Last Friday I pushed North again with the usual suspects. Mount Olympus – “Playground of the Gods” – was once more, the destination. As it turns out, Wutang is not the only thing on the menu for the children. The FJT (Freeride Junior Tour) is an international freeride tour for kids, and that was our purpose for the weekend.
Masterminding the FJT’s debut here in little old New Zealand was FWT (Freeride World Tour) judge, Dion Newport. And so the NZJFT (New Zealand Junior Freeride Tour) was born. Dion wrangled thirteen of us in to help him with the event for the staggering price of a slab of venison, some do’bros and red wine. (We are cheap dates).
Doing things for children in exchange for organic free range meat and drinks is quite lovely. It’s even better when you’ve been tricked into this altruism by someone who breathes life into the competitive freeski scene like a good-looking first-aider. Dion has helped us all out in one way or another over the years, so it’s pretty neat to give back.
What could go wrong? Tiny (and not so tiny) Humans hurtling down steep faces and off cliffs in varied snow and weather conditions may sound like a perfectly silly idea. But these kids aren’t your average pee-your-one-piece weekend skiers; they are the prodigal offspring of ski bums who have made the sport their own. They have skills on their speed sticks that put most of us to shame and you don’t want to see what they can do with a maxi bag of Raro!
Big, wild terrain encompasses Mt Olympus’s lodge in a majestic amphitheatre. Judges attempted to capitalise on some of the more ambitious faces for the competition venue, looking first to ‘Ardys’ on the skier’s right. Due to safety reasons, this idea was shot down in flames quite promptly. Next to be nominated as the stomping ground was ‘Demolition’. The snowboard field made it through without incident but the comp was then postponed due to an injury.
Cue junior rat pack take over. A quick survey of the mountain would identify about fifteen shovels going at once. The Grommies seemed determined to stunt it and were slapping up jumps all over the mountain. Hours of entertainment were had by ratpackees and observers alike. A definite highlight was seeing a (not particularly anxious) mother doubled over laughing as her son took his first back flip to his face. He was fine!
Once the Juniors were tucked up with their Milo on Saturday night, the party was on at the bottom hut. By party I mean late night Nature walks, cards and reverse hydroslides. It was quite a time, but we all woke full of optimism to get the competition finished on Sunday.
The murk had cleared overnight but unfortunately this worked against us, freezing the snow into boiler plate ice. I experienced this first hand as I slipped and slid, on my back, legs and arms akimbo (think: dead ant), for about 200 metres. Banners and bamboo were strewn everywhere, but the crowds were entertained so I felt the job was done. Despite my banner placing efforts, ‘Demolition’ was never to soften; a change was on the cards again. ‘International’ was the third choice from the judges as it was a slightly shorter venue. But considering the show the Juniors put on for us, the third choice had a wealth of features for the creatively inclined.
The Under 15 Ski Men’s category was championed by Olympus local Harry Cookson with Lachie Woodman and Henry Freeman hot on his heels. But local celebrities didn’t have the competition entirely on lock with the 15-17 Ski Men’s category taken out by Wanaka grommet: Hank Bilous. The biggest Bilous aired out some serious Hank time to secure the win. He was closely followed by local celeb Craig Murray who threw in a casual double grab for the fans. The snowboard boys had already got the job done on Saturday, with standout performances from Stuart Tyrwhitt and Finn Duffy.
While the competition didn’t exactly go smoothly, it was quite an accurate portrayal of what competing in Freeride is really like. It was an honest introduction to the competition scene, complete with delays, false starts, venue changes, as well as less than desirable snow conditions and visibility. These are all things which are part and parcel of competitions anchored tenuously to that merciless Mother Nature.
The judging panel was graced by Dion, Tori Beattie and Sam Smoothy. Sam was stoked to report that sportsmanship is alive and well in the Junior category with competitors helping each other choose their lines throughout the different venue changes. “On Sunday it was awesome to see them take on board what we had drilled into them about safe decisions in tricky conditions. I was so pumped on their positive vibes.”
It was an excellent competition experience amid adverse conditions. All credit to Mt Olympus, Dion Newport, Hayden Seddon and the Juniors who did great squiggles and stunts on the day(s). I can’t wait to see these kids lose the plot and find their lines at The Remarkables for the second stop of the New Zealand Junior Freeride Tour next weekend.
Words: Anna Smoothy
Photography: Mark Bridgewater