Freestyler still chasing his peak

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The only child of ski instructors, Blake Marshall practically grew up on skis, both in  Queenstown and his second home in Switzerland. Over the past two years he’s established himself as one of the top guns on the World Freeride Tour. During New Zealand winters you’ll find him coaching freestyle and freeride skiing to kids at The Remarkables. He tells GUY WILLIAMS about his love for the big steep country, and how he treads the line between triumph and disaster

Blake Marshall describes freeride skiing as ‘‘choosing your own path’’.

The 27-year-old’s referring to how he picks the best line while hurtling down the steeps
outside skifield boundaries, but he could just as easily be talking about his progression to the pinnacle of his sport.

On the Freeride World Tour, it’s about skiing down a mountain any way you like, between two set points, and getting scored on set criteria and ‘overall impression’.

Marshall specialises in taking the bag of tricks he learned from the freestyle skiing of his teen years, and wowing the judges as he flies down insanely steep, rocky slopes in Europe, Japan and Canada.

It started when he was a pre-schooler, alternating be tween his parents’ homes in Queenstown — where they worked at Coronet Peak — and Morgins, Switzerland, an alpine village near the border with France.

‘‘They were doing back-to-back winters when I was young, so I would go with them and just hang out.

‘‘I’d go into ski school while they were working.’’

After primary school in Queenstown, he went to high school and university in Christchurch, but always spent his summer holidays skiing in Switzerland.

On skis by the age of three, he started alpine racing at five.

By 12, he’d had enough of the regime.

‘‘I’d always go off and do jumps and stuff, so my coach at the time said ‘you should look at changing to freestyle’.

After entering a freestyle programme at The Remarks, he competed for a few years, but by 16 or 17 was finding it ‘‘too intense’’.

He kept chasing the winters after uni, working as a ski instructor or coach at The Remarkables and in Switzerland, but limited his competitive skiing to the annual freeride
comp at The Remarks.

Marshall says he never thought about pursuing freeride as a career until he won The North Face Frontier, a Freeride World Tour qualifier event, at The Remarks in 2018.

‘‘Everyone told me ‘you need to get overseas now and try and get on the World Tour’.’’

In his first season on the tour last year, he surprised himself by finishing sixth overall.

Big air: Competing in a Freeride World Tour event in Fieberbrunn, Austria, earlier this year

In March, he finished his second season in ninth overall — including his first podium with a third in Andorra — earning automatic qualification for next year.

Covid canned last month’s Winter Games NZ, which he was to have competed in, but providing the pandemic doesn’t put another spanner in the works, he’ll be off in January for his third campaign.

The Tour consists of six comps across the globe in February and March: Hakuba in Japan; Kicking Horse, Canada; Ordino-Arcalis in Andorra; Fieberbrunn, Austria; and Verbier in Switzerland.

Marshall reckons his peak years are just ahead of him.

His goal for next year is to win a comp, raise his profile and make something of a living from the sport while he can.

There’s good money on offer for those who can rack up a few wins and develop a social media following, he says.

‘‘If you can stick around for a couple of years, your sponsorship contracts get better and better.’’

So far he’s focused on consistency, knowing that would eventually get him on the podium, but his plan for next year is to ‘‘risk a bit more’’.

‘‘You want to start throwing tricks off bigger features … it’s about creating a bigger run and linking it all together.

‘‘Hopefully, on one of the stops, that’ll pay off.’’

However, there’s a fine line between risk and reward.

‘‘Where the big runs — the winning runs — come from is by combining that risk with the element of not falling … otherwise you get injured.

‘‘So it’s quite tough to balance.’’

guy.williams@scene.co.nz