I’ve been to quite a few tournaments over the past few years, and even though most of them are local I think there are few things I can share with you to help your first tournament experience be more enjoyable.
1 - Take a practice set at the site the night before.
Many tournaments offer practice the night before a tournament to allow skiers to become familiar with the site and to stretch their legs if they have been traveling for a long distance. Take advantage of this opportunity, especially if you haven’t skied at a lot of different lakes. And by a lot, I mean like 10 - 15.
I know we are all familiar with the scene in the movie “Hoosiers” where the Gene Hackman takes out a measuring tape and measures the floor of the court in the giant arena to demonstrate to his kids that they are playing the same game. While the same can be true with slalom skiing, even the team in “Hoosiers” took warm-up and you should do the same.
Yes, all the buoys are in the same spot; however, the starting dock, set-up, sight lines, drop area, etc. are going to look and feel different. You also be surprised by how different the water can feel at some lakes compared to others. In Ohio, Shortline Shores is considered a “fast” lake, while Gorski’s Lake is “slow”. By taking a practice set, you prevent these things from being a distraction when it matters most.
2 - Remember your handle before you leave.
Earlier this year I had a Thursday tournament at Lake Lambert. I decided to forgo my “turn and burn” so that I could ski a full 3rd Round. I was one of only a couple skiers who decided to do so and the 3rd Round went really quick with many of the earlier skiers having already left before I even dried off. In my haste to pack up and leave myself, I left my handle by the starting dock.
No big deal, most skiers do this at least once. Besides, I had a spare handle of the same size I could use and Rich could deliver my handle at the next Thursday tournament we skied in together.
Fast forward 2 Saturday’s and I’m skiing at Buckeye Buoy Tour 3 in Hamilton, Ohio at Lake Lottawatta with my spare handle. Turns out, I’m one of 15 skiers to make the finals so I’m skiing at the very end of the day again.
Yep, you guessed it. In my haste to pack up after a long day at the lake, I forgot to make one last stop down to the starting dock and I drove off without my handle. I didn’t realize it until I went to ski again the following Tuesday with zero handles to my possession. And I’m the one always telling my kids to put things away (sigh).
Thankfully, I had both my handles returned to me the following week at the Thursday Bootsarosa in Canal Fulton and Buckeye Buoy Tour 4 in St. Mary’s, Ohio.
3 - Plan on staying the whole day.
Tournaments are typically not quick events. In Ohio, they usually have Trick and Jump on Sunday and do Slalom only on Saturday.
If you are at a local tournament with less than 20 skiers (3 rounds), you can probably get home by dinner - but this is rare. This is what our Thursday tournaments look like.
If you are at a local tournament with 40 - 60 skiers (3 rounds), even with an 7 or 8 a.m. start you’re going to be there the entire day. This is a typical Bellalago tournament.
If you are at a tournament more than 2.5 hours away with 40 - 60 skiers, plan on staying the night. This is a typical Buckeye Buoy Tour tournament.
Here are some essential items we include in our packing:
You will want to park as close as you can to the center of the lake and set-up "camp". Most likley it isn't going to be crowded, os you can pick your spot, make sure to give yourself the best viewing possible.
Some lakes I don’t set up anything at all (Bootsarosa), other lakes I want to get there early to pick my favorite spot (Shortline Shores), while still others I can just show up the day of the tournament without any concern (Bellalago). Eventually, when you go back to the same lake, you will know when and where to set up.
Remember, the more comfortable you can make things for your spouse and kids, the less stressful the day will go and the more fun you will have. This might mean packing up the family tow vehicle like you were headed to the beach for the day, and in a sense, you are - just an inland one! Eventually, you will learn what is essential and what is not. My wife and I have things down to a science.
4 - Keep the MPH’s high on your fastball.
Sometimes a major league pitcher can gain control of the pitches by actually not trying to throw it too hard. So instead of throwing a 98mph fastball where the pitcher has no idea where it will end up, the pitcher will throw a slower fastball (94mph) with pinpoint accuracy. Can this work in slalom? Maybe in certain instances but not when it comes to your mental state.
There is a tendency when skiers are breaking into tournaments to play it safe when you are on the water, especially with your opening pass. The idea being that if I just ski a little less aggressively then I will be less likely to make a mistake and I can get myself warmed up for the harder passes.
If you start skiing less aggressively, you will get sloppy in your form and make fatal mistakes that will cause you to miss a pass that you fully expect to run, even your opener.
Now everyone is eventually going to miss an opener - it just happens, but don’t let the reason be that you weren’t aggressive enough. Sometimes the ski will take a funny hop, there’s a roller, a woman in a bikini close to shore...whatever.
This is one reason why Eric has done so well - and maybe I haven’t - he skis a tournament pass with the same ferociousness that he does a practice pass. This is also why your opening pass should be super easy for you. You should be able to make every mistake in the book and still run the pass. We can all be a bit jelly-legged because of nerves, but we still have to try to be aggressive in our approach in order to succeed.
5 - Learn the starting dock routine.
This is where a lot of new tournament skiers go wrong. It’s possible to get there too early, too late, too rested, too tired, too amped up, too relaxed, too hungry, too full, too loose, too tight...you get the idea.
The only way to figure this out is to ski more tournaments and figure out what works for you. Here’s a few keys for me...