Snowboarding pathway to glory

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As the Junior World Champs wind up this week, talent-spotters will be hunting for the country’s next Winter Olympians. 

Thirty of New Zealand’s best young freestyle skiers and snowboarders aged 14-20 got a taste of top-level competition during the 10-day event at Cardrona and Snow Park – pitting themselves against some major international athletes. 

The freestyle skiing and snowboard slopestyle events that formed part of the FIS-accredited champs aren’t yet recognised as Olympic sports, but snowboard parallel giant slalom and snowboarding halfpipe are – and the latter’s traditionally been a well-represented event for Kiwi athletes. 

However, at this year’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver, none of NZ’s five snowboarding halfpipe riders made the top 10. 

Wanaka’s Kendall Brown scored highest, taking 15th place, while veteran rider Juliane Bray finished 24th, James Hamilton placed 22nd and Kendall’s brother Mitch Brown ended up in 33rd. 

Wanaka’s Rebecca Sinclair, 18, who finished in 21st place at her Olympic debut, managed to take silver at the Junior Worlds halfpipe event last week. 

Snow Sports New Zealand is aware of many promising young athletes – and “pathways” are being created to ensure they reach their potential, SSNZ boss Ross Palmer says. 

“The pathway is competing in both FIS and Ticket To Ride or other commercial events that all feature the best athletes in the world. 

“A lot of our guys and gals need to get out there and train, compete and put themselves in a position so when they’re standing at the top of the pipe in a pinnacle event they feel like they belong there or they’re used to it.” 

SSNZ has initiated its own snowboarding junior series to help youngsters with more “mid-level” competition experience. 

“When a parent says, ‘How does my kid get to be selected to a junior world championship team next year?’…We can now answer that question,” Palmer says. 

The NZ Academy of Sport’s Winter Performance Programme, financed by sports agency Sparc, managed the 2010 Kiwi Olympic bid. Presently, Snow Sports NZ isn’t involved in Olympic management. 

The way high performance snow sports will be governed and funded for the next four years is the subject of a Sparc review currently underway. 

In the meantime, snow sport industry bosses know there’s work to be done to improve the country’s chances at the 2014 Winter Olympics. 

“The world is not sitting still when it comes to these sports,” Palmer says. 

“We need to continue to invest if we want to keep up with the rest of the world.”