2016 Winter Conference Opening Ceremony

20 Reasons Why Team Midwest Winter Conference Is Amazing!

Team Midwest Winter Conference is an entire weekend in the dead of winter to see your best friends from different schools and talk about skiing! For many, Winter Conference creates some of the strongest memories of their collegiate careers. Tomorrow will be the 20th Winter Conference, and it is bound to be a great one! To commemorate Winter Conference XX and the event’s long term success, we’ll take you down memory lane.

20 Reasons & Memories to Show Why Team Midwest Winter Conference Is Amazing!

1. The story of the first Winter Conference

Jeff Surdej and I somehow convinced four skiers from Michigan State to drive down to Purdue for this idea of talking about water skiing in the dead of winter. We told them and our own team, Purdue, that current World Record holder Cory Pickos was going to give some instruction. Two of the Michigan State skiers and half of the Purdue team were so hung over they didn’t even make it until halfway through the day. After the first couple of our “guest” local speakers got finished, the promise of Cory finally came true. We wheeled in a cart with a TV and a VCR, popped in a VHS tape, and hit play. We prefaced it by saying that we had a vision for this Winter Conference to be bigger and better and we thanked everybody for their patience. To put it in perspective, current World Record hold and speaker this year, Adam Pickos, was five years old.

— Chad Kodiak & Jeff Surdej

2. Deceit becomes reality at the second Winter Conference

The second ever Winter Conference was where things really began to take shape for the future of Winter Conference and for the MCWSA. Cory was able to attend in person, along with Freddy Krueger and Scot Ellis. During this time, the board met for an entire day and restructured the entire MCWSA, giving us the great organization we have today.

— Jeff Surdej

3. The Master Motivator

A few Team Midwest alumni have said that if Chad Kodiak comes out of retirement to MC and do a session on mental strategy, they would buy tickets and come just for that. I guess that means we have our aim for Winter Conference XXV.

I will say, one of the best things I have taken away from Winter Conference that helps not only in skiing, but also in life, would be the lessons from Chad Kodiak’s Mental Strategy session. Believe it or not, you can actually learn stuff at Winter Conference.

— Jim Grabowski

For those too young to remember, Chad gave some amazing motivational speeches that clearly impacted many Winter Conference attendees.  Here is the beginning of his speech that will certainly bring back memories for a lot of readers.

A feather, a picture, and a drawing of a slalom course – what do these three things have in common? All of them can help you reach your goals.

— Chad Kodiak

4. That look of amazement

That starstruck look of amazement. It is just awesome to see that glimmer in the eye or the awestruck face when a Team Midwest skier is talking one on one with a pro skier for the first time. That moment does not always happen, but when it does, its amazing and full of joy.

That look on people’s faces when they meet Regina for the first time, I miss that, that makes me happy.

— Christy Kingsmill

5. Pros are people too

I walked into a random hotel room at the hook in Madison and joined a conversation about slalom. We started talking about struggling at 6 ball on my 15 off at 36mph pass. A couple other guys were saying similar things about their passes. Then one guy responds that he had the same issue for a while at 38′ off. We all stopped and I said “who are you?!?” We had been talking to Marcus Brown (pre dreads) for an hour without realizing who he was.

— Tristan Hansen

6. Speaking is honor

Not everyone gets to speak at Winter Conference. On average there are 3 pros a year, if there are no repeats that is at most 60 pro water skiers. There are definitely repeats, this year Zack Worden is returning. As of this writing, we are unsure which pro holds the title for most invites. In addition to the pro’s 3-event sessions, there are often other sessions filled by other speakers. For many years Dave Clark attended to talk about becoming an official.

I felt privileged to be invited to speak at multiple Winter Conferences after graduation. Especially when held at my Alma Mater, Purdue!

— Cale Burdick

7. You’re going water skiing in February?

It is a common inquiry of non-skiing friends as well as those who water ski but just do not understand collegiate skiing.

All of my non-skiing friends asked “What? You’re skiing in February? Isn’t that cold?” They did not understand the magic that is Winter Conference.

— Kathleen Nolan

8. Surprise you have been elected!

The Midwest regional board elections occur during the morning captain’s meeting at Winter Conference.  As Michael Newth recalls, apparently anything can happen while the rest of the region’s skiers are sleeping at the hotel or back at home because they could not attend Winter Conference.

I remember waking up to phone calls from the the presidents of University of Kansas’ and Kansas State University’s teams telling me that I had officially been voted onto the board as Team Recruitment Chair while I was sleeping. They were super excited about it, and I had no idea what they’d gotten me into. Now, I’ve been on the board for over 5 years and am working at USA Water Ski Headquarters!”

— Michael Newth

9. Banquet and Ski-Ammy’s

Team Midwest gives out awards for Most Improved Skier, Most Consistent Skier, Most Outstanding Senior (per gender), Rookie of the Year (per gender), Most Valuable Skier (per gender), Best Team Captain, Team of the Year, Most Likely to Go Pro, Most Likely to Hit the Side Curtain, and Hardest Worker as well as two awards that are named after former Team Midwest skiers, the Happy Award for the Most Supportive Alumni and the Kiedrowski Award for the Most Supportive Skier.  After all those awards are handed out, the Jeff Surdej Award is given out by the Midwest Chair to one of the other MCWSA board members for all there outstanding work.

Recently Team Midwest decided that a fancy banquet was a great way to end Winter Conference. It was an amazing choice to do it the first time as well as to opt to make it an annual tradition. At the banquet there is always food, and the annual MCWSA awards (the Ski-Ammy’s) are now handed out here instead of at the closing of the daytime sessions.

After all the food, awards, and ceremony there is usually some dancing!

One year I was trying to help Paul and Maggie Tierney try and teach Scot Ellis how to swing dance- it didn’t go well.

— Austin Voss

10. Remember, these are still college kids

Even during a smooth year, Winter Conference can have a bit of down time during various parts of the weekend.

Joe Weiser and Christian Noon challenging each other to a headbutting competition like a couple of bighorn sheep.

— Brett Mommer

11. All in on the themes

Some of my favorite memories of Winter Conference are team costumes for the themes and how much the pros get into it, too!

— Christy Kingsmill

12. Lost skiers!?

Skiers can become accustomed to being locked into a tournament lake area, which is a relatively small and well defined area. Stick a bunch of skiers into a somewhat more urban environment and teams may want to employ the buddy system. Although I don’t know of anyone getting permanently lost, make sure you check all the “rooms” in your hotel room before freaking out.

That time we could not find Signe, and she was sleeping in the closet.

— Kara Builta

13. A city worth exploring

If your team hosts Winter Conference and you are in a city, then you might as well get all those visiting skiers to have a little fun while they are “exploring” (read: getting lost) as they walk to the various event locations.

That time we won the scavenger hunt in Iowa City!

— KK Feid

14. People watching

At tournaments, collegiate skiers can often be in a bubble of their own world. Winter Conference is held on or near the hosting team’s campus, and when the real world collides with the collegiate ski world, interesting things can happen.

I remember being in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the hotel with the huge open middle where you could see the every floor’s hallway. I spent so much time watching skiers of Team Midwest.

— Austin Voss

My favorite part was seeing the confused (and alarmed) look on hotel guests faces when they saw a huge group of college students roaming around the hotel, only to learn they were collegiate water skiers in town for the weekend. It was fun to explain who we were and why we were in town to people who’d never heard of competitive water skiing.

— Margaret Silhasek

15. The Rubix Cube

Apparently the theme is quite the memory maker.

Winter Conference was where I first experienced the Rubix Cube Party!

— Alex Krejcie

One year the theme was Rubix Cube (start by wearing 5 different colored articles of clothing, and switch with others until you’re wearing all one color), which was also the first year we hosted WC in Iowa City. Leah ended up switching with Scot Ellis and ended up with his green Masters fleece!

— Christy Kingsmill

16. Lunch Time – Pro Festivities

When properly planned and time is available there are sometimes festivities during the opening or closing ceremony or during lunch. One year the pros teamed up to do a relay race of various activities much to the delight of the collegiate skiers. Another favorite is the “Ask A Pro” session where attendees get to ask one of the pros anything (within reason).

I still remember the ask a pro session with Regina and Freddy where someone asked what they would do if they were not professional skiers. Regina of course said she would just continue doing her “day job”, which was astonishing to many that a pro water skier had a “real” job too.

— Adam Koehler

17. YouTube & Lunch

The lunch period is where you first get to see a lot of people at Winter Conference. Everyone is excited to see each other in the middle of the off season as some have not seen each other since the end of the tournament season, which for many in Team Midwest is at the end of September!

We always ended up on YouTube showing our respective team videos on the projector or videos that a bunch of college-aged kids found simply hilarious.

— Kathleen Nolan

18. Live musical performance become instant classics!

Speaking of YouTube; two years in a row, we were treated to a performance by Tyler Lorenz and Chris from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. They created a songs called “Ski Team Anthem” and “Skier’s Delight”, then at lunch time of Winter Conference they performed them live and turned those Winter Conference moments into instant classics. We jumped into our wayback machine and found the videos on YouTube!

19. Making alumni and founders proud!

It’s hard to put into words how proud I am to see our vision come true and continue to grow.

— Chad Kodiak

20. Spanning generations

This year, we will have successfully lasted through a familial generation of a pro water ski family! The original Winter Conference had a video of Cory Pickos, then Cory attended the second as well as other years. This year, Cory’s son Adam, is actually going to be in Ohio for Winter Conference XX (not a virtual presenter). If there is a Pro Q&A, someone should ask Adam if his dad gave him any tips for making it through a Winter Conference weekend.

Everyone has a favorite Winter Conference memory, that alone makes this event so special and an amazing success. The triumph of it being such a long standing event allows skiers to relate across collegiate generations. Although small things change over the years, Winter Conference is still a haven for Team Midwest skiers to gather together in the doldrums of winter to celebrate and learn about water skiing while rekindling friendships and making new ones.

The main reason we all come back year after year is the camaraderie that we have between the teams. We’re always competing on the water, but off the water we’re all a part of a huge family. Winter Conference really is a family reunion for us.

— Michael Newth

Thank you and have fun at Winter Conference XX

Thanks to both Kathleen Nolan & Adam Koehler for compiling the list and gathering up the memories, but thank you to all current and former skiers that shared their memories of Winter Conference! We wish everyone attending Winter Conference XX an amazing and memory making weekend.

Do you have great memories of collegiate skiing?

Email alumni@ncwsa.com to volunteer to share your memories in a future article or alumni spotlight!



Adam Koehler

Skied with the Illini Waterski Team and the Marquette Waterski Team. Past winner of the NCWSA Outstanding Leader Award. Former NCWSA Operations Committee Chair and current NCWSA Secretary.