Follow our Fantasy campers as they discover innovative techniques straight from the pros. In between workouts, massages, great meals and parties, eight skiers from Italy, Switzerland, Greece and the United States make the most of their time with Wade Cox, Thomas Moore and Karina Nowlan. Couldn’t be there this year? Here are the technique-changing lessons the campers took away after a week at the world-class training facility of Swiss Ski School in Clermont, Florida. — Todd Ristorcelli
1. Perfect Your Offside Turn
Most skiers can identify with a troublesome offside turn. The 2007 U.S. Open runner-up Thomas Moore says that keeping your shoulders level and your arms straight through the edge change makes it easier for the ski to travel out from underneath you into an arc instead of shooting out in front of you. “I had a bad habit of pulling my arms in off the second wake and dropping my inside shoulder,” says camper Kevin Diserens. Movements like this put the skier on a narrow path and limit outbound trajectory, sacrificing width. So, instead of tensing up into your toeside turn, relax your arms and let the ski advance outbound off the second wake.
2. Adjust Your Alignment
A balanced stance on the ski is priority number one. Look at any of the top skiers and you’ll notice that their knees, hips and shoulders are all in line. Camper Becky Kuhl was squatting on the ski with her lower body and was tense with her arms, which made her shoulder heavy, causing her to get bounced over the wakes. Wade Cox recommended a pullout drill, which teaches the skier to create maximum speed while being light on the rope. “I did the drill for years myself,” says Cox. “You basically practice a gate pullout on each side of the boat and focus on your alignment. As soon as you come up on the boat, you simply coast back to the wake and repeat.”
3. Grip It Right
If you don’t grip the handle the conventional way, you may want to switch it up. “You could instantly put yourself in a more balanced position on the ski,” says Cox. That’s what George Spiliopoulos quickly learned on his first set with Coxy. It’s a simple rule: With a baseball-bat grip, left-foot-forward skiers should have their right hand on top, and vice versa for right-foot-forward skiers. “When I made the change,” says Spiliopoulos, “it took a few passes to get comfortable, but soon after I had much more symmetry.” Cox tells skiers making the grip change to hook in from the bottom of the handle on their offside turn.
4. Focus and Repeat the Positive
Watch men’s jump world-record holder Freddy Krueger prep for a set and you’ll quickly see why he dominates the ramp. Whether it’s a jump exhibition for a group of lucky skiers at a fantasy camp, a training session at his home lake in Winter Garden, Florida, or the final round of a major event, Krueger’s routine is the same. “If you want to perform your best, it’s important to have structure to your training,” says the two-time world champion. He recommends monitoring your training sets to find the positive commonalities, both mental and technique-oriented, that can be repeated in future sets. He stresses that quality time on the water overrides quantity every time. Camper Thomas Gianutt was practically speechless as he watched Krueger showcase his skills. “The man soars like a bird,” he says.
5. Ride the Slalom Swing
Do a search for “The Champion Maker” on waterskimag.com and you’ll discover why campers were elated to spend an hour off the water in a Q&A session with world-class coach Matt Rini. Rini fielded questions from fin adjustments and one-handed gates to outbound acceleration and edge changes. “The guy knows slalom,” says Troy Kuhl. He learned that as the line gets shorter in the 32- to 35-off range, it’s not so much that skiers can’t get outside the buoy; the biggest thing is understanding that, like a pendulum, you want to be quickest from the bottom up to the apex in order to ski most efficiently. “The more you can get your momentum to cast you out, the less work you have to do,” says Rini. “The more level your shoulders are during the edge change, the more swing you get.”
6. Learn from Watching
Sometimes all it takes is a watchful eye to improve on the water. After witnessing Thomas Moore ski on yet another glass-calm session at Swiss Ski School, Talbot easily detected the differences between his own turns and the methodical approach of Moore’s. “It’s unbelievable how smooth he is,” says Talbot. “T-Mo was doing all of the good things on the water that he was instructing me to try during the week. The way he leads the turn with his hips, and stays square, while maintaining his speed – that’s how I want to ski!” T-Mo’s take on executing the perfect turn: “The more speed you have, the tighter and lighter your turn will be.”
7. The Fast Track to the Course
The fantasy week — with team MasterCraft pros imparting their scholarly slalom knowledge to skiers representing five different countries — was full of success stories and personal bests. Slalom course rookie Silja Gianutt not only nailed her newly learned one-handed gate and skied with a more level shoulder position, but also increased her boat speed by 2 miles per hour. “Now I’m faster and much earlier onto 1 ball,” says Gianutt. “I was afraid of speed before, but now I like it.” Cox says the majority of skiers that he coaches at 15 off, 30-32 mph are late on the gate. “Silja’s two-handed gate was slow and she was riding flat.” For many skiers, the one-handed gate is responsible for rapid progression in the course and often leads to elated fist pumps exiting the gates.
8. Your First Movement
Your approach into 1 ball has everything to do with your very first movement to pull out for the gates. “The reason why I do the one-handed gate is to get the intensity up pre-course,” says Karina Nowlan. “I begin my first movement on the balls of my feet and let my hips fall to the left, keeping my chest still and relaxing my arms.” This technique is no different for skiers who are left or right foot forward or use a traditional two-handed gate. “It’s important not to stay on edge too long,” explains Nowlan. “It should be short, intense and sweet.”
Moore has a similar approach to his gate. “I think about turning away from the wake and being dynamic rather than tipping over into a static pullout. This allows the ski to get maximum angle away from the wake and creates an earlier apex and lighter turn-in.”
9. Let Your Hips Lead the Way
You’re not going to overpower a 3,000-pound boat, so don’t fight its pull with your shoulders. “Pierfrancesco was blocking with his left shoulder on the pullout for his gate as well as his approach into his toeside [offside] turn,” says T-Mo. “This caused him to get stuck on edge, resulting in down-course direction and inhibiting the ski from being released into the turn.” Once Pantanella made the proper adjustments by letting his hips move over the ski edge more smoothly while remaining square and balanced with his shoulders, he was able to carry the ski out wider on the boat, to apex sooner and have more time to turn. “As a left-foot-forward skier, I want my gate pullout to feel just like the backside of my 1, 3, 5 turn,” says T-Mo.
10. Pro Slalom Clinic
The highlight of the week for many of the students was witnessing local pros compete in a tournament during the final day of the camp. Up for grabs: $500 and bragging rights. Skiers like Will Asher, Whitney McClintock, Chris Rossi, Billy Susi, Aaron Larkin and Chris Parrish joined Team MasterCraft pros to host a full-on slalom clinic as campers consumed the dock mid-course to catch the action. The guys battled into ultra-short line and Asher backed up his recent Masters victory with insane turns like the one pictured (left) at 2 ball at 41 off. “Willy’s technique is flawless,” says Kuhl. “To witness his run of 3 at 41 in person was really special. It was fun to see everyone ski so well.”
11. Move Early
Many skiers have a tendency to pull too long and end up way down course. To avoid this delayed reaction with her students at this year’s Fantasy Camp, women’s slalom co-world record holder Karina Nowlan would simply tap on the rope to remind campers to begin their movement outbound and start their turn on the buoy. “The key to the course is establishing good rhythm early and not waiting on the buoy,” says Nowlan. “I would never have thought of turning that early,” says Thomas Gianutt.
“The buoy is the finish of the turn,” says Nowlan, “and you need to get your ski going out and carving a lot sooner, instead of skiing at the buoy and then trying to turn it.”
12. One Long, Continuous Turn
A simple way of thinking about your slalom turns is dividing the course into two sides. From the centerline of the boat to the right of the wake (buoys 1, 3, 5) is one side, and to the left of the wake (buoys 2, 4, 6) is the second. Now imagine from the centerline (when you’re directly behind the boat) to the buoy and back to the centerline as one long, continuous turn. Here, Nowlan is at the apex of her turn, using her momentum to cast the ski out and carve all the way back to the centerline without being heavy on the rope. “Before the boat catches you, start turning in and meet the boat at the wake to give you a nice swing-out,” Nowlan says.