Skifield biffo

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Snow sports boss in set-to with schoolboy

The head of New Zealand’s snow sports promotion body admits he was involved in a violent skifield set-to with a high school student at Cardrona last Friday.

Snow Sports NZ boss Ross Palmer and 17-year-old Mt Aspiring College student Sam Lee had to be separated by skifield staff after ending up on the ground.

The fracas was triggered by a minor argument in a chairlift queue, but the pair subsequently alleged each “assaulted” the other. Palmer denies assaulting Lee but admits pushing him first.

Mountain Scene hasn’t spoken to Lee but college deputy principal Greg Thornton – who has talked to him – said on Monday that Lee claims he was “assaulted first” and “retaliated in kind in a hot-headed way”.

Thornton brought the two together at school in Wanaka on Tuesday night and says both have apologised.

Palmer deemed the incident serious enough to advise Snow Sports NZ chairman Rick Pettit of Queenstown. Lee, competing in the Otago-Southland Secondary Schools Ski and Snowboard Competition at Cardrona the day of the incident, was initially banned from taking further part.

But Thornton says witnesses came forward immediately on his student’s behalf to say “there’s dispute as to what did happen and [Lee] needs to continue”.

“He was very shaken and didn’t compete to his best in the next race,” Thornton says.

Lee, competing in this month’s Winter Games, won the giant slalom section but came sixth overall.

What’s not in dispute is that Lee, trying to join his mates, went across the skis of Palmer, who was helping his seven-year-old son.

Thornton says Lee’s version is: “[Lee] has continued to apologise until [Palmer] has said ‘You’re not going to join them’ and then there was a torrent of abuse that [Palmer] also added to that – so Sam reacted.

“[Lee] felt he was assaulted first. He was knocked to the ground and retaliated in kind in a hot-headed way, which again he is apologetic for.”

Thornton added that Lee’s school record is exemplary and such an incident “quite unusual”.

“He wants to make his peace with Ross and treat it as an unfortunate and embarrassing incident for both parties,” Thornton says.

Palmer, who says he copped a shot to his nose and spent the weekend icing a swollen knee, didn’t want to elaborate on Monday.

But when Mountain Scene filled him in on Lee’s version via Thorn­­ton, Palmer says he twice told Lee to go to the back of the line.

Palmer: “[Then] I’m moving forward, so he’s backed off my skis. He’s now behind me, and he starts cutting across behind me.

“I turn around and again say ‘I think you should go to the end of the line’ and that’s when he exploded into a rage in my face, dropping the F-bomb, screaming at the top of his lungs ‘F… you, f… you’, sticking his middle finger in my face…

“I felt threatened, with my seven-year-old standing right next to me. So I pushed [Lee] away from me and then he set upon me.

“He was on top of me punching away and I was just covering up. At no point did I ever throw a punch or even attempt to. He was out of control.”

Palmer says afterwards he alerted a ski patroller to the incident and left for work.

Asked if he’d accept an apology from Lee, he said on Monday: “I don’t know at this point. I’m weighing my options.”

Thornton yesterday released a statement agreed to by the pair during Tuesday’s tete-a-tete: “It was a regrettable incident. Both parties have since met and resolved the issue and are keen to put it behind them.”

It’s the second time this winter Snow Sports NZ has been caught up in unwelcome news.

In June a 13-year-old Wanaka boy on a Snow Sports NZ training camp was found in an alcohol-induced coma and hospitalised after downing a bottle of Jagermeister in about 30 minutes.

Pettit says last Friday’s incident is nothing to do with Snow Sports NZ – which promotes skiing and snowboarding as “fun exhilarating outdoor activities”.