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How to Lay Out a Slalom Waterskiing Course

Text and drawings by Bruce Kistler


It happens to most serious water skiers. You get to the point where just going out and kicking up a lot of spray on a single ski gets boring. Seeking a greater challenge, you start thinking of putting in a slalom course and maybe getting into competition. Setting up a course seems simple enough -- just 22 plastic buoys anchored to the bottom. Yet how do you go about anchoring them to the proper dimensions with some degree of accuracy?

Before we discuss bow to set out the buoys, let's consider where the course will go. You may already have in mind the most sheltered spot on your lake, river or reservoir that is free of backwash and out of heavy boat traffic. You must be aware, however. that the course will require considerably more water surface than just that for the course itself. The course is 850 feet (259m) long, but you should have a minimum of 600 feet (180m) of approach space on either end: at the very least, you should be looking at over 2,000 feet (600m) in length. Also, a regulation course is about 75 feet (23m) wide, but additional space. perhaps 100 feet (30m) more to either side, will be needed for safety, for a total minimum width of about 275 feet(85m) . Keep in mind that many states also have a minimum distance from shore within which powerboats can operate only at a no-wake speed. Then be sure that the water is at least five feet (1.5m) deep in the area during the time the course will be in use.

Before getting too deeply involved in the project, determine what permission you may need from government agencies. Some states' natural resource or environmental departments require that a permit be obtained before a slalom course can be anchored in public waters, and you may need the approval of the town or county in which the site is located. Also, on waters under federal control, you may require the approval of the managing agency such as the Army Corps of Engineers.

In some cases, a public hearing may be required on your request for a permit at which you may encounter resistance from those who oppose water skiing. On waters that are open to powerboating and water skiing, however, the addition of a slalom course should pose no real cause for alarm to anyone.

The buoys are safe and designed not to harm boats or skiers when struck accidentally. Also, despite some contention to the contrary, installing a slalom course does not represent the exclusive use of a portion of the water. Fishermen and other boaters have is much right to that space as the skiers, so common courtesy should dictate how and when the course will be used on a public waterway. If permits or other forms of official permission are required, initiate your request well in advance of the skiing season in case delays are encountered.

Once the coast is clear, you are ready to accumulate the materials that you will need. The best buoys are the official AWSA slalom buoys available through AWSA Headquarters. They are made of heavy tether-type plastic with strong molded attachment rings. The official course contains 22 buoys, generally red-orange for the skier turn buoys and the entrance and exit gates and yellow for the boat guide buoys. For a practice course you may wish to use anti-freeze bottles or other sturdy plastic containers. However, do not attempt to use plastic milk jugs, since they are not durable enough. Most skiers use quarter-inch thick polypropylene ski line for the anchor lines. It does not rot, stretch, or shrink. Be aware that knots in ski line can come untied easily so it is advisable to splice rather than tie the line, especially at the anchor.

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