Some people are just naturals.
Slalom water skier Alison Poulsen is one of those people.
The Ketchum resident placed 17th in her age group (35-45) in the U.S. National Water Skiing Championships slalom division, held in West Palm Beach, Fla., last weekend.
She started competing just two years ago.
"It's rare, it's phenomenal how fast she has picked it up," said Tom West, one of several local water skiers who've encouraged Poulsen and helped her progress.
Poulsen, 43, was disappointed with her performance, despite her inexperience at such a level of competition.
"It was far short of what I could have done, or should have done," she said. "But it was still such a great event."
Poulsen finished third in the Western Regional Championships, held in Portland, Ore., July 22, and was off to Florida two weeks later. Before she left, she said her expectations weren't high.
"I'm so new at competing, and I expect there to be some really good women in Florida," she said before nationals. "Wherever I place will be fine, even if I fall earlier than I expect it will just be exciting to be there."
Despite her low expectations, Poulsen's national debut started very well. But it ended frustratingly soon.
She breezed through her first pass, or run, easily arcing around all six buoys. Slalom competitions are all about rope length—whoever can make it around the most buoys on the shortest rope wins. The ropes are 75 feet long, although competitors start with at least 15 feet off, or 60-foot lengths. From there, each run gets progressively difficult as skiers shave their rope lengths.
Poulsen's first run was at 22 feet off. Her second was at 28 feet off, and she missed the last buoy.
"I normally never miss that pass," she said. "I always make 28 (feet off), and I recently made all six balls at 32.
"It was quite a disappointment."
Poulsen said she got some seaweed caught on the tip of her ski and rope at the beginning of the run. While she was able to start over, it disrupted her concentration and she failed to make some key adjustments.
"I lost a little focus and skied the way I normally do in cold water, which was too fast for that water," she said.
The water in the local slalom courses near Bellevue—MGM Ski Club and Black Butte Ranch—is typically between 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit. In Florida, the water was about 85 degrees.
"In warm water you sink in more and you have to keep your shoulders back and your ski out in front of you," she said. "I lost my concentration and just skied the way I normally do, which was too fast."
But Poulsen still made the cut—three buoys at 28 feet off—to qualify for next year's nationals, which will be held in California.
Plus she knows her slalom career has just begun.
"She has already passed a lot of the goals of women who have been skiing for 20 years," said West.
Poulsen skis almost every day with West and a group of local men—Mike Hanley, John Urban, Miles Stanislaw, and Gary Storey, to name a few—all of whom have experience competing. She attributes her rapid success to their tips and encouragement.
"I'm lucky, I've learned so much from these men I ski with," she said. "They've dragged me into the competitions."
And since returning from Florida earlier this week, she has trained and skied every day.
"She's been skiing hard, she's a real persevering skier and a real hard worker," West said. "And she's a beautiful skier—she's a natural."
Coming up locally: A slalom tournament will be held at the Black Butte Ranch on the weekend of Aug. 27-28.