Wonderfully nutty Minnesotans go water skiing in sub-zero temps


On New Year's Day, many Americans did very little.

Some nursed hangovers. Others resolved to make positive changes to their lives in 2018. Most relished the tail end of the holiday season, as the next day's return to work approached.

Then there are these admirable freaks: a group of more than a dozen Twin Cities-area water skiing enthusiasts, who made their annual trek to the Minnesota-Wisconsin border to ride the Mississippi River and laugh in the face of freezing-cold weather. 

Chris Winchester

Chris Winchester

The mean temperature in the Red Wing area on New Year's Day was -7; the high was 0. This presented some problems.

"Once we backed the boat in and got it running, the steering cable was frozen solid," says Paul Snell, an unofficial organizer of the event. "So, we had to let the boat run for 15 or 20 minutes to get the engine up to temperature. Then we had to get the bilge pump thawed out."

Such ice-induced mechanical difficulties are just a few of the differences between warm-weather water skiing and its winter alternative. Skiers layer up with much warmer gear -- insulation-padded wet suits, neoprene globes, rubber booties -- to brave the cold. Usually, anyway: Some years, one or two of the bolder women have taken a run while wearing only a bikini. 


"You know it's cold when one of [those women] walks out into the water and the whole crowd just goes, 'Ooooo,'" says Snell, adding that once done, the women are immediately helped into a waiting, warmed-up vehicle. 

This year's negative temperatures discouraged the showing of skin, though Snell says the weather was bearable. "If you're dressed properly, it's nowhere near as bad as you'd think." 

Try telling that to Chris Winchester, who owns Evert's Resort in Hager City, Wisconsin, just across the river from Red Wing. Evert's has one of the only remaining boat ramps still open throughout the winter, making it the go-to place for frigid skiing. 


"I thought maybe they wouldn’t show up this year, with the weather at 10 below," Winchester says. "But they did. And they're not just going out once -- some of them will make two or three more runs."

Winchester, who takes photos to document the activity, admires the skiers, but has yet to join them.

"I've wanted to do it," Winchester says, "but I talked myself out of it. I don’t want to be the guy that ruins everybody’s day by making them look for someone's body."

Snell, 50, and a data center facilities manager based in Shakopee, has been water skiing for about four decades, and has devoted more time to the locally invented sport since joining the Shakopee-Prior Lake Shockwaves team. Snell recalls when the New Year's tradition started, "well over 20 years ago," and says he was instantly attracted to the proposition.

"I thought, 'that sounds like fun,'" Snell recalls. "It didn't take any talking me into it."


Through the years, the size of the New Year's group has remained about the same -- though Snell says the opportunity is wide open to any newcomers.

"I have done everything I can to encourage everyone," Snell says. "I tell people to send the invite out to anybody else you know who’s interested. We've never turned anyone down who wants to try."