People & Places

Five Seasons Ski Team now in 39th year as Cedar Rapids summer staple

Five Seasons Ski Team members build a pyramid as they ski on the Cedar River on June 19.
Five Seasons Ski Team members build a pyramid as they ski on the Cedar River on June 19.

CEDAR RAPIDS — Like ants on a hill.

This is how Don Clow, who’s been directing the Five Seasons Ski Team for nearly 37 years, refers to the team’s preshow preparations — lots of pieces in motion, all working together.

Sitting in a white towboat on the Cedar River in front of a wide, green turf-like dock, Clow thought the attendance at a Freedom Festival show earlier this month was a little low.

Still, plenty of people were in the stands just off Ellis Park in Cedar Rapids.

The Five Seasons Ski Team performs every Thursday evening during the summer, adding shows on Tuesday evenings during Freedom Festival. The theme for this year’s show is “Camp Wa-Na-Ski” — a show planned foer 2008 that the big flood canceled.

With 95 members, the Five Seasons Ski Team is either practicing or performing nine months out of the year, with a three-month break in the fall. During the winter, the members practice indoors — 20 hours a week — at CRAG Gymnastics.

The Five Seasons Ski Team is a D1 team — what Clow refers to as “the big boys.” It placed 10th in the National Show Ski Tournament in 2014 and 2015, with the sound and announcing crew named the best in the nation in 2014.

The team runs a high-risk/high-reward show, with Clow recalling the year — 2011 — the team first completed the difficult five-tier pyramid.

Lynn Novakofski, a photographer for USA Water Ski, the national governing body of organized water skiing in the United States, said the local team competes well nationally.


“They ski very well, and just the fact that they’re at nationals and usually in the top half, that speaks for itself,” Novakofski said. “Going to a national competition with ski show is not only having a lot of ski practice time and talent, but the tremendous organization is a feat, too.”

The Five Seasons Ski Team was formed in 1978 with 73 members.

Clow remembers the first 15 to 20 years as “just putzing around.”

Over the years, he said, the team became more organized, gained a regular following and began performing weekly.

In 1990, the club purchased its first safety boat. Three years later, it bought an 18-foot Hydrodyne towboat. And in 1992, the ski team began its relationship with Freedom Festival. Since then, the Five Seasons Ski Team has performed roughly 20 shows per year.

And everyone is welcome to join.

“We find a job for everybody,” Clow said, adding some members — they’re all unpaid volunteers — are as young as 4.

“A lot of members come out of the ski community,” he said. “But we do teach you. Most of the skills you learn aren’t something you learn on your own. There’s an awful lot of training. We’re all really close.”

One of the members who came in knowing the basics was Nathan Kreitman, 20. Clow spotted him on the river skiing with his grandfather.

Emma Cavanagh, 15, joined when she was 7 after her mom heard about the team at work.

The two said they enjoy the team’s family-like atmosphere while improving their skiing abilities.

“I’ve been doing this for nine years, and I’ve gotten pretty good, but there’s still things I’m learning,” said Kreitman, who skis for Florida Southern University in Lakeland.


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For example, he notes that during the preshow, he’d attempted a front flip during a jump. It didn’t work, and he fell in the river.

That’s part of the learning.

“There’s no limit to what you can do,” he said.

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