Queenstown snowboarding queen Cool Wakushima could easily describe 2022 as her annus horribilis.
Wakushima, 21, battled through a horror year of injuries, starting at the Beijing Winter Olympics last February.
She tells Mountain Scene she sustained a micro-fracture to her tailbone on her last practise day, so only managed to compete in one run, ‘‘and I was out for the whole Olympic Games’’.
‘‘The whole course was pretty much man-made snow, and it was icy and windy and I went too big and just [went] straight to my bum.
‘‘I couldn’t really properly walk or sit down for a couple of months.’’
While it took about three months for her to recover sufficiently to get back into action, the pain still lingers, she says.
‘‘If I sit too long, it’ll start hurting again.’’
Becoming a Red Bull athlete last July was definitely the highlight of the year, she says, describing the experience as ‘‘unreal’’.
Wakushima headed to Cardrona for a training day and was told one of the other coaches was going heli-skiing, so she was invited to check out the chopper.
‘‘I’ve never seen a helicopter up close, so I was really excited … when I was checking out the helicopter, from the outside, Nico [Porteous] tapped me on the shoulder and I got given the helmet.
‘‘I was so oblivious, I had no idea what was going on, I just stood there,’’ she laughs.
Wakushima strapped on the board for the New Zealand season, but then injured her hip before she broke her ribs and then her sternum.
‘‘And then I went overseas [to Europe] in January and did my eye socket … I landed straight to my face.’’
She wasn’t allowed to fly due to her injury, so was ‘‘stuck in Europe for a month’’.
After convalescing in Queenstown, Wakushima returned to Europe in March for a couple of months, then to Japan for some dry slope training before jetting to Mammoth, in the US, for a Rebel Camp.
She arrived home late last month and fresh off her win in the FIS Australia NZ Cup (ANC) snowboard slopestyle at The Remarkables last weekend (see below), she’s now focusing on the International Obsidian, part of Winter Games NZ.
It sees invited teams, comprising the best freeski and snowboard athletes representing Asia, Europe, the Americas and Oceania, battle for bragging rights across custom-built terrain park venues at Cardrona and freeride terrain in the mountains around Wānaka.
Repping Team Oceania, Wakushima says she can’t wait for the event, being held during a weather window between September 9 and 13.
‘‘It’s super-different, I think it’s going to challenge a lot of the athletes, because it involves every aspect of snowboarding — it’s not just park, or it’s not just jumps, you’ve got to be able to snowboard or ski as a whole.
‘‘It’ll be an interesting watch, I think.’’
Other major competitions she’s aiming to go big for here this year are the Jossi Wells Invitational, being held from September 14 to 17 at Treble Cone, and two more FIS ANC events.
While she’s in it to win it, intending to fine-tune her tricks, and learn some new ones so she’s competition-ready, her primary goal is to ‘‘stay healthy and to have fun on the board’’.
She’s also keeping a close eye on the next generation — Wakushima says tyros Lucia Georgalli, 16, of Wānaka and Ava Beer, 14, of Te Anau, are ‘‘amazing’’.
‘‘I’m super-excited to watch them at junior worlds and see what they can put down.
‘‘It’s looking pretty bright for NZ women in the future.’’
Ready to shred
After eight months off, Queenstown’s Cool Wakushima’s come back with a bang, winning the FIS Australia New Zealand Cup women’s slopestyle at The Remarkables last Saturday.
The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympian, 21, scored an impressive 92.67 for her run, which included lacing together a technical frontside 720 into a backside 900 on the jumps to claim the top spot.
Wakushima says she’s feeling ‘‘really good’’ and was looking forward to feeling the ‘‘competition butterflies again’’.
She’s pictured, centre, with Korea’s Seung Eun Yu (left, second place) and Wānaka’s Lucia Georgalli, 16 (right, third place).
In the women’s freeski, Queenstown teen Madeleine Disbrowe came out on top.
The 15-year-old’s run included a right cork 720 with a lead tail grab on the second jump, the first time she’s landed that trick in a slopestyle competition.
Madeleine says it feels ‘‘unreal, but really good’’ to take the win and some confidence into the FIS Park and Pipe Junior World Champs in a couple of weeks.
Nanaho Kiriyama, of Japan, came second and Wānaka’s Sylvia Trotter, 15, third.
The next event of the 2023 FIS Australia New Zealand Cup series will be held at Cardrona from September 28, as part of the Cardrona Freestyle Nationals.
The winner of each division of the series will receive a personal FIS World Cup spot for the coming 2023-24 season.