossi’s recent relocation to Alta, Utah.
“It is very calming to be submerged in nature,” says Rossi. “I love the challenge of climbing mountains and then managing my way down safely.” Rossi says that he moved to Utah in large part because of the state’s world-renowned backcountry skiing.
As someone who cut his teeth skiing on the crisp, clear lakes of Vermont, then spent 20 years living the dream in Florida and is now a Utah mountain man, Rossi knows better than most about the pros and cons of warm versus cold climates. While he acknowledges that the seasons are shorter, he actually credits them for extending his career.
“Living up North and having your seasons forced short is tough, but I’ve learned how to use that to my advantage,” says Rossi. “The longer winters let my body heal from the rigors of a long and physically demanding season, which I believe has extended my career much longer than those who tend to chase the eternal-summer dream.”
Besides the advantages for the body, being a Northern skier can also benefit one of skiing’s most important muscles: the heart. “I fall back in love with the sport every spring after three to five months off,” says Cale Burdick, who, like Smith, is a world-level ripper hailing from Indiana. “It’s really motivating to train at something one absolutely loves to do.”
The ability to split his year between two types of skiing — water and snow — keeps Quinn Haines, an up-and-coming boys 3 competitor from Connecticut, inspired for both sports. “I snow ski up until April; by then, I am really looking forward to getting on the water,” says Haines, the 2015 Boys Jr. U.S. Open overall champion. “I don’t think I would feel the same and might get burned out if it was a never-ending season. And the opposite happens in the fall. In October, I am really looking forward to hitting the slopes.”
With a short season, Northern skiers know that what they lack in quantity must be made up with quality. “We miss out on water time that would help us be better skiers, but that pushes us to work harder during the summer,” says Kendall Krieger, a top performer for the Illinois-based, 2015 National Champion Aquanuts show ski team and member of the 2016 USA Show Ski Team. “Any free time I have, I try to spend on the water.”
But it’s not all roses and rainbows for Northern skiers. There are some real disadvantages to being an athlete who participates in a warm-weather sport and happens to live in cold climates. They just have to be overcome.
“I would say the disadvantage of longer winters is less total times I get to take shots at my hardest pass over the course of the season than my fellow warm-water competitors,” says Rossi. “So I fight this by making every pass of every set an important one. I ski every practice set with the same intensity and focus I do a tournament set.”
As fin-tweakers everywhere can attest, one major difference between skiing in the warm and in the cold is how the water’s temperature affects how the ski feels and reacts. For someone who travels long distances to tournaments — for example, a pro like Parsons — this can wreak havoc on tournament preparation.
“The main disadvantage is when you have tournaments in the fall or spring,” Parsons says. “The water will feel substantially different when the water at home is cold and the water at the tournament is warm.”
But it’s not surprising that the world’s best skier is able to find a way to use even that to his advantage.
“If you can ski well in the cold water, skiing in warm water is easy,” says Smith, who will often break the ice on his lake to ski during Indiana’s winters. “I think that skiing in the winter up North has helped me with my confidence because I don’t always get to ski in great conditions during the winter months. I have to take what I can get.”
And at least for one hardy skier, a shorter season can be helpful on the home front too.
“It’s easier to justify the financial, personal and family sacrifices that are necessary to ski at a high level when it’s only for the summer,” says Burdick, a top-10 finisher in men’s slalom at the 2013 World Championships. “If my wife knows that there is a break to the madness come winter, she is more willing to support it.”