Lake Wanaka, Saturday 15 August: Team Smoothy shone in the Obsidian Freeride competition on the WTF face in the Minaret Range near Lake Wanaka. They jumped from 3rd place overall on the leaderboard into first, with a clever play of their Joker card. This card doubled their 100 points score for winning the event and if that wasn’t enough they managed a podium sweep of first and second place in the Men’s Snowboard category giving them another 20 points. This left them with 280 points overall, with Team Kuzma close behind with 220 and Team Wells dropping to 3rd with 180.
The heli-access venue tested the 21 athletes, with Janina Kuzma showing her experience in the women’s category. The 2014 Halfpipe veteran from the Sochi Olympics and the Freeride World Tour veteran was strong and smooth on the face in difficult conditions. Zoi Sadowski-Synnott claimed second place in her first top level freeride contest but you wouldn’t have known it watching her. She took one of the harder lines on one of the more exposed sections of the face and managed to pull off a very clean line. On a day when it was all about consistency, Jess Hotter decided to turn up the heat. The Freeride World Tour Rookie of the Year was unfortunately unable to stay on her feet but her difficult line gained her third place on the podium.
“Really stoked to be back in the yellow bib today as it’s been nearly two years,’ said an excited Kuzma. “Especially doing a freeride event! I’m just super happy to pick a line skiable to the conditions today. It was awesome to see all the girls putting great lines down as well and just stoked to take out the win.”
In the Men’s snowboard category one of the most stylish snowboarders New Zealand has ever produced Will Jackways may well be well into his 30s but his experience paid off in the men’s snowboarding, as he was able to thread a beautiful line together to take third place. In second place Tiarn Collins had a day of firsts. It was his first time in a helicopter, in a freeride competition and he was the first person to drop into the venue. But a strong and steady run from Collins the park athlete gave him the spot on the podium, which an incredible feat in his first freeride event. Ronan Thompson was first in the European and Oceania Junior Freeride World Tour in 2019 and he was one of the few snowboarders to attack the face, he was loose in places but stayed on his feet for a very fast and technical line, a deserved victory for the young athlete.
“Conditions were pretty variable,” said Thompson. “It was hard pack to soft snow. Hard to stay on your feet. It was a really fun day out in the sun and it is my first ever helicopter ride, so I am super stoked and awesome I managed to win!”
There were so many lines to choose from within the Men’s Ski category. In fourth place, Nico Porteous the 2018 Olympian put down a very technical run to show he is so much more than a park athlete. Sam Smoothy, team captain and one of the best film riders came in third place with an incredibly technical line. In the top two spots there were two very different styles. All eyes before the competition being on Hank Bilous, the older of the two Bilous brothers, unfortunately an ankle injury kept him out of the contest. Instead it was his younger brother Finn who turned up and treated this freeride face like a snow park. A 360 into the top of a very technical line and then a flat 360 on the exit meant that Finn Bilous booked himself into second place. In first place, Craig Murray is unquestionably one of the best freeride skiers in the world and he didn’t disappoint at Obsidian. His run was almost fall line from the top to the bottom of the face, which was incredibly exposed and difficult terrain. There was no question in the judge’s minds who would win the Freeride Obsidian men’s ski.
Murray was stoked to win, “The comp was super fun up here today, with a full kiwi crew full of amazing talent in ski and snowboard. It was so cool to see different disciplined athletes competing here. I’m super happy to stay on my feet and come away with the win!”
Sunday 16 August sees the teams attack their third challenge, the Mountain Shred Challenge. This challenge is about videography as well as our sport. Each team has been allocated a different local resort, where they are shredding the mountain and sessioning a line of their choice involving natural and enhanced features on the mountain. Their team videographers will create a video edit from the day, from which they will be judged 80% by the sports panel on the athlete’s tricks and execution and 20% by the media panel on the team’s creativity and quality of the edit.
Team Kuzma is up The Remarkables with their videographers Jase Hancox Film.
Team Wells is up Coronet Peak with their videographers Two Bearded Men.
Team Smoothy is up Treble Cone their videographers Diaries Down Under.