What is Obsidian? We hear you ask! Well it was the biggest snow sports event of 2020, with the finest kiwi talent competing in five epic challenges. The challenges were a mix of showing off their sporting steeze, as well as their film making talents!
But how did we get here? The Winter Games NZ was founded in 2009 and since then there has been 8 editions of this snow sports jewel in the Southern Hemisphere’s crown. The event normally hosts the World Cup events in Park and Pipe and is the first event of the FIS calendar. But when Covid hit and international travel dried up, New Zealand was in a unique position to still host a world class event with homegrown talent. The Winter Games NZ team realised they could not only showcase the kiwi athletes but also the amazing New Zealand snow industry and stunning backdrop. So Obsidian was born!
21 of New Zealand’s best athletes, from Olympic medallists through to Freeride World Tour winners, skiers versus snowboarders, women versus men and freeride versus park athletes were chosen to collaborate in creating the event.
Over the ten-day weather window, three mixed teams battled it out to win the Edgar Challenge Trophy and be the overall winners of the Obsidian. Each team comprised of seven elite athletes and two world class embedded videographers capturing the vibe.
We had three snow sports legends as team leaders, with New Zealand’s most well-known snow sports athlete Jossi Wells being joined by one of the most versatile female freeskiers in the world Janina Kuzma and freeride pro Sam Smoothy, as the third Team Captain.
The first challenge was a Big Air competition up at the world class park at Cardrona Alpine resort. COVID-19 restrictions unfortunately came into force the night before the event which forced everyone into a last minute reorganisation. Yet the silver lining turned out to be that the Big Air comp was held in blue bird conditions on an empty ski field making for some slightly eerie yet beautiful images and video.
Team Jossi took out the top spot in each of the three categories Men’s Ski, Men’s Snowboard and Women’s, with Nico Porteous, Margaux Hackett and Carlos Garcia Knight’s strong performances.
Nico Porteous, bronze medallist at PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, was crowned overall Men’s Freeski Big Air Champion. “My day was off the charts. I haven’t had a day like this for so long. It was unbelievable,” said Porteous. “I ended up coming out and doing tricks I have only done twice before in my life. Beyond stoked to be standing on that top podium.”
This stunning day was backed up with a classic freeride competition held out at the Minaret Range, in the stunning backcountry of Wānaka, which could only be heli accessed by the amped athletes, some of which had never had such an opportunity.
The venue tested the 21 athletes, with Janina Kuzma showing her experience in the women’s category. The 2014 Halfpipe skier from the Sochi Olympics and the Freeride World Tour veteran was strong and smooth on the face in difficult conditions. Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, Olympic Bronze Medallist snowboarder and multiple X-Games medallist claimed second place in her first top-level freeride contest but you wouldn’t have known it watching her. She took one of the harder lines on one of the more exposed sections of the face and managed to pull off a very clean line.
“Really stoked to be back in the yellow bib today as it’s been nearly two years,’ said an excited Kuzma. “Especially doing a freeride event! I’m just super happy to pick a line skiable to the conditions today. It was awesome to see all the girls putting great lines down as well and just stoked to take out the win.”
In first place for the men’s ski category was Craig Murray, who is unquestionably one of the best freeride skiers in the world and he didn’t disappoint at Obsidian. His run was almost fall line from the top to the bottom of the face, which was incredibly exposed and difficult terrain. There was no question in the judge’s minds who would win the Freeride Obsidian men’s ski.
Murray was stoked, “The comp was super fun up here today, with a full kiwi crew full of amazing talent in ski and snowboard. It was so cool to see different disciplined athletes competing here. I’m super happy to stay on my feet and come away with the win!”
Next up was the Park Jam up at Cardrona Park, where the build team had crafted the most insane set of park jumps, hips, rails and stylish features for the athletes to show off their talents. The Park Jam was all about expression and creativity and it didn’t disappoint.
“The athletes and organisers wanted to keep the Park Jam true to an old school jam format, which meant the judging criteria was around the vibe of an athlete’s run,” explained Head Judge, Tori Beattie. “And it came out strong in the athletes, it was great to see.”
The men’s ski was the biggest category and at the end of the semi-finals it was hard for the judges to pick only three to go through. It ended up with Finn Bilous grabbing first, Jackson Wells in second and Beau-James Wells rounding out in third. Bilous emerged on top for the judges due to him hitting every single feature on the course, every run had a different line through, all tricks were landed and grabbed perfectly. He showed his variety and technical strength to come out on top. Jackson Wells took the vibe criteria seriously and probably got the most laps out of anyone. Running uphill at one point and showing his incredible skateboarding background and creativity.
“It was full-on, even the qualifying rounds were pretty intense, then it just turned up a notch in the finals,” explained Bilous. “I had a few tricks in mind. I saw the course set up yesterday and did a few of those tricks that I wanted to do. I didn’t get the results I wanted earlier in the week so I put everything I could into this comp, so I’m stoked it worked out”
It was a similar story for the men’s snowboard category with the judges wanting to take four athletes through to the finals but could only take three. Tiarn Collins, JJ Rayward and Ronan Thompson made it through with big sends and technical rail tricks. The quarter pipe became a key feature on the course and landing tricks on it became important as the competition went through. Tiarn Collins rose to the top with some technical tricks and really impressed the judges. JJ Rayward displayed his creativity and jumped into second, with Freeride athlete Ronan Thompson showing he was not just a big mountain athlete.
“It was fun today, I was able to put down a few things so I am so happy,” said a stoked Collins. “It was sick with the set up, you could see all the different types of snowboarding – it wasn’t just a rail jam, it was more of a park which is awesome, I loved it.”
Olympic bronze medallist Zoi Sadowski-Synnott was stand out with her technical prowess on the rails and was above all others out there. Christy Prior’s experience in the park also shone through and she was definitely in her comfort zone. Young Ruby Andrews managed to pip Team Captain Janina Kuzma to the third spot with a couple of technical rail tricks, where Kuzma showed her pipe skills.
“I’m pretty stoked and the whole week has just been so fun, everyone has just been so happy to be here so good vibes all around,” said Sadowski-Synnott.
Team Kuzma came out on top for the event followed by Team Smoothy and Team Wells. This performance from Kuzma’s team was still not enough though to topple Team Smoothy off the top of the overall leaderboard.
Coronet Peak, The Remarkables and Treble Cone were the hosts for the fourth Obsidian challenge, the Mountain Shred. Each of our three teams visited a different ski resort where they built and sessioned various lines around the mountain. The embedded videographers filmed the action and created a three-minute edit from which they were judged 80% by the sports panel on the athletes tricks and execution and 20% by the media panel on the cinematography of the edit. Team Wells with Two Bearded Men came out on top, followed by Team Smoothy with videographers Diaries Downunder in second and Team Kuzma and Jase Hancox Film in third.
You can see all of the edits on the Winter Games NZ Vimeo or YouTube channels for free.
The final competition was the Obsidian Overall edit. Team Kuzma and Jase Hancox Film took the top spot on the Edit Podium with their 7-minute epic movie featuring The Remarkables and Mother Nature herself. This art-house film won the hearts of the media panel with its expansive cinematography and crafted narrative. This win meant Team Kuzma seized second place overall in the Obsidian, narrowly beating an extremely competitive Team Smoothy.
After an epic ten days of competition on the slope as well as the edit suite, Team Wells was crowned victorious at the Obsidian 2020 after a tight race which came down to the wire. After five challenges Team Wells snatched the win by only 20 points ahead of their rivals Team Kuzma and Team Smoothy, who were tied on 500 points each on the overall leaderboard.
The success of the Obsidian has spurred the Winter Games team on to recreate the event with an international twist for 2021. Look out for the latest on www.wintergamesnz.kiwi and book in to come see the action at Cardrona Alpine Resort between Saturday 28th August – Sunday 5th September 2021!