• Meg D

From Snowshoe to Smartphone... Learn How A Snow Ski Trip Launched a Water Ski Revolution

Updated: May 1, 2020

One winter day in the 1980’s, Bill Leachman and his wife, Jane, packed up their snow gear and headed to Snowshoe Mountain. Bill lived most of his life in Parkersburg West Virginia, and grew up water skiing on the Ohio River in Athens County. Now in his 40s, with his kids both in colleges out of state, Leachman was looking for a new hobby other than water skiing. He never could never have anticipated that after that trip to Snowshoe he would have found another life long passion.

As a water skier, Bill had great balance, and when you live in West Virginia and cannot be on the water all year round, snow skiing is a great way to have fun and stay in shape. When Bill arrived at Snowshoe that day many years ago, he was surprised to see a new addition to the mountain, a NASTAR racing course. NASTAR is the world’s largest recreational ski and snowboard program with over 6 million users worldwide, and allows skiers of any level an opportunity to compete amongst themselves and compare their skiing to professionals. Both Bill and Jane decided that it may be fun to try it out, at least it would be something new! They both skied fairly well, got their picture taken on the mountain, and had a blast competing against others throughout the day. After they left, they were happy, sore, and exhausted, and then they went on with their lives, not thinking much more about their first day as “competitive snow skiers”.

Fast forward a few weeks…

A strange package shows up at the front door of their home in Parkersburg, the return address, NASTAR. Leachman opened the package to find a poster adorned with a Budweiser logo and the title “Top Skiers in West Virginia” along with their names underneath. He couldn’t believe it! As a 40 something brand new snow skier, he and his wife somehow managed to not only rank top 10 in their age group in the state, but to warrant a poster in the mail. Obviously not expecting the news, he called his children to do a little bragging on his new found fame in another skiing discipline.

Bill and Jane Leachman

Bill’s daughter, Jennifer Leachman LaPoint, was on the professional water ski tour at the time as one of the world’s best women's slalom skiers. She was elated for her father’s success, and as an innovator in her sport, she was intrigued by the NASTAR process. Her father was so excited by his news that he wanted to dive head first into a new sport, buy new equipment, join a snow ski club and travel, anything he could to enhance his snow ski fun. All the while, the sport that she loved was on a steep decline. Athletes were choosing to wakeboard instead of ski, crowds were dwindling, sponsors were pulling funding, and grassroots organizations were falling short. With that, many questions started swirling in her head. How can we bridge the gap between recreational and competitive water skiing? How can we give recreational water skiers a way to measure, compare and compete from their home lake and boat? Above all, how can we inject water skiing with the excitement that her dad had after receiving that NASTAR poster in the mail telling him that “he was a great snow skier”?

As an entrepreneur and innovator, she went to work in the 90’s brainstorming ways to allow water skiers of all levels to compete with others, score themselves, and improve from their home lake and boat, no travel or entry fees required. Her first idea was to build a mechanism that could go on any boat and it would measure how far up the side of the boat a skier was getting the rope, giving them an indication of how wide they were skiing. With this piece of equipment skiers would have a way in which they could be scored similar to a slalom ski course without the hassle of floating buoys and environment permits. She called her idea “Virtual Water Skiing”. Though her contraption worked, it became very evident that in a time without amazon or online supply chain technology, it would not be practical to manufacture and distribute devices to every boat style. Though the original device did not come to fruition, the idea would not cease Jennifer’s mind.

In 2017, 20 some years after her father received his first NASTAR ranking and she dreamt up “Virtual Water Skiing”, she realized that there was no need for a boat contraption when everyone gets on the boat and is carrying the same thing… their smartphone. The technology had finally caught up with the idea! With that, she went to work. With her drive, dedication, and passion, plus the support of her family and AWSA, Jennifer has developed an application that slalom skiers can use to video their performance, compete against others, enter virtual tournaments, receive on-demand coaching, and receive a world ranking. Though only in it’s beta stage for slalom water skiing, the expansion of the app will allow any sport to have competition between anyone, anywhere, anytime. In other words, the NASTAR of water sports!

COMPETE, without Jennifer’s knowledge, was truly born one fateful winter day in the 1990’s, when her father went out to snow ski recreationally, and ended up giving her an idea set to change sports as we know it. It is the goal of COMPETE to bring the same level of excitement that Bill Leachman had opening that poster with his name on it to water sports everywhere, because who knows, maybe the best water skier in the world is on a lake in the middle of nowhere, and we just never knew it.

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