Waterski Travel Part 1: General Overview, Family and Logistics


This is part 1 of a multi-part series on waterskiing while traveling. I figure that we do it enough that I may know a thing or two that could help you ski more in the offseason with as little hassle as possible.

My wife and I have waterskied in a lot of places. We live in Chicago, so our waterski season is short. If we’re lucky we can ski without a wetsuit from June-September– that leaves a LONG period of (water) ski inactivity every year. In general I’ve found that if you can get to warmer weather at least once or twice during that 6-month winter period, you’ll start the next season in better shape than having not skied all winter. Any more frequently and you’re even better off, but I’m trying to be realistic here.

We’ve combined skiing and travel before we had kids, but for the past 12 years we’ve traveled with 1 and now 2 kids while successfully taking ski rides. As you can imagine, travel before kids was a lot easier. Much of what we will go over in this article series will help you whether or not you have kids, but some of it will be critical for the vacations that include the whole family.

Taking a ton of waterski equipment on a plane and then trying to combine family vacation logistics in with some ski rides may seem daunting, but I’m here to tell you all the tips and tricks we have learned. This will be a multi-part series, with Part 1 just talking about overarching concepts, reasoning, and motivations for waterski travel. Let’s get into it.

When we encounter college-aged kids at ski schools, they are always amazed to see (slightly) older folks still waterskiing, bringing the whole family along. Yes, waterski life DOES go on after college and post-kids, but you have to work at it and really purposefully keep it in your life even when all the rest of the hustle-bustle threatens to put it on the back burner for a while.

If your kids don’t ski, they will still have fun if you’re skiing.

Our kids don’t even ski (yet, –and that’s totally OK– more time for Mom and Dad), but they get to see their parents do something they love that’s a little different than what most folks do. I think it’s important for kids to see their parents having fun together working at something that’s athletic, difficult, uncommon, outdoorsy, and social. At most places we visit the kids have a total blast there, even if they don’t ski at all. For example, my kids LOVE being at Bennett’s. They just love being there on campus and everything that goes along with it including chow time and beach play. Just last week we stopped at McGinnis and the kids had a ball finding coconuts around the property. At Forest Lake in Michigan all they wanted to do was climb the big sand piles. At Seth’s place they play around on the slack line and the swings. Fun for the whole family, as they say.

Skiing gets you off the beaten path.

Working waterskiing into vacations gets you off the beaten path. You and your family will find yourself far away from the big attractions and resorts as you try to navigate to lakes and schools that are usually off in pretty rural areas. In an age where more and more folks seem to be doing basic, run-of-the-mill vacations or avoiding family travel altogether, working skiing in keeps you on your toes and keeps the scenery fresh.

Types of waterski-oriented trips.

There are multiple types of trips you can take that include waterskiing. They are:

  1. The total purpose-built waterski trip where skiing is the focus and other activities may revolve around skiing
  2. The non-ski trip where you do a side trip for a little skiing
  3. The business trip where you do a side trip for a little skiing

Let’s talk about each of those trip types:

  1. The purpose-built waterski trip: For these trips I’d recommend that you stay somewhere that has onsite lodging. The last thing you want on this type of trip is to be schlepping wet ski stuff back and forth day after day and driving a ton after you’ve already reached your destination. That sounds like a nightmare to me, so onsite is key. Additionally you need to decide what kind of culture you want at the place you’ll be staying and skiing. This will be your campus and home base so it needs to be a fit for you. Is it a totally kid-oriented place where you can’t drink booze or party? Or is it an adult-oriented place that might not really want your kids running around? Something in-between? What’s the food situation? On your own? Camp-style 3-squares-a-day chow line? Either? Is it really structured activity each day or is it a roll-your-own style place? Ask around before you go. You might also want to decide if you need luxurious, giant accommodations like a rental house OR if you’re cool with a cozy little cabin. For this type of onsite vacation we have been to Bennett’s Ski School, The Boarding School, Swiss Ski School, and Coble Ski School. There are more out there with onsite accommodations that we have not been to yet and would love to visit.
  2. The non-ski trip where you do a side trip for a little skiing: In this case the place where you’re actually skiing doesn’t necessarily have to tie to where you are staying. Though not on campus in this case, I do prefer that the place you’re skiing to be somewhat close and not be a traffic nightmare to get to, as those factors can be really draining on any vacation. This is particularly key if you are planning on returning to that spot during the vacation more than once. I dislike driving on vacation and I dislike traffic on vacation even more as it’s a total waste of time while the vacation clock is ticking. My wife and I have definitely been in a position in the past where the trip to the ski spot is a traffic mess to get to and the next day we’re just like “fuck it, not doing that again” and skip skiing the next day. That’s no good because you regret not skiing more a month later when you’re back at home freezing. Additionally, since you’re just showing up you will want to be really clear with the owner on what time you’re really expected to be there and what time the set will really start. You don’t want to sit around in the rotation for hours to ski, likewise you don’t want to be late and rushed either. For this type of trip we’ve skied at LaPoint Ski Park, The Boarding School, Forest Lake, Valensin Ski Ranch (when it was Sunset Lakes), McGinnis, McCormicks, Eden Ski Lake, Okeeheelee Park, Seth Stisher’s Waterski Training Center. Note many of these places also have onsite accommodations, we just haven’t stayed there in most cases because we’ve visited the areas for other primary reasons.
  3. The business trip where you do a side trip for a little skiing: Most of #2 applies here as well. I’ll add a couple other considerations specific to business. For one, always extend the trip a little bit if you can to sneak in some skiing. Take a day off and leave a day earlier or later. As long as the flight doesn’t cost the company any more, of course, if so don’t expense the difference obviously. In any case, you’ll be cutting it close with time on the business-trip version so have your ducks in a row. As always, business trumps skiing so if that meeting goes too long or that client dinner goes too late, don’t forget that your job pays for the skiing so that’s the #1 priority. This can be tough to remember when it’s mid-winter and you’re dying for a set.