After sitting out most of the 2008 season with a chronic ankle injury, pro slalom skier Chris Rossi rebounded strong this year by placing in the top three at six pro events. His worst finish was fourth. Better yet, he won his first pro title in August at the Princes Pro Am in England and then backed it up a few weeks later with another victory in Abbotsford, Canada, taking top honors at the Malibu Pro. We talked with Rossi about his recent accomplishments and about what he’ll be doing this offseason to make 2010 even more rewarding.
— Megan Anderson
You won your first-ever pro victory this season. What were the keys to your breakthrough this year?
I think one was setting goals coming into this season, because I knew I would be healthy from my year off. I think it makes a big difference when you set goals at the beginning of the year. It keeps you motivated on days when it’s windy or rainy and you don’t really want to ski. The other thing was making sure I was physically strong enough to run the buoys I wanted to run. In order to keep skiing, I needed to be stronger than I have been in previous years, so I spent the winter, spring and all season making sure I was up to par. And the last part, which is probably the biggest part, was when I wasn’t able to ski last year. I missed it a lot and I missed how much fun it is, and sometimes you take that for granted.
Describe the emotion of your first pro victory.
When I won, the first thing that ran through my mind was “Did that really just happen? Yep, it did. Oh my gosh, I just won that.” So I skied to shore and threw the double fists in the air and it felt pure. It was me being happy about what I was doing and that kind of raw emotion, for me, doesn’t come that often. To be able to ski into shore and see my wife and know she was there for my first big win was really big. She’s a huge part of my support team.
How frustrating was it to finish near the top of the pack for so long without a victory?
People ask me that a lot and, from an outsider’s point of view, it would seem as though you could be really aggravated. My goal in water skiing is to just keep getting better and better. It just seems like every time I go out and throw out a huge score, one of these other guys out there manages to get an even bigger score. I knew it was something I was capable of doing, and I guess some place in my mind tells me that up until this year I wasn’t ready to win and that I needed to have a season like last year to reflect and understand that this is what I want to do.
You backed up your first pro victory with another win a month later at the Malibu Pro. What were your keys to staying strong through the tough head-to-head battles?
I think the two things I go back to are preparation before the event and making sure I’m putting the time into my training on and off the water. I always ask myself if there’s someone out there doing more than me. Just making sure when I get through the weekend I have no excuses on the table, that there’s nothing more I could have done. Being prepared lets me enjoy the event. Head-to-heads are not easy. They are a lot of work; it’s a lot of skiing. It’s basically three or four sets in a day to win a tournament and, for me, just having fun while doing it distracted me from the fatigue and the stress.
Tell me about your offseason training in Alta, Utah. How long have you been going there, and how do you spend those months?
I grew up in Vermont, so Alta has always been a place my family has gone. Six or seven years ago, I started going for extended periods of time. I think the first year I went, I saved up enough money to stay for six weeks. I drove my car out there and spent as little money as I could so I could spend as many days out on the hill as possible. Then I came back the next year and got two months out of it and ended up meeting my wife, so it’s been something I enjoy and it gets me away from water skiing. When I come back in the spring, I’m fired up to be back on the water.
What is your training schedule like during the season? How often do you ski?
I ski as much as my body will allow. I probably average two sets a day, five days a week — maybe six. There might be a day when I’ll ski three sets, but there also might be a day when I’ll ski one set. Also, I would say on a good week I average four days of mountain biking. Those are anywhere from an hour to two-hour sessions. Plus, I also have a physical trainer I work with, and I try to get to him two or three times a week.
How do you balance training and coaching?
That’s actually been really, really tough for me. Coaching is one of my favorite things to do. I’ve always felt it was my calling. I’ve been doing less and less coaching, and I’ve been doing more and more of my own personal skiing, though. That balance is something that is very hard to find. Luckily, with my sponsors and my contests, I’ve been able to make it work without needing to coach as much.
What is your take on the current state of the sport? What do we have to do to improve it?
For pro skiing, we need to give the sponsors more of a return on their investments. The athletes and the event organizers need to work together to bring more exposure to the people who put money into it. I’m working with Radar skis and guys like Matt Rini and Chris Sullivan to try to create products that are easier to progress on so that a first-timer not only gets up right away but also feels progression quickly and leads them to have as much fun as possible.
What is your favorite place to ski?
I have two places that are close to my heart. One would be skiing the courses of Vermont, like Lake Groton, where I had my first skiing experiences. The other is my home lake in Oviedo, Florida. It’s small and natural, but the course is set up great. I just love being able to walk down from the back of my house and jump in my boat and go for a rip.
Who influenced your skiing the most?
I would say the biggest inspiration to my skiing has been my family. My dad, mom and my brother have always been there for me as emotional supporters in my quest to be a pro skier. As far as technique or getting me to step out of the box, Jamie Beauchesne has been one of my best friends for a long time, and he’s always challenged me to look at things in a different way. He’s always one of the guys on the leading cusp, and I’m fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with him. Right now, the biggest thing for me is my wife. It sounds weird, but she knows what I need to perform the best I can. She complements me very well. She keeps me in line, and she’s my immediate support crew and she travels to every event with me. She just knows what to say and when to say it. What I tell people is that when I win, it’s like we win. It’s pretty cool, and a lot of people don’t have that.
What’s the most important thing you learned this season?
Just to enjoy every minute of skiing, whether it’s training, traveling or getting to spend time with your ski buddies at tournaments. The bottom line is that we all started skiing to have fun and we need to make sure we don’t lose that.
Rossi is sponsored by Tige Boats, Radar Skis, and Performance Ski & Surf.