In Europe, top alpine ski racers are household names.
In New Zealand, however, alpine racing flies so low on the radar that the likes of Adam Barwood – who recently defended his national slalom title for the third year running – is ‘Adam Who’ to most people.
That could be changing, though.
In February, the 22-year-old Queenstowner got some overdue recognition when he competed in his first Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
He finished 25th in the slalom, where he’s now ranked 196th in the world.
“He’s doing brilliantly well,” his coach Nils Coberger says.
“It was a real bonus for Adam to qualify for the Olympics considering our main focus is the next Olympics in Korea, in 2018.
“Twenty-fifth in the slalom was a top result.”
Adam was again the top Australasian slalom skier at the Australia New Zealand Cup race series at Mt Hotham, Australia, last week.
Before the series resumed at Queenstown’s Coronet Peak yesterday, he and his father Marty took time to reflect on his career.
Adam says he started ski racing on a school holiday programme at Coronet in 2001.
“A few years later when I started getting some good results and getting more into it, I thought I might want to continue for a career in the long run.”
Marty adds: “Adam learnt to ski and to race in the same year.
“He just wanted to win right at the start.
“Where other people get tired of getting up in the early hours of the morning and spending a lot of hours in the gym – other people want a life – Adam’s just continued wanting to win and wanting to go further.
“As long as he keeps improving every year, then we’re really quite happy running with him.”
That’s another way of saying ‘shelling out money’.
Marty estimates that last year it cost him and his wife Anne about $67,000, after tax, to keep Adam training and racing here and overseas.
“At the moment, the funding is pretty much parents, and if the parents aren’t in the position to be able to keep it going, then that’s it.
“A lot of potentially good NZ skiers have pulled out because there’s no money there.”
Marty believes that the governing bodies consider alpine racing “out of vogue” compared with slopestyle skiing and snowboarding.
“They forget that is where most junior athletes get their start.
“The other thing is we don’t have any rock stars for alpine racing.
“If Adam can get some recognition and the other two men on the national team, then it’s good for junior ski racers coming through because they can see they’ve got a goal.
“If the attitude is, ‘it’s old hat, alpine’, where’s the future for those junior skiers coming into the sport?”
Fortunately, Adam has local support from the likes of NZSki, Alpine Health and Fitness, Just Dig It, trusts, and individuals like ex-German ski racer Guenther Raedler.
This Southern Hemisphere season, the national team’s being supported by National Business Review Rich Lister Hamish Edwards, who co-founded accounting software firm Xero.
Edwards is setting up a Supporters Club to help fund the team and has issued an open invite to a function at Queenstown’s Searle Lane Bar & Rotisserie this Sunday at 5pm.
Marty: “For Adam to get to the next level, we have to be training with people that are already at the next level – if we don’t, we will only achieve mediocrity.”
Meanwhile, Coberger says Adam is awesome to work with.
“We have a great athlete-coach relationship.
“He’s a very good technical skier, he’s just rock-solid with his technique – I’m just trying to challenge him to ski a little more aggressively.”
Coberger’s also wanting Adam to be a little less self-effacing: “I’d like him to say ‘boo’ a little bit more.”