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Possibly building a lake - taking suggestions!


jipster43
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I've been mulling over the idea of building a ski lake for about 25 years now and I'm finally getting a little closer to diving in. I already have the property and I'm now considering all the possible methods for the dig and design.

 

The land is flat, runs North to South and has clay pretty close to the surface. There's a spring on the property, but it sits about 60 feet below from where the lake will be dug, so unless I get real lucky and find ground water, I'm assuming I'll probably have to dig a well and pump the water in.

 

I'd like to know what any of you folks out there like to see in a ski lake. What features seem to work the best i.e., length, width, depth, shape, shore line ratio, etc. Should I allow for a jump ramp? I don't jump and can't see myself ever doing so.

 

My personal favorite lake is Greg Tate's (Tate Lake) in Othello, WA. You can check it out with the BOS Google Earth app.

 

I'd love to hear what y'all think - especially if you know of ways to do it on the cheap!

 

 

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@ Klondike - The property is about an hour North of Billings, MT. My family homesteaded there in 1911 and haven't done much with the land since the 1930's. I'd love to relocate it closer to Bozeman! The three hour drive has been one of the big hiccups in my plans, but it's actually 1,000 feet lower than Bozeman and has much better weather from March to July.

 

@AB - The lake I currently ski at has no turn islands, but when I ski at lakes that do, I really enjoy the extra setup time. I've considered offsetting them enough that you can avoid using them if you want to. Thanks for the input though! That's definitely one of the options I've been debating.

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The main lake I rotate with is 2400' so we just stop to the right of the island. There is enough room to swing out and shorten the rope. We do the same on a 1850' lake too. Maybe if we were going 36 we would use them on that lake.
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AB is right about the island maintenance. Next time you're in Helena ask Doug if you can go out and mow and weed eat the island. That should give you a good taste of years to come unless you could leave them wild with trees and shrubs. Theres also rip rap that circles the island. If you don't use large rock you're out there adding or moving the rock back up the shore line. If you do decide on islands, make sure there offset. I personally like islands, you just need to go the extra mile when it comes to the rock. You don't want your truck going thru the ice while transfering rock on a cold winters day.
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My 2 cents...

 

I would not have turn around islands if your lake is long enough to drop on each end.( ~2000' ) The islands I've been around are a pain to maintain.

 

Room for a jump is a good one. More surface area = more gallons evaporated away each day. So if you have to use a pump, the jump are is going to increase the amount of water needed to maintain level.

 

As far as planning on a pump and no other water supply, do some math and get first hand advice from someone besides me. But, I'm think this is how the math works:

 

1 acre-ft = 325,851 gallons. That is 27,154 gallons per inch for each acre of surface area. That is 6,788 gallons per quarter inch for each acre of surface area. If your lake is 12 acres, you would have about 81,463 gallons in each quarter inch. We evaporate 1/4" per day in the summer here in east Texas. So, if we want to pump for 8 hours a day we need at least a 170 gpm pump or about a 60 gpm if we want to pump around the clock. You should be able to get evaporation rates for your area.

 

Plan your parking boat ramp area. This seems like a small thing, but I've seen some that were not well thought out.

 

Good luck. I walked an 80 acre tract of land yesterday looking at a potential site. Just dreaming...

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@Steven Haines Last time I skied at No Wake we loaded up a bunch of rocks and built up the South island a little bit. That's work I'm willing to do, but I'm not planning on planting grass on the islands! Only native plants and trees for the islands. I'll probably surround the lake with Russian Poplars and run grass around the perimeter of the lake though.

 

I can't think of anything worse than having your truck break through the ice - especially when you're not even doing anything fun!

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@OB 2400' is exactly what I'm considering. Not too long. Not too short. Again thanks for the opinions on the islands!

 

@Skiray We get evaporation rates of anywhere from 1.3 inches to 2.5 inches a day, so I'm glad you pointed out that I'll be paying for extra water that I won't be using. The parking boat ramp is a tricky one too. right now there's only a two-track road to the property on the South side. I really want to stage everything from the North, but putting in a suitable road to the North end may be an added expense I don't want to deal with. That's one of the details of Greg Tate's lake that I like the most - the boat ramp and lagoon.

 

Turn Islands or No Turn Islands would make for a great poll question!

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Jipster, you'll have to ask Doug about the truck incident. I might still have pics. I helped out on another project where some of the material was deposited down one side of the lake to build up to be used as a road. During excavation the road got packed in real nice with the scraper traffic. All he needed next was base to top the road off. Another thought, you'll need a long ramp or rip rap at the end of the ramp to reduce erosion under your ramp from prop wash. I would think a longer ramp would be the way to go.
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@eleeski Duly noted!

 

@scotchipman Thanks Scott! I'll have a lagoon with the boathouse, so no docks! 16 to 1 is what I remember being the magic number. Why do you prefer 2250' over say 2400'? It would certainly save money in construction and water maintenance.

 

@Steven Haines Yup! It's about 20 miles North of Roundup, so it does it get pretty windy. I'm going to have the Russian Poplars about 10'-20' from the shore - sitting on top of the biggest berm I can build!

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What about depth? I've read that shallower lakes will throw a better wake, but it becomes more difficult to keep the weeds down. I was considering the depth to be 4 or 5 feet, but obviously I'm going to go with what most of you have found to be ideal.

 

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In my opinion, at 4 foot, things will start to feel fast. A lake I spent a lot of time skiing on years ago was not much more than waist deep at the turn balls. While it made the wake non existent, it made the water feel fast. Down south in warm water, you may get away with that sort of depth, but not in MT (a lake that freezes over in winter isnt right IMO, and far too cold a place to WATER ski). 5-7 foot is ideal depth I think.

 

Without knowing a thing about MT wind and weather (other than its cold) here is my 2c... I am certainly no expert on wind, but when building a wall of trees and berm to shelter from prevailing wind, it can make it worse where you dont want it to be - on the lake itself. A good analogy is an aircraft wing. It accelerates over one side of the wing to create lift. With a straight wall of trees and dirt, this MAY act like a wing and result in the wind flowing back down over the trees onto lake faster and harder than the actual wind speed in the first place. I believe you want to disrupt the flow. The berm and trees approach works well most of the time if tall enough, however I would add Another row of spaced out trees 30-50 yards or so behind the lake to help disrupt and slow the flow of wind before it hits the berm and lakeside trees to help it flow over the lake.

Hope this makes sense.

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I'm 18 foot deep clay bottom and no weeds, I ski in Michigan at a beautiful site that is 8-10 feet deep, clear water, and they get over run by weeds. We didn't have weeds even without blue dye. If you stay shallow, and dont dye the water, the weeds will come! Algae is a concern with shallow water. Too much sun equals algae, especially if you have farmland next to it. Runoff enriches the soil.
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I have purchased land and built a lake over the past 5 years.

 

Sounds like you are stuck with North/South so that is not an issue.

If you don't jump, don't mess with it. (Lots more cost and time)

No turn islands. The set ups are nice, but you want to ski and the less work the better.

Mine is 180'x2150'. I would go 220'x2400' if doing again.

15:1 slopes at for the shore. I did 10:1 despite being advised not to. Don't do it.

I would go 6' deep in the middle.

Mennonites dug mine. About 35% less than the best normal "contractor" bid.

 

Don't waste a whole lot of money on engineering/testing UNLESS there are some weird things going on with your land. What I found was that if a guy who has been doing dirt work for 30+ years looks at it and says "It'll hold water" you are likely fine. That "spring" you mentioned might be a concern and you should take a couple of core samples (I did 3) to see what is down there. The problem is how many cores do you take? There might be a sand pocket 50' away that you miss and will have to line with clay anyway. (I am sure Scoke will totally bash the paragraph:)

 

Lastly. Don't expect your skiing to improve!

Good luck

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On the turning islands, I have done almost zero maintenance on mine since we started (3 years). I prefer to have them. Mine is 7 feet deep on the shallowest part, and I would not go under that if possible.
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https://picasaweb.google.com/107342624160827006975/Phase2

 

These islands are almost maintenance free. Geotextile fabric prevents wave action from drawing the soil out between the bags or rock. We have Pampas Grass (actually a large bush) that chokes out all of the grass and weeds.

 

Our lake is 2140 long, and works well for setup time.

 

I think the other posters are correct about straight in lakes, they need to be 2350 or more.

 

Contact me at jim at lsfdev com if you want more info on the islands.

 

 

 

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Other low maintenance options for islands. Rock pile, no soil = no weeds/grass. I have also seen 3 round pilings in a triangle pattern with 2, 3"x12" timbers forming the sides. Neither is a pretty as an island with trees, etc., but cherish low maintenance.

 

The famous Covington Ski Ranch is 2150' long with turn islands. It feels like it takes forever to reach the course. I can't see any reason to go longer with islands. I think 2000' would be fine.

 

As far as depth. Yeah, 10' or even more would be great, but you gotta pay for moving all that dirt. Better do the math. Also, grass growth occurs mainly around the edges where the water has to be shallow regardless of how deep the middle is. You are very likely going to have to use dye or use grass carp regardless. (Just my experience in South Louisiana. My be a lot different in the North lands)

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@eleeski I remember you mentioning the next lake you design would have deeper water at the turn balls and shallower water under the boat. Having already built a couple of lakes, do you think that would be a lot more trouble to accomplish?

 

@Auskier I'm certainly no expert in terms of wind dynamics, but the lakes I have been to tend to use a line of trees to break the wind and it seems pretty effective.

 

One of the reasons I was considering a shallower depth was because we do get frozen lakes. I'm assuming that a shallower lake will turn (thaw) a little sooner and warm up quicker. The two other private lakes I've skied here in Montana have been around 5 to 6 feet deep and seemed to ski a little more forgiving than Ottertail which is 16 feet deep in places. But again I'm making assumptions on very little experience!

 

@AB Another reason I'm considering a shallower depth is $! I think 7' is about as deep as my pockets go!

 

@Mr. Jones - I hadn't even considered the mennonite angle! If we don't do the work ourselves, I'll certainly look into that. I'm still debating the island issue and enjoy hearing everyone's take on them. They may require more maintenance, but it sounds like I can build a smaller lake and maintain less water use if I go with islands.

 

@scotchipman & ral - y'all have convinced me to go at least 7'. I'm beginning to wonder if the cost of dye & other maintenance will overrun the cost of constructing a deeper lake.

 

@thompjs - Thanks for the info. Your lake looks awesome! I had seen your shore work earlier. It looks super labor intensive and expensive! How does it work? I'm sure I'll be contacting you as this project proceeds.

 

I'm a little surprised by how arse backwards I had everything! At least in terms of the water depth. I knew a shallower lake would be trouble in terms of weeds, but the shallow lakes I've skied have been very forgiving (No Wake Lake, Aqua Velocity, & Tate Lake). I've always wondered how gravel pits seem to have such crystal clear water - I'm guessing it's due to their depth and steep shorelines.

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Don't blow a gasket on dye. You can get blue dye concentrate and initially treat your lake for $600 or so, and then maybe half of that each year to recharge it. If you are in a place that gets hot in summer, like over 80 water, you will eventually get weeds and or algae at 7 foot or shallower without dye.

 

Rip Rap on the islands can be costly and a pain. My lake is 2,000 feet long and we had no trouble getting up to 36 with the old boats. Im sure the new ones don't take any longer...

 

 

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@AB We can get pretty hot in the summer, but I think 80 degrees is about as warm as the water ever gets. Still, I really had no idea how much the dye costs, so it's nice to have those figures going forward.

 

One of the things I like most about islands is tournament staging. I like being further down the lake and having a better vantage point to watch each skier. When you stage from the end, you lose a lot of skier reference. Also, most spectators tend to gravitate towards the middle of the lake - which is never that far from the starting dock when there are islands. But again - I'm weighing all options and arguments for and against islands!

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I like the islands if you can be low maintenance and don't mind the look of low maintenance. Really cool would be islands that incorporate the well water pump and landscape in a cool tumbling water effect...ok, that came out of a strange dream I had after reading Than's post on another thread.
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Plan for a depth of at least 8' if you can at all afford it. It will ski much better than 4-6' and give you some margin if you get a really dry summer.

 

If you are loosing 1.3-2.5 inches a day, its more than evaporation - you've got a leak somewhere. We loose right at 1/2 inch/day in Texas in July and Aug.

 

You are much better off with north-south. Sun glare on an east-west lake will stop you from skiing for ~1 hour most evenings during prime ski time.

 

Turn islands are a personal thing. I like them. If you put the rip-rap out before the lake fills, your maintenance will be minimal. You can go shorter and probably save slightly on excavation if you do the islands right.

 

All the other comments have been good ones, but the best advice I've heard is to get several estimates and then double the highest one.

If it was easy, they would call it Wakeboarding

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Islands kill. Imperial wishes they had never put islands in. Put in buoys for a simulated island if you want to spin - wait, that's retarded. Set down at a buoy marker, get straight up heading in. Don't distract the skier with the (real) threat of getting killed on the rip rap on the island. No problem for me on my 2100' lakes starting straight in.

Islands really interfere with barefooting, wakeboarding, jump courses and tricking. Your lake must be much bigger if you ever plan to do anything other than slalom any time ever in the future.

 

My lakes are shallow. Depth was expensive for me. Plus some of my favorite sites are shallow. One of my shallow lakes skis fantastic, another feels awful. The difference is that the good feeling lake is deeper at the buoys than at the balls. The tough lake is shallower at the buoys than closer to the boat. I will regrade the tough lake next time I drain it to make the buoys the deepest part of the lake - an easy task.

I do suffer with weeds in my clear lakes. I spend more than $600 on dye per lake. But we do have a lot more solar energy there than MT. I have seen deep lakes with weed problems so depth is not a guarantee. The shallow lakes with no weeds have stirred up mud from the nearby clay bottom. Perhaps the shallow depth helps prevent weeds?

 

I like a minimum size lake. For pure slalom a width of 125' of skiable depth with 50' cutouts at the buoys (175' width) will provide adequate clearance. Add cutouts for docks and parking keeping 50' clearance from the skier path. The lake with cutouts on one side is uncomfortable for trick on the side with the cutouts (50' straight plus 38' cutout from the center) so we trick on the other side (50' plus 38' from the center the whole way down). Rollers disappate quickly and there is little fetch to generate chop. Houses, docks, jumps and wakeboarding suck on such a small lake but my water bill is easy.

 

Did I mention I don't recommend islands?

 

Eric

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At 2100' or less I prefer turn islands. Without I feel rushed, especially if you do a traditional gate. Its also nice to have the time to adjust your shorts, thnk about the pass, etc. the maintenance can be a pain. Where I ski I'm in charge of mowing the islands and spraying weeds. Doesn't take that long, but when you're pressed for time it can get tough. As for depth, go as deep as you can afford. The lake I ski at, also in MT, is 5' deep and is loaded with weeds. Especially if it doesnt get used much, the weeds will grow that much faster.
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@6Balls I've only been on this forum for going on two years now, but if I've learned one thing it's that any dreams inspired by Than should be taken very seriously. They're important.

 

@Bruce Butterfield Alright. I'll shoot for 8'! How can I argue with someone who has improved my skiing so much through one single article on handle control? Thanks for that by the way! I'm toying with Eric Lee's concept of a little shallower under the boat path and deeper at the bouy. I don't know if that will happen once construction begins, but it's an idea. Probably an impractical one.

 

My evaporation rates are guestimates that are culled from Montana State University records. We sit awfully high up here compared to Texas and there is very little humidity. But I certainly hope yer right - as you inferred I'm planning for worst case scenarios/costs and hoping for miracles.

 

The North South lake is pretty vital in that location for glare and for prevailing winds. I'm so thankful that the winds run West to East, 'cause I really hate missing those early and late hour sessions due to glare, but I have about 280 flat acres to play with, so the lake can be positioned in any direction.

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Thanks Eric! Thanks Justin! Not only are you two offering me some sage advice - you're both particularly familiar with Montana and the fine ski lakes herein!

 

I'm so impressionable that Eric has nearly convinced me against islands in one post. I don't know how I feel about that! Certainly my biggest concern with islands are surrounding safety. My hands sweat when I think about less than experienced skiers negotiating around them while trying to remain upright. But I really do love the extra set up time and having the start dock further down the lake. Maybe a huge bouy would be a simple and effective compromise.

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years ago when my waterski addiction began to escalate, I considered building my own lake. We have the property, at the time it was still doable, but it would've taken years and roughly $400K. I decided to just be a skier, join a club, and help support the existing lake owner network.

 

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The irony of my plight is that I would still remain a member of Ottertail Lake. It's only 40 minutes from my house and is an absolutely gorgeous place to ski with great people. But I can't deny that my ultimate dream is to wake up and ski - even if I have to drive three hours to do it!

 

There are still a whole lot of feasibility studies to do - not the least of which would be Steven Haines' point - but there's also the desire to create a cool vacation spot in a place my family settled over 100 years ago. But mostly it's fun to debate the perfect ski lake design.

 

The dream also includes traveling to all the coveted ski lakes across the country and hitting as many tournaments as possible.

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@Jones, I think the Ranch is longer than that. Our lake is 2250 and we have turn islands. I dont have that much set up time. I would say the ranch is in the 2400 range.

@jipster, put some large rocks on the islands and you will never need maint. I would love to have an end to end lake without but a nice long set up is a must.

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I have 2,150 long, no islands, and that is perfect. Course record is 5@41 off. Lots of PBs from more mortal skiers, as well. Depth is 12' for slalom lakes. You still will get weeds in the shallow slopes, but the depth really helps both weeds and the skiers. No tail blow-outs.
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@Brent and @richarddoane:

 

Buying land to build a lake, US$ 300,000. Getting the permits: years. Digging it, US$ 400,000.

 

Watching your lake at sunset, hosting friends from overseas, skiing with your kids at your own place: Priceless.

 

Plus, the whole process is fun overall. And the price of the land and lake increases over time, so it is a relatively sound investment (better than GM or Lehman shares at least...)

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Jipster, yes I'm referring to dragonfly lake. We have a plan to get rid of the weeds this summer, we'll see if it works. The lake is all clay and gets murky when skiing, but the biggest problem is only a couple of us ski there and the water clears up and lets all that sunlight in. If it was used daily, the weeds would have a tough time growing.
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Think I'd rather just ski for $20...(but thank God for the guys who are willing to dig).

 

Actually, the guy at http://lsfdev.com/ has it right. Build the lake, and plot out the lots to be sold to various owners. Why hoard it all for yourself, when you can make $$ from others (if you can find the buyers). Looks like Scot Chipman's map showed it was done that way as well.

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Justin, hopefully for you it doesn't involve draining the lake! Ha ha Actually I think alot of the problem there is the steam that feeds the lake is constantly bringing in nutrients from the pastures up stream. I think you'd have a better chance of eliminating the weeds if you use the spring on the other side of the lake as your primary source for water. Its too bad that you're having these problems because that's one sweet skiing lake!!!
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@MS and that's the problem. They're pretty protective of the trout in MT.

 

@JP when it gets down to turn islands, if you are going to put them in, going clock-wise around them is better and off-setting them so you don't have to "turn back" , or wiggle the boat straight should be considered.

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