Every season is skiing season
Think boating season is over just because there is a chill in the air?
Not for Van and Jalane Anderson. The Champaign couple is fanatical about water skiing. They ski year-round — and November will be their 200th consecutive month of water skiing in central or northern Illinois.
At times, they’ve skied through a very thin layer of ice on top of the water, the ice hitting together in the wake of their boat sounding like wind chimes.
Van learned to ski as a boy, taught by his older brother, but he usually skied just once or twice a year. Jalane had never water skied until she married Van. They both enjoyed it enough, though, that they bought their own ski boat in 1987.
For the next 10 years, they skied weeknights and weekends, whenever they could get away to Clinton Lake. They would ski from late spring through fall.
In 1997, they first skied in April, and it was warm enough in December that year for them to still get out on the lake with their nephew, Erik Anderson, then a University of Illinois student.
“As we were sitting on the lake, all done skiing, it was a beautiful, sunshiny day and Erik said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to ski every month of the year?’” Van said. “Jalane said, ‘Hey, we could do that.’”
And they have, skiing every month since April 1997.
Through the years, the Andersons have added more and more equipment that will keep them warm and allow them to ski later in the year.
“If I can keep Jalane warm, I get to go skiing,” Van said.
They have wet suits and dry suits. The latter are bulkier than wet suits, with rubber gaskets around the neck, wrists and ankles to keep water out, and with waterproof zippers.
“I can wear long underwear and two pairs of sweats under my dry suit,” Jalane said. “My body isn’t cold in the dry suit. You know the water is cold around you. You can feel the temperature change, but your body is not cold because it’s not wet.”
They also wear neoprene hoods and goggles. Jalane wears rubber boots and warm gloves; Van’s skis have hard shell boots with foam inserts. He prefers gloves that are a little lighter and don’t restrict his hand movement so much.
He will also ski in a wet suit rather than a dry suit if possible, to be able to move more freely. He said the muscle energy it takes to ski warms him up quickly.
The most extreme weather they’ve skied in is a water temperature of 34 degrees and an air temperature of 29.
“The droplets were frozen on the side of the boat,” Van said.
They normally go out only when the air temperature is above freezing.
The water temperature varies according to wind direction and whether the Clinton nuclear power plant is operating, Van said. The water near the marina freezes first, so in winter they use the Mascoutin ramp. The ramps aren’t plowed, so Van sometimes shovels it free of ice and snow. And in January 2001, he spent two hours chopping ice 4 to 8 inches thick away from the ramp so they could launch the boat.
“We didn’t know that before we got there,” Van said. “I called, and the guy said, ‘There’s just a little ice by the ramp.’”
A stream of fishermen kept driving by to watch the progress as Van worked. They wanted to launch their fishing boats, too.
One year, Clinton Lake and Lake Shelbyville were too frozen to ski on in the middle of the winter, so the Andersons skied at Lake Sara near Effingham. And they’ve skied one of their monthly runs on the Rock River in northern Illinois.
They could always go south to warm weather to get their skiing in during the winter months, but it’s a point of pride that they’ve kept their streak going in Illinois. Anyone can ski in the winter in Florida, Van said.
The toughest year to keep the streak going was the winter of 2001 and ’02. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Clinton Lake was closed because of concerns about security at the nuclear plant there. The Andersons skied in October, November and December at Lake Vermilion in Danville, then in January, February and March at Lake Shelbyville.
The Andersons have a Malibu Sunsetter boat, their third ski boat. When they bought it, they customized it with features that would make it easier for them to ski. For example, they requested a back seat without storage beneath that could be lifted out if they wanted more room in the back of the boat. They have an additional outlet near the front of the boat for the light they must use at dusk. The light is usually mounted near the rear of the boat, which interferes with the tow rope. They also requested pop-up cleats that are flush with the surface of the boat until they are needed, to keep them out of the way of the tow rope.
They ordered additional heat vents. There are two on the floor beneath the steering wheel, for the driver. Two more have hoses attached to them, so cold skiers can warm up their hands or bodies. They also have a hot water shower hose, so they can fill their wet suits and boots with hot water just prior to getting into the lake.
In addition to pairs of water skis and slalom skis, the couple has trick skis, wake boards, knee boards and tubes. Van also barefoot skis. They have numerous training aids and have taught 50 to 60 people — ranging in age from 4 to 60 — how to ski.
They built their house in west Champaign for the garage, which has enough space to leave their ski boat hooked up to their truck all the time. They keep the garage heated enough that they don’t have to winterize the boat.
Behind and beside the boat are a closet and racks hanging with wet suits and life jackets. They have 81 life jackets in all sizes because they often have many family members and friends on the water with them. Above the boat at the back of the garage are racks that hold the skis, ropes and other equipment. The Andersons can stand in their boat in the garage and load it, then drive out and be on their way to the lake.
Their nephew, Erik, still calls or texts them each month from his home in the Chicago suburbs to see if they’ve skied yet.
“We certainly didn’t know when we started this we’d still be doing this 17 years later,” Jalane said.
And they are always checking the weather, on the lookout for the next midwinter, 40-degree day when they will load up the boat, head to the lake and enjoy the water when most boaters are waiting for spring.
Photos: Top: Van and Jalane Anderson water ski year round, and their boat is decked out with plenty of gear for all kinds of weather. Photo by Heather Coit/The News-Gazette. Middle: Jalane Anderson skis Clinton Lake in her dry suit during the winter. Photo provided by the Andersons. Bottom: Van and Jalane (right, in hood) Anderson, on their boat on Clinton Lake with friend Nancy Mansfield (left), who often skis with them in the winter. They are all wearing their dry suits. Photo provided by the Andersons.