Storm clouds rolled over Vagabond Park as a young boy skied the choppy waters of the Menominee River to start off the Badwater Ski-Ters practice on June 10.
The Badwater Ski-Ters, a competitive water ski team made up of skiers from the local area in Upper Michigan and Wisconsin, have dealt with the ever-changing northern climate since they started 55 years ago. In their competition division, they are the north-most team with the shortest season due to the long winters.
They hold free shows every summer at Vagabond Park in Spread Eagle, Wisconsin, on the Menominee River. This year they were forced to cancel their opening show on June 9 due to a rain storm, and their second attempt at an
opener on June 12 due to storms and cold weather. This pushed their opening show to June 16.
Along with the cold weather comes another barrier: cold water. The ski team began practice in May before the river had much time to warm up, but the skiers can use the water temperature as motivation, said Alison Doolittle, who has been a skier on the team for ten years.
“You just don’t wanna fall,” she said. “So it makes you actually get better.”
Though their schedule says the show will go on even in the rain, when it comes to lightning, high winds or choppy water they are forced to cancel. The safety of the skiers is always the top priority, said Christine Redding, the treasurer, spotter and former skier for the team.
“What they do they make look easy . . . but what they do is also dangerous. There are lots of things that can go wrong,” she said.
Every winter the spotters and a few skiers go through a safety certification course to learn how to properly help a skier who has been injured, or even knocked unconscious during a show. Along with the course, they have systems in place to alert the rest of the team, handle the crowd and get the ambulance to the water quickly if a skier is injured during a show.
Colleen Redding is Christine’s daughter, and has been a skier on the team for eight years. She has seen the safety measures work first hand after injuries.
“Those don’t happen very often, but it seems like when they happen they are bad. When we fall our thing is to smile and wave. If you wave you’re OK, but if you put your hands up and cross your arms that means stop the show . . . Usually someone else notices the injury first,” she said.
Since the shows have been free since the 1950s the skiers also work hard to fund the team. They collect donations and work a concessions stand at the shows, but a large amount of their funding comes from their boat dock and lift service, Christine Redding said. They use a barge at the start and end of summer to help people install or remove their docks or lifts from the water. In return the owners of the dock or lift can choose to make a donation.
“It’s been a game changer for our club, because seven years ago when I first took over as treasurer we started with a negative $9 balance . . . and right now we’re at nine grand,” Christine Redding said. “We are very fortunate. We have a very gregarious community. They are wonderful with their donations.”
There is no age limit or experience required to join the team. They have had people come in with no experience that end up in a show before the end of the season, and they have had alumni return to ski in a show years after they left the team, Christine Redding said.
“A lot of people watch this and they’re intimidated, but learning to ski is not hard. You just need the right direction,” she said.
Though learning the basics is often easy, it doesn’t discredit the difficulty behind the acts the skiers do. They work hard each week to improve and continue learning new stunts, according Christine Redding. The skiers practice four nights a week and have two shows.
The hard work can pay off as some members of the Badwater Ski-Ters have gone on to set world records, gain sponsorships or have paid water skiing jobs, Colleen Redding said.
Those interested in joining the Badwater Ski-Ters are encouraged to attend a show to see what being on the team would entail.