Everyone who has ever thrown up a wall of water with a single ski has dreamed of sweeping around the buoys in a slalom course. But there’s a lot more to competitive slalom skiing than big spray and getting your shoulder close to the water!
To appreciate what you’ll see at a slalom tournament, it helps to understand how competitive slalom works. Skiers choose their own starting speed, from anything as low as 15.5 mph, up to maximum speeds in the mid thirties, depending on their age division. As shown in the accompanying course diagram, the skier must begin by passing through the entrance gates, and must ski through the exit gates after rounding all six turn buoys. If the skier completes a “perfect pass” – 6 buoys plus gates -- then the speed is advanced to the next higher speed increment, for the next pass through the course.
Once the maximum speed is reached and completed successfully, then the rope is shortened on each subsequent pass. The full rope or “long line” is 75 feet long, and the first short-line loop is at 15’ off, then 22’, 28’, 32’, 35’, 38’, 39.5’, 41’, and 43’ off the line. This rope shortening continues until the skier is unable to complete a perfect pass.
One little bobble, a mistake that happens in a fraction of a second, can spell disaster and the end of the skier’s round. One look at the faces at the starting dock will confirm that slalom is the most intense event in a traditional 3-event waterski tournament. But for all its physical challenges, most slalom skiers will agree that mental toughness and concentration is the key to advancing to new personal bests.
Sooner or later you’ll see two people fall in seemingly the same place, yet one will receive a higher score. What seems a judgment call is actually pretty cut and dried. When the ski travelling out breaks the imaginary line of turn buoys, a score of ¼ buoy is achieved. Once the ski travels around the buoy, and comes back inside that line, the skier scores ½ buoy. Then when the skier returns within the line of buoys that designates the boat path, he (or she) is scored the full buoy. The skier must have control of the handle, and be in skiing position at each of these points to receive credit. Failure to ski through the entrance or exit gates ends the skier’s ride at that point. After a full pass is made, the skier is credited for every buoy skied, as well as any slower, easier speeds and rope lengths that he chose to skip. Grab a seat between the 3rd and 4th buoys and enjoy the action!