Little Crow Ski Team members honing skills, hoping for a shortened season

The Little Crow Ski Team has canceled their shows for June but could potentially put on shows later this summer if COVID restrictions are lifted. Until then, team members are continuing to hone their skills in the summer of COVID.

Ashley Schaefer, 14, puts on her water ski to practice her skiing skills June 4 at Neer Park in New London. Schaefer is a member of the Little Crow Ski Team, which canceled their shows for June but could potentially put on shows later this summer if COVID restrictions are lifted. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

NEW LONDON – On a typical summer weeknight, 14-year-old Ashley Schaefer would be on the third level of a four-tiered pyramid of swimsuit-clad skiers zipping around the Middle Fork of the Crow River practicing for a weekend show that brings thousands of spectators to Neer Park in New London.

But tonight, Schaefer is the only skier being pulled behind the powerful Little Crow Ski Team’s boat.

After her 30-minute practice is done, Schaefer leaves the dock, the gear is sanitized and Steven Ammerman hits the water with a splash to practice a couple of flips, helicopters and gainers over the yellow and red jump in the middle of the river. When he’s done another skier takes a turn.

Because COVID-19 requirements include six-foot social distancing, the current practice routine for the nearly 50 skiers on the Little Crow Ski Team includes one skier, one rope and one boat.

That – obviously – makes it impossible to practice setting up a pyramid with 40 skiers.


And – at this point – there may be no audience and no weekend shows this summer.

Team President Stuart Giere said all the shows for June are canceled but they’re playing it month-by-month regarding potential shows for later this summer.

He said the six-foot social distancing requirement would have to be lifted for shows to take place.

Because practices are limited, any potential show may not be the full production of music, dance, high pyramids, high jumps and other thrills on the water that audiences have come to expect from the award-winning team.

Giere said even if restrictions are lifted by the state and the national ski team’s governing body, it could be financially challenging to put together a show this year. Besides the $5 admission tickets, the team relies heavily on sponsorships from local businesses. Those sponsorships haven’t been sought yet this year, he said.

Big show

The Little Crow Ski Team usually puts on 13 home shows at Neer Park, which features bleacher seating, restrooms and concession stands for the audience. Last year the two shows performed over the Fourth of July drew 6,000 people.


“The bleachers are full, the grass is full. People are sitting wherever they can,” said Giere.

They also take the show on the road each year to festivals in Willmar and Litchfield and typically compete in a regional and national show.

The regional competition has already been canceled for 2020 but a national show may still be held, likely with just individual acts.

Giere said it takes about 100 people to put on a typical Little Crow Ski Team show.

About half are skiers.

The others make up the crew, safety boats, dock coordinators, show coordinators, concessions, admissions, sound crew and people who record and photograph the show.

“It’s a pretty big production here,” he said.

Honing skills

Camron Hedman grew up with the ski team, which his grandparents helped create in 1979. This year the Spicer native is one of the show coordinators and was slated to perform in a couple acts.


The theme for the 2020 show was “Little Crow CrossFit” and was set to feature many returning members, he said.

“Every year we just keep getting better and better because all those people that have been around, their experience gets to be more and more every year,” said Hedman, who worries the limited practices and lack of scheduled shows could deter skiers from participating.

He’s at the dock watching Schaefer, who is starting her fourth year skiing with the team.

Schaefer, who is from New Ulm, said she enjoys skiing on the team and being the one who usually “holds up the topper” on the pyramid.

“The first couple times it’s a little nerve wracking to be that high up on the water, but after a while it gets a little less scary,” she said. “It’s really fun to meet new people who come on the team every year. You create a bond with all of them.”

Despite the challenges of COVID, Schaefer is happy to be skiing.

“It’s been really different not having everyone out on the dock with you and not being able to climb pyramids and everything,” she said. “But I think we’re going to make it work with what we can do.”

Typically the team is permitted to practice 21 nights every month in the summer. That’s been cut to just nine practices in June with members scheduled for individual time slots.


Giere said it was important for the team to get out on the water to help skiers maintain their skills and morale, and to show support for all the businesses and entities affected by COVID this year.

“We’re not gone. We’re still here. We’re just having to adapt, just like everyone else is,” he said.

Besides the one-skier-at-a-time practice, the boat driver and spotter in the boat live in the same house, which meets the COVID plan, said Giere.

If there are no shows this year, Hedman said they’ll save the theme for next year and have an extra year to add more details and work out the “wrinkles” in the show.

“We’re waiting for this thing to end and get back to normal,” said Giere. “We’re setting our sites on May of 2021 right now to get it back to normal.”

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
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