Youth feature of this year’s competition

Kelly Sildaru flies through the air during the World Cup halfpipe competition at the Winter Games...
Kelly Sildaru flies through the air during the World Cup halfpipe competition at the Winter Games last year. Photo: Miles Holden
Strap on your boots, grab your skis and adjust your goggles, the New Zealand Winter Games are back, this time with an injection of youth.

About 400 competitors are making their way down to the Queenstown-Lakes district for the junior freestyle ski and snowboard world championships at Cardrona as part of the Games.

They make up around half the overall athletes competing in the Games in six  sports  on the slopes near Wanaka and Queenstown, as well as the ice in Queenstown and Naseby.

Kelly Sildaru
Kelly Sildaru
Winter Games NZ chief executive Marty Toomey said hosting the junior world championships meant the total number of athletes at the Winter Games was similar to last year’s record-breaking event.

He believed watching the young athletes would be exciting as onlookers would be able to watch likely podium-getters at the next Winter Olympics in 2022, and would include local heroes Zoi Sadowski-Synnott and Nico Porteous.

"There’ll be 14-year-olds here who are going to be absolute superstars in the future. There’s going to be a mix of those who’ve already made it, those who haven’t quite made it yet but are close, and those we’ve never even heard of. The excitement is not knowing what we’re going to see."

"We will see things from some of the juniors that will blow people’s minds because they’ve got nothing to live up to.

"These guys will go out there, be creative and do things that people haven’t seen yet. I’m sure some will surprise as to how good they are."

Elsewhere, the first big air world cup event has attracted 120 of the best freeskiiers and snowboarders on the planet, including both snowboard big air gold medallists in PyeongChang in Anna Gasser and Red Gerard.

Zoi Sadowski-Synnott
Zoi Sadowski-Synnott
"I could roll off six or seven athletes who are top 10 in the world. The fields for big air are very, very strong," Toomey said.

Curling has also stepped up a gear this year, becoming the first event in the southern hemisphere to be a part of the curling world tour, and Toomey believes it can become a critical event for Olympic qualification in years to come.

"It means the really good people have to be here if they want to qualify [for the Olympics]. We’re trying to get some of the very best in the world out here to compete. It allows a place like Naseby to be involved in a big international event that is bigger than curling itself."

In Queenstown, the Ice Blacks will be out to avenge their narrow series loss to their transtasman rival  last year, while the resort town will also host alpine skiing and freeride events.

Finally, cross-country skiing enthusiasts can travel up to Snow Farm to watch three days of international athletes battling it out on the course spanning several kilometres.


Ones to watch
Teenage talents


Arguably the most talented freeskiier on the planet, do not be surprised if the 16-year-old Estonian walks away as the star of these Games. She made her world cup debut at the Winter Games last year, walking away with a slopestyle gold and halfpipe silver. Odds-on favourite to win Olympic gold earlier this year, she tore her anterior cruciate ligament while training at Cardrona last September, ruling her out of the competition. Now she returns to those same slopes to compete in three junior world championship events and the big air world cup.

Where and when: Cardrona: junior world championships, big air Aug 24-25, slopestyle August  29 and 31, halfpipe September 2 and 4. Big air world cup, September 5 and 7.


The 17-year-old snowboarder will also be crossing over between the junior world championships and the big air world cup. In the latter, she will be setting out to try to better her bronze-medal performance at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang in February. In her way  stands gold medallist Anna Gasser and a host of others who lined up for the Olympic final in February. But will home advantage make the difference this time around?

Where and when: Cardrona, junior world championships, slopestyle August 30-31. Big air world cup, September 6 and 8.

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