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The two-week-long Winter Games wrapped up last Saturday, bringing an end to a period of festivity, high-achievement and excitement for much of the South.
As beautiful as the snow-capped mountains and slick skiing looked, the peaks perhaps best highlighted by the event were those achieved by the locals who put it on.
Dozens of people tackled all sorts of roles to ensure the event — in the top five of global winter sports competitions and the only one of those top-five events in the southern hemisphere — ran without a hitch. The vast majority of those involved, from senior management right down to the swarm of volunteers, were from the South. With some 1500 athletes and support staff present, the Winter Games added an international buzz to the event locations, the sort of buzz only seen when global sporting events come calling.
That buzz would have had a tangible effect on the burgeoning pool of young and internationally competitive New Zealand snow-sport athletes who had the chance to rub shoulders with and observe Olympic stars. How much benefit did local youngsters get watching the professionalism on display, the attention to detail, the focus?
An ongoing narrative in sport — especially in rugby at the moment as other countries try to compete with the All Blacks — is that success breeds success. It appears to operate as a compounding effect, as youngsters are shown constantly improving attitudes, techniques and perspectives to reach their potential. The opportunity provided by the Winter Games for our young athletes, to see success and successful people, will surely pay dividends in the future.
Some might scoff at why that matters. After all, snow-sports are traditionally seen as the domain of the wealthy — a not unreasonable view considering the equipment and clothing costs required to participate. Then there’s the cost of building, maintaining and staffing snow-sport facilities in alpine terrain, costs which — traditionally at least — can only be recouped over a relatively short operating period.
Times are changing though. As more people in the South give snow-sports a go, more second-hand equipment and clothing enters the market. The rise of summer activities on skifields — primarily mountain biking — means the future revenues of those businesses can be spread across the year.
Consequently, skifields are making bigger and bolder investments, as can be seen with Cardrona Alpine Resort which, in the space of just a few years, will have added a chondola, new chairlifts and a more-than doubling of skiable terrain.
Meanwhile, snow-sports themselves continue to grow in popularity around the world as the power of online video platforms means once-niche events, like the Winter Olympics and X-Games, can be easily and cheaply broadcast to a mountain of fans and potential fans. And for the last few weeks it was our region being seen around the world by this army of fans. Our mountains, our facilities, our rivers, lakes and apres-ski hot spots.
But perhaps the greatest victory of this year’s Winter Games was not that of our scenery, or even the athletes who came and experienced the ecstasy of achieving extravagant goals. It could be argued the victory was the proof, yet again, that the South is stocked not only with a world-renowned landscape, but also with world-class people.
People who can envisage, fund, plan, promote and produce a global sporting event across multiple locations around the South. People who can impress the international community, who have used their skills and energy so successfully that their achievements could be seen as trumping the quality of our landscapes.
The Winter Games are something this region should be proud of. And all those responsible for their success, from the leadership team to the volunteers, should know what that really means is, we’re proud of them.