If you asked me, ‘What is the NZ Freeski Open?’ my first answer would be ‘a competition’. However, this would quickly be succeeded by multiple other descriptions: a good time, a world-class event, a pathway, and even the beginning of my big mountain skiing career.

I first competed in the NZ Freeski Open Freeride World Qualifier in 2009. It was my first trip to NZ, my first big mountain competition but not the first time I found myself crashing down a big mountain qualifying venue while vying for a spot in the finals. At the time I knew no one, was fairly embarrassed and was scooting around on one ski, the other was somewhere stranded on Shadow Basin. And yet, within less than half an hour, and after two laps searching for my lost ski, I was down the bottom of the venue celebrating with the other competitors. Everyone made you feel welcome and my friends and I were quickly sucked into the freeski community banter and fun around the finish line.

Sam Smoothy sending it deep in the Alta Chutes back in 2009. Photo: Camilla Stoddart

Sam Smoothy sending it deep in the Alta Chutes back in 2009.
Photo: Camilla Stoddart

I spent the next day at the top of Alta Chutes as a ski ninja, watching some of the best in the game drop into their finals run. That competition was the hook that dragged me down the rabbit hole of competitive big mountain skiing.

That’s my story and I’m sure that everyone has his or her own rendition; memories of incredible skiing, big airs, break-through performances and the first podium that you ever stood on. What makes the NZ Freeski Open so special is the history and memories that are now infused into the event.

Beau-James Wells, Sabrina Cakmakli, and Gus Kenworthy getting ready to drop into the pipe (2013). Photo: Neil Kerr, NZ Skier

Beau-James Wells, Sabrina Cakmakli, and Gus Kenworthy getting ready to drop into the pipe (2013).
Photo: Neil Kerr, NZ Skier

For many locals they will associate it with watching the heroes of their youth attacking the Motatapu and Alta Chutes, opening new terrain and riding lines that were previously inconceivable until a hungry competitor dropped in. Others may remember it as their first major competition, the first time they were able to test themselves against a line-up of international slopestyle, halfpipe and big mountain talent.

Slopestyle Qualifications at Cardrona Parks NZ

Slopestyle Qualifications at Cardrona Parks NZ

Big mountain competitor Sam Lee views winning the Freeski Open as a pinnacle in the NZ freeskiing landscape. “I think it is the most important comp in New Zealand big mountain skiing. The personal achievement of winning the NZ Open would be as high if not higher than winning a European FWQ 4*. The comp has so much history with most, or all of New Zealand’s best standing on the podium at some point. It is especially cool when our FWT ranked skiers compete, like Sam Smoothy and Charlie Lyons, it raises the level of competition.”

Fraser McDougall sending a backie in the Alta Chutes. Photo: Neil Kerr, NZ Skier

Fraser McDougall sending a backie in the Alta Chutes.
Photo: Neil Kerr, NZ Skier

International athletes who make the trek over to New Zealand agree. Lotten Rapp, winner of the 2013 NZ Freeski Open Big Mountain event believes that it “is a really important start of the race season. Placing well gives you good points to go into the northern hemisphere season so that you have the opportunity to be accepted into whichever Freeride World Qualifier event you want.”

Using her valuable points achieved at the Open last year, Lotten went on to qualify for the 2015 Freeride World Tour.

A happy podium at The Remarkables for the Big Mountain with Lotten Rapp (SWE) and Greg Tuscher (SWI) in the top spot.

A happy podium at The Remarkables for the Big Mountain with Lotten Rapp (SWE) and Greg Tuscher (SWI) in the top spot.

All seriousness aside now, if you were really to ask me what the best part of the event is; it’s the laid back fun nature of the competition; it’s hearing rumours of Zak Hogg and Sam Smoothy planning to wear matching tuxedos while commentating themselves forerun the big mountain qualifiers; it’s the Dion Newport Disc Golf Invitational; it’s taking laps in the Cardrona park in prime spring conditions; it’s the fact that the competition focuses on both producing a world-class event, while still retaining the history of the free spirit, an event that was before its time in promoting competitive freeskiing.

Shenanigans at the inaugural Dion Newport Invitational last year. Photo: Neil Kerr, NZ Skier

Shenanigans at the inaugural Dion Newport Invitational last year.
Photo: Neil Kerr, NZ Skier

The NZ Freeski Open kicked off today at Cardrona for the Park and Pipe and then Monday September 1st at The Remarkables/Treble Cone for the Big Mountain. Check out the Facebook page and website for updates, schedules and results.

I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of cossacks.

Words by Nat Segal