Queenstown cruiser Matt’s a tricky customer

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Queenstowner Matt Johnson (pictured) has no regrets about ditching lycra outfits and ski racing for baggy pants and eye-popping freeski tricks. 

The former Queenstown Alpine Ski Team member quit ski racing’s regimented training programme five years ago for the more relaxed lifestyle embodied by freeskiing. 

“I just wanted to sleep in and chill out,” the first-year Otago University finance student says. 

The 19-year-old freeskier joins 30 other young athletes representing New Zealand in the inaugural Junior World Championships at Cardrona and Snow Park. Competition starts on Saturday. 

Teaming up with fellow Queenstown freeskier Matt Soundy, Johnson hit the slopes each weekend when he first switched to learn new tricks. 

“I’m pretty competitive so I saw Soundy and other guys were better than me. 

“They’d do better tricks and it would make me want to try them.” 

The hard work has paid off – last year Johnson was crowned the under-19 freeski champion at the Snowsports NZ Junior Ski and Snowboard Nationals after winning gold in slopestyle, big mountain and parallel giant slalom, plus a silver in skier-cross. 

It’s not just all about cruising for Johnson – he still loves the thrill of speed. 

“I’m not bagging on [alpine] – I still love to go up and do the odd GS and slalom, I have huge respect for what those guys do. But freestyle, to me, the disciplines are broader.” 

Johnson recently got together with hotshot slopestyle Wanaka team-mates and brothers Jossi, Byron and Beau James Wells – plus Hamish McDougall and Soundy – to work out a strategy to take on international freeski pros descending on next week’s Junior World Champs event. 

“Potentially half the Winter X-Games finalists could be in this,” Johnson says. 

“I know that [double gold medallist] Bobby Brown and [bronze medallist] Elias Ambuehl are doing it, so it’ll be a big event.” 

Johnson will also call on his ski racing skills in the skier-cross event. 

More than 300 athletes will take part in the Junior World Champs, which begins tomorrow and ends on August 31. 

Fellow Queenstowners Clare Boanas, 15, (skier-cross) and Hamish Bagley, 14, (snowboard halfpipe) are also entering.