New Zealand Junior Freeride Tour stop #1 Ruapehu recap
The third and final stop of the GoPro New Zealand Junior Freeride Tour for 2016 was held on Friday the 23rd of September at Turoa, Mount Ruapehu.
The day dawned sunny but with the weather forecast predicting rain for the entire weekend there was certainly a sense of urgency to get in while we could and get the event done! The same venue as last year, the ‘Thumb and Fingers’ was selected, providing the competitors with lots of different options and soft spring conditions.
The 15 - 17 year old male skiers got the ball rolling, waiting for breaks in the mist to take their runs. This category was filled with a number of heavy-hitters from the South Island, and with two wild cards for the Freeride Junior World Championships in Andorra next February on the line, the level was certainly high. Hugo Cameron made his first appearance on the podium for the season with a fluid third-place-winning run, and Finn Bilous came in second with two big airs to put him in first place overall for the series. But it was 15 year old Manu Barnard who took the title on the day, with a fast, creative line ending with an impressive double at the end of his run. The result put Manu in second place overall, earning him a wild card along with Finn for the championships in Europe.
Local girl Chloe McMillan took the win over Megan Blackley in the 15 - 17 year old female ski category, skiing with beautiful control in the variable conditions. The only under 10 competitor, Vincent Gerrard from Wanaka, skied well in the rain and deteriorating visibility to secure his spot as the overall champ for 2016, and then the clouds really rolled in, putting the competition on hold.
A tense couple of hours were spent attempting to dry off in the Giant Cafe and begging the fog to clear. The weather for the next few days was looking atrocious and with visibility down to less than 10 metres outside the cafe, the completion of the competition was looking very unlikely. A few in-the-know locals suggested that we wait it out for as long as possible, ‘cause you never know what will happen at Ruapehu! And sure enough, at 1.30 pm the fog lifted and we could see the venue again! Competitors, coaches, judges and parents were suddenly running out the door to get the show back on, it was chaos!
With all involved back in position, the 11 - 14 year old male skiers kicked things off again. Although there were plenty of short course holds as the cloud came and went, and rain showers kept everybody damp, all the competitors managed to ski their runs well with very few mistakes made. The standard was high, with a lot of the competitors hitting the big drop at the bottom of the face. Mount Olympus regular Harry Cookson took the win, and local North Island brothers Fynn and Lachlan Powell battled it out for 2nd and 3rd respectively.
Having waited at the top of the venue for a huge amount of the day with smiles on their faces, the 11 - 14 year old female skiers finally got their turn, and turned out to be the stand out category of the day. Ruapehu ripper Jessie Violet came out of the gate charging and lined up a big drop in the first section of the venue. Unfortunately she wasn’t able to take it to her feet, but scored herself a GoPro for ‘Move of the Day’ with her aggressive, solid style. Lola Crump, another North Island skier, came in third behind Bella and Molly Thomsson. The sisters have been battling it out for the title all season, and this time it was Bella who came out on top, skiing fast and stomping three impressive airs to take the win convincingly.
Patiently waiting in the rain for their runs, the snowboarders were the last category of the day. With visibility again deteriorating, the boys rode well in the wet conditions. James Thompson took third, with Timo Fitzpatrick keeping his run fluid to take second place. Finn Duffy showed great control both in the air and on snow to take his third consecutive win and secure his wild card for the Freeride Junior World Championships.
With the rain setting in the competition was packed up quickly with parents and riders all chipping in to get the job done. A challenging run to the base buildings through the fog and rain got everyone off the mountain safely and in to the cafe to dry off and enjoy prize giving. A huge swag of prizes were given out, thanks to sponsors GoPro, Smith, K2 Snowboards, and Volkl Skis, and all who made the podium were lucky enough to receive a pair of iDance Headphones.
Although the mountain threw as many weather-related challenges as possible at the event organisers, the day was a great success and everyone involved left happy and excited for next year. A huge, huge thank you to the army of parents and volunteers who persevered in the rain to make the event happen. Thanks also to the helpful crew at Turoa for their support. Although wet and foggy, it was a fantastic end to the NZJFT season.