The 12 long months of winter

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Five talented Queenstown teens are packing their bags and saying goodbye to summer for their solo northern hemisphere winter excursions.

It might seem a trip of a lifetime for most but for these teenage alpine ski racers it’s just par for the course – they’ve got their sights set on chasing Olympic dreams.

Harrison Steedman, 16, Adam Barwood, 17, Harriet Miller-Brown, 18, Taylor Rapley, 18, and Charlotte Newbold, 18, are all members of the New Zealand development ski racing team.

They leave families and friends behind – and celebrate Christmas alone – as they head to Europe and the United States for four months of intensive training and racing to lower their FIS points.

It’s an expensive sacrifice – costing parents between $20,000-$50,000 each year – as they strive for their 2014 Olympic dream.

They spend their NZ winters training on snow at least six days a week from 5.30am-1pm then head to the gym before an afternoon session of school at Wakatipu High, followed by tuning skis, dinner and bed, ready to do it all again next day.

But dedication isn’t just for the snow – they also manage to juggle NCEA assessments and exams in between competing.

Steedman and Barwood were recently awarded Bruce Grant scholarship awards and Newbold, who attends St Hilda’s in Dunedin, is applying for a scholarship in Applied Science at a reputable US university.

Miller-Brown won the Level 3 health science prize and Rapley recently won sportswoman of the year at the Southland Secondary School sports awards.

“It’s been quite hard to catch up with school. I’ve been trying to do lots of stuff in my own time, like going to school after hours,” Steedman says.

As a result of funding cuts for their squad – and the subsequent loss of coaches Mike Gould and Peter Sanford – the teenagers will travel solo and receive support from coaches where they’ll be based.

Their parents, who carefully plan and book everything, make sure they’ve got suitable accommodation.

Saying goodbye to the kids “doesn’t get any easier”, parent Colleen Steedman says.

“We love the fact that Harrison’s so committed and loves doing what he’s doing. We’ve always said that as long as he’s committed we’ll commit ourselves.

“Even if it has to be that he misses family Christmases. We’re in touch with him every other day and the technology these days is brilliant.”

Rapley: “It’s not always easy but it’s what I like to do, so you have to make sacrifices sometimes.”

While there aren’t big numbers of international-level Kiwi ski racers, the northern hemisphere pool is huge.

Time on snow is crucial, says Miller-Brown’s dad Nigel Brown, a former NZ ski racing team member.

“They compete in about 25 races over there – it’s going to be a lot tougher than here,” he says.