Apr. 25—NEW LONDON — It'll likely be a chilly dip in the Middle Fork of the Crow River, but skiers with the Little Crow Ski Team plan to hit the water May 18 for their first practice session in the 2021 season.
"Hopefully it's not going to be blue lips," said Stuart Giere, president of the award-winning ski team that began in 1979.
The entire 2020 season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the show will go on this year, following whatever COVID-19 safety protocols are required at the time for outdoor events, Giere said.
The first show is June 4 at Neer Park in New London.
Shows will be held at the park nearly every Friday evening through the end of August. Special Fourth of July performances and out-of-town tournaments are also on the schedule for the more than 100 members of the volunteer, family-friendly group of skiers, boat drivers, show managers, announcers and parents who work behind the scenes.
There's a lot of work to do before the first show.
That includes skiers practicing their "get-gos" in front of a mirror — which Giere explains are the bows, the curtsies, the "hoorahs" or dance moves performed on the dock. "It's a lot of smiling," he said.
This year's show has a fitness center theme, and costumes and props need to be created for the story line. Somebody has already made a large set of fake barbells.
And then, of course, there are the skiers who will have less than three weeks to practice on the water before showtime.
But Giere said some of that work actually happened last year — during the pandemic.
Training young skiers
Although there were no performances in 2020, many skiers did practice.
In the early part of the season it was primarily one-on-one training with skiers and coaches, but later guidelines allowed small groups to work together.
That time proved especially beneficial for the younger, more inexperienced skiers on the team, Giere said.
Coaches helped them finesse their skills and gave them opportunities to learn new moves, which bolstered their self-confidence, he said. The skiers viewed the experience as an opportunity to grow and improve, said Giere. "And they did."
That investment of time with young skiers will help the team well into the future, he said.
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But the disappointment of not performing before an audience cheering as skiers climb up onto each other's shoulders to create a human pyramid on water, or a line of ballet skiers dancing on the water or barefoot skiers zipping across the river, was real.
Without the crowd or the competition of the tournaments, Giere said some of the seasoned performers stayed home last year, but will be back this year.
Without revenue from ticket and concession sales and advertising sponsors featured in the souvenir program book, Giere worried if the team would financially survive the pandemic. "It costs a lot of money to do what we do," he said. "I think it'd be bad if we went away."
Money from the CARES Act and generous community support helped fill the gap. There's a "lot of love" for the ski team in the community, he said.
Because of COVID, they will not be making or handing out the program books this year, which was a key part of their sponsorship revenue. Giere said they are looking for a new way to respond to that change — possibly with a digital book.
Coils of colorful ropes — some with "rat tails" for skiers at the top of the pyramid, some with wooden handles for the ballet line and some with clips instead of handles for hands-free water skiing — lay on the floor like fanciful swirls of frosting on a cake.
In all, there are about three miles of ropes. Skiers have to learn how to perfectly roll the ropes into bundles so they don't get tangled when a skier hits the water.
"If it snags and ties in a knot, it blows the whole act," Giere said. "There's no time to untie it while the boat's leaving."
The Crow's Nest, the name given to the team's storage and meeting building, also holds at least 300 skis — some are short ones for the "jumpers" who sail over the heads of other skiers, some are swivel skis that have special bindings that allow a skier to spin on the water and some are extra wide for the skiers at the base of a 42-person multi-tier pyramid.
There are five high-powered tow boats with massive motors and two small safety boats that use about 1,500 gallons of fuel each year.
Totes filled with glittery costumes are stacked against a wall next to enclosed trailers that will house all the skis and costumes during the summer show season.
It takes time, bodies and money to maintain, operate and manage all that equipment, said Giere. Even more are needed on the night of the show.
"We always need more volunteers," Giere said, promising that the experience is fun and a great way to meet new people.
Each Friday night ends with a barbecue or potluck for the team as they watch a video of the show they just completed.
"Everybody gets to laugh and giggle at who fell," said Giere. But the show directors are also watching the video and "looking for opportunities to improve," he said.
If you go:
Little Crow Ski Team shows at Neer Park are held most Friday nights from June-August.
Shows start at 7:30 p.m. in June and July and 7 p.m. in August.
Check their website www.littlecrow.com and their social media pages for additional information on special show dates, tickets and COVID requirements.
Neer Park is located off of Southeast Mill Street near Fourth Avenue Southeast.