The sun is still yawning when Chris Sullivan pulls up to Madison Lake in Greeley, Colorado, his truck stocked with skis and his boat in tow. It's 8 in the morning and nature's forces are calm, leaving the lake in a lazy state, too relaxed for even a ripple. This will be Sullivan's office for the day. In a matter of minutes, a slalom skier will rip apart the glass-smooth surface and the lake will spring to life. Skier after skier will follow, each there to absorb the teachings of one of the sport's best and glow in the privilege of hanging with a superstar. Although he's doing the watching, no one will be more closely examined than Sullivan on this day: the way he talks, the way he sits in the boat, the way he puts on his vest and then his ski, even what he eats for lunch and the way he eats it.
It's “bring the pro to your lake” day and the students are pumped, in some cases almost too excited to ski. Sullivan is part of the growing tribe of traveling water-ski clinicians. It's the ultimate in convenience and skier satisfaction because the students are going to ski their hearts out and then watch their pro break the lake record with his ski-like-this demonstration. There's a good chance they'll see 391/2 run on their lake for the first time.
If you don't have time to go to ski school, this is for you. These guys bring ski school to your shoreline. They come to your site, coach you in the comfort of your own surroundings and leave you with a definite plan to improve your skiing. Some, like Sullivan and Terry Winter, even bring their living quarters. They're perfectly content driving from site to site and sleeping in their camper-top trucks.
Jason Paredes is also a member of the traveling clinic fraternity, though he doesn't do as much driving as Sullivan and Winter. And for those who like a more intimate feel for the water, Lane Bowers takes his barefoot show on the road.
All are part of the growing trend of raising home-schooled skiers. They're for hire by the day – or for two or three days at a time.
“It's minus the travel time and minus the expense,” Wendy Goad, who attended Sullivan's clinic in Colorado last summer, says. “If you're pressed for time and you want to improve your skills, you can learn a lot in one day if you have a good coach, such as Chris. He's excellent.”
A byproduct is the chance to get to know your pro in a relaxed atmosphere, where he's undeterred by the daily business of running his business. It's a field trip for him and a bonding opportunity for you.
“When I go to do a clinic, I'll try to set up a whole route of four or five,” Winter says. “You get to drive around and see different places. I drive with my boat and my camper so I get to see a lot of the country, rather than flying, where you just go from airport to airport. It's fun. I go with my wife, Windy. We make a trip out of it and try to have fun in between.”
He also makes sure his students have fun. “He and Windy were here 21/2 to three days. It was a great time,” Tom Hale of Waxahachie, Texas, says. “We skied during the day and went mountain biking later at night. You spend time casually talking about not just skiing but things like training in general and what makes people better skiers, and approaches to skiing. We spent a lot of time watching video, too. We'd shoot video during the day and come in at night and run it back. “Having him here at the lake is nice because you're not trying to cram it all into one 30-minute set.”
And usually the instructor isn't trying to cram the skier's easily overwhelmed noggin too full. A few specific tips and the skier has something to work on for the summer. That's what Marilyn Larson learned from Winter in Texas.
“One thing he told me was to keep your shoulder open around the ball, keep your free arm back and open,” Larson, a Nationals-level Women IV skier, says. “I was grabbing the handle too quick, which was pulling me slightly out of position.”
Paredes' tips spread like a family tree for Ron Warman, his son Reis, 9, and daughter Miranda, 12, at their lake in Vancouver, Washington.
“With Miranda, it was how aggressive she was skiing. She was skiing too conservatively, too cautiously, and some of that comes from the spills she's taken,” Ron says. His Warman Lake will host the 2005 Western Regionals. “With Reis, it was opening up to the boat. When he'd get behind the boat, he would tend to close off. It was more just looking at the back of the boat. “With me, what he's worked on is being more even on both sides. On my offside turn, I almost overturn it and consequently, I get so early on my 1-3 side that when I come into 2-4, I end up letting up early and so then I get narrow. Jason likes a person to be symmetrical and more fluid rather than just scrapping your way through it. He had me not opening up as much on the 1-3 side, so the ski didn't turn so hard.”
The Warmans got their money's worth, for sure.
Sullivan carries his message – which is as simple or as cutting-edge as his skiers can absorb – to the far corners of the country. He tows his MasterCraft behind his GM Vortec truck loaded with HO skis. He did nearly 40 clinics last year, most arranged through local ski shops that carry his sponsors' products.
“I drove 26,000 miles last summer. Me and my dog, Samantha,” he says. “She's the most well-traveled dog in the water-ski industry.”
The road shows aren't limited to the continental United States. Many of the pros go overseas and into Canada, wherever there's a request – with exceptions.
“I've had some pretty exotic requests, some of which I've turned down because they don't seem safe for U.S. citizens traveling,” Bowers says of the barefoot market, which has taken him to Australia, Europe and Canada.
He said he enjoys clinics, even though he has a hard time leaving his wife, home and ski school in Winter Haven, Florida, but he acknowledges they're exhausting. He likes to limit the clinics to six skiers a day, and he conducts them at least three days at a time. They're usually 12-hour days on the water, not to mention the evening hours.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, I stay with the clinic host, so we're hanging out all day and all night, and people are coming over,” Bowers says. “Usually people are absolutely exhausted. They've had as much fun as they could possibly handle.”
Rates for the traveling pros generally range from $750 a day to more than $1,000. By the time you divide that among six or more skiers, your wallet scarcely feels any pain. The clinic host usually decides how to divide the fee and sometimes charges a flat rate per set. Depending on how many skiers are involved, usually you will have three sets in a day. The more skiers, however, the less time on the water.
“Probably an ideal number would be like six or seven skiers,” Winter says. “You get days where they want to make it less expensive so they get 15 people, and it's not quite as good. You don't have nearly the time to interact with people, but it's OK. It just depends on how much the skiers are willing to spend.”
Winter's clinic in Texas was for several skiers looking to get dialed in on D3 slaloms. Like Sullivan with HO, Winter carries an inventory of his sponsor's D3 skis and other equipment to sell from his truck. He also tows his MasterCraft and provides a driver in Windy. Instructors even bring their own food, one less expense for the hosts.
Winter says another benefit of home-schooling is the buddy factor. “If you ski with a buddy every day, that buddy gets to sit in the boat and listen to what is said, and they can help each other once I leave,” he says.
The pro road s
how is growing. The more clinics these guys do, the further the word spreads. They don't have to advertise to keep a full schedule because their phones are already ringing in January.
“There are tons of guys who are doing an awesome, awesome job,” Sullivan says. “They're fun. They'll ski for you. They can all run 391/2 off. The guys who are doing clinics and are good at it, they enjoy doing it. They have a good time and good attitudes. If you're willing to hire one of these guys and spend the money, you're not going to lose. You're going to end up knowing it was a very special deal at the end of the day, for sure.”