I’ve been flying around the country for years with my waterski equipment. The packing techniques and suggestions I’ll present to you here are tried-and-true and proven time and time again to result in equipment that ends up at your ski destination in good shape.
Generally when I’m flying anywhere I’m taking either one or two slalom skis (if my wife is skiing) and potentially a trick ski. I do not participate in jump so I will not be much help to you regarding packing jump skis, though much of this could potentially apply to jump skis as well.
I use a Dakine soft ski roller bag. I have no affiliation with Dakine. I think I bought this at H2O Proshop at least a decade ago. This bag has taken a beating and keeps on ticking, time after time. It’s durable and dependable. It’s lighthearted and nonthreatening with a adorable plaid exterior motif. It is the best bag ever and one of the best things I’ve ever spent money on.
Why Don’t I Use a Hard Case?
Welp, couple reasons:
- I don’t want to insult, frustrate, or confuse any baggage handling personnel or TSA agents who have to inspect or handle the bag. Maybe I’m overly empathetic. Your oversize bag has to be manually inspected at every airport. That job probably sucks. Your bag is a pain in the ass for every person that has to touch it from the moment it leaves your car to the moment you pick it up on the baggage belt. It’s heavy and it’s awkwardly sized. To inspect it, some poor guy or gal has to open it, rifle through it, then close it before it goes on its way. Every time. The LAST thing I want to do is have 867,000 instructions for the TSA agent on how to re-assemble my precious hard case. Multiple pins holding it together and specific steps required, etc. How much do you think the TSA agent who’s having a bad day really wants to deal with your labels and instructions? My soft ski bag has an incredibly simple zipper. You zip it open, inspect it, then zip it shut. Done. Easy. If my plaid, unassuming soft bag is sitting next to your jet black hard case peppered with labels and instructions and demands, I know what bag I’d be getting my frustration out on if I’m a baggage handler having a bad day.
- Energy Absorption. There is a reason that the airbag on a car is not a giant hard plastic rectangle that blasts out of your steering wheel into your face. A soft bag absorbs energy. My soft ski bag, when properly packed, has the density and rebound characteristics of a bunch of towels because that’s generally what’s in it. As it gets loaded on belts, in and out of planes, in an out of cars, in and out of hotels and elevators, it absorbs all the blows it takes vs. transferring that energy into the bag.
- It’s super versatile. In the voids and pockets where there is not ski equipment in the bag, I’ve tucked books, towels, diapers, toys, tools, clothes, etc. over the years. I can put all kinds of stuff in there to support any family trip type. Love that.
- It has some give and fluidity in static space. The soft case does not take up a fixed volume shape in space. It can be squeezed into nooks and crannies in the luggage bay. It can bend a little bit. It’s also easy on my car interior, as well.
How I Pack The Waterski Bag
For this trip we need to pack 2 slalom skis with bindings, 2 foam rollers (dual purpose in this case), a ski handle, a ski rope, a neoprene top, neo shorts, two tournament ski vests, two sets of gloves. Pretty standard husband/wife travel setup here.
Absolutely key here is that both skis already have neoprene protective sleeves on them. If you don’t have these already, get them. All the major manufacturers have these available for purchase. If the neo sleeve has an integrated plastic tube for the fin I usually remove that because it’s often too small. If it’s already the right size, maybe leave it in. Up to you.
The first thing I do is remove the front binding on one of the skis. In the case of a double-boot setup you’ll probably have to remove both boots. In the case of a front hardshell I’d still remove the whole plate. This is a key step for getting two skis in. If it’s just one ski you won’t need to do this. I put the screws and washers in a ziplock baggie and throw a screwdriver in the bag to re-assemble. The screw bag and the screwdriver go in the outer pocket of the bag. The screwdriver is a key thing to remember because I’ve been hosed more than once by the site I’m visiting not having one.
Next, it’s foam rollers on the tails of both skis. These Trigger Point rollers have exactly the right diameter and are additionally already killer foam rollers for actual foam rolling. And you’ll need a foam roller wherever you go anyway so this is a total bonus double-play.
After that it’s both vests laid open in the bag like so. We’ll enclose them around the skis and in-between the skis for additional padding.
The skis can now be put in the bag. I always put the tails of the skis on the roller/wheel side of the bag because there is additional armor there and rigidity from the roller housing. It’s also shallower there so it’s a perfect spot for the tails of the skis. Vests can then be wrapped around the skis and between them as needed. The front binding from the bottom ski goes on the front of the top ski in front of its front binding. I’ll usually wrap the free front binding in my neo shorts for additional protection for the top of the top ski.
At this point I’ll usually at least partially zipper the bag shut. This lets the bag start to take some form instead of flopping about as you continue packing. With it partially zippered shut it’s easy to tuck stuff into voids and get a feel for how the bag will start to take shape. There are voids above the top ski in multiple areas. They MUST be packed with towels, clothes, your rope/handle, and anything else soft that you can get in there. When we had really young kids we had these areas packed tight with diapers, no joke. Super handy! Use common sense here as far as density and arrangement of items. It’s amazing how much shit fits in here.
This is a small detail but I always put the airline bag tag on this end handle at the airport. In the days when baggage handlers actually did this for the customers this is where they always put it, so I figure there’s a reason for that and I do the same now that it’s the customer’s job to put these tags on with many airlines.
Lastly, I orient the zippers on the bag so that they are centered in the middle of the bag. Again, easier on TSA. I don’t want them to unzip the whole thing from one side and just have the whole thing go to hell in a handbasket. Centered zippers make it easy on them to open, root around, then zip shut.
One last note is that these instructions are all while using totally dry stuff. I’ve definitely repacked this bag at a gas station on the way to the airport from a ski destination. On the ground. Under pressure. The bag as packed here will be well under 40lbs. With wet stuff in it, expect it to weigh 5lbs more. It’ll still be under the bag weight limit and the interior of this bag is plastic which is yet another great feature.