A ski course is 850 feet long and will take less than 30 seconds to ski through. While it’s short, it can also be humbling. Even the most seasoned open water skiers will struggle at their first several attempts on the course. But practice and patience will help ensure success.
There are a couple key things to consider when first attempting to ski the course. First is to maintain a stable balanced stance on the ski with knees bent slightly, and to ski in a rhythmic manner with a taut ski rope. It helps to practice at a slow boat speed. Having the boat go 26 mph or slower will allow you to feel comfortable and in control. A smooth turn will help keep the rope taut. Most skiers will ski with a 60 foot rope as longer ropes may be more difficult to manage.
The second key is to practice crossing the wake in a rhythmic fashion. In the beginning it is not important to ski around every buoy. To get comfortable you can make your turns inside the buoys. This is known as shadowing the buoys and will allow you some flexibility to turn when you are ready while still maintaining a rhythmic cadence from one buoy to the next.
Once you are comfortable traversing back and forth you can begin pushing yourself to get from side to side more quickly. Doing so is one of the most important aspects in successfully tackling the ski course. After rounding a buoy, the goal is to get the ski pointing to the other side of the lake, perpendicular to the wake and the direction of the boat. This is known as creating ‘angle’ and will help accelerate the ski across the wake quickly. Ideally you will get to the other side ahead of the next buoy, giving you ample time to set up for your turn. You’ll want to decelerate and turn in a manner which allows you to finish your turn at the buoy. If you are just barely starting your turn when you arrive at the buoy then you may find yourself too far down course and won’t have enough time to get to the next buoy.
With practice and determination you will be skiing around all six buoys consistently. That is the time to begin challenge yourself again by having the boat driver increase the speed of the boat. Small increases in speed (1 or 2 mph) are sufficient. The faster speed will challenge you to be more aggressive and precise in your skiing. Over time you can work up to a speed of 34 or 36 mph (the speed the pros use). At that point, to make it more challenging, the rope can be shortened. Tournament skiers have pre-determined rope lengths to ski at and tournament ski ropes (available at ski pro shops or online) will have those line lengths pre-set for you.