SMALL by name, BIG by reputation
To those skiers and snowboarders who find mountains in Canada or France more challenging than here in New Zealand, try harder. Kiwi pro skier Geoff Small says NZ offers a variety of terrain that’s lacking in other countries, which prepares you for anything and Geoff should know. He may be only 30 but his skiing career spans 25 years. His current national free skiing title is his seventh. Geoff also has three North American free skiing championship wins and a world heli-challenge title under his belt. “NZ is just so unique because the ski line is above the tree line,” he says. “In a lot of other countries, you’re in the trees. Having wide open slopes and being able to ski in full alpine conditions and on glaciers, I love it. Nothing really compares to it. We’ve got some of the biggest vertical terrain in the world, it’s gnarly stuff,” Geoff continues. “Learning to ski here certainly prepared me for overseas.” While NZ doesn’t have great lift access, as lifts are usually a couple of thousand feet from the top and bottom of the mountain, Geoff encourages skiers to explore in an educated way. “It’s about going out there and realising what you can do under your own steam.” Born in Canada, Geoff moved to NZ “in diapers”, spending most of his youth in the North Island. His mother would drag the family to Mt Ruapehu every weekend and “physically throw” him down the mountain, he says. With a deep respect for the hills, Geoff can barely contain himself when he’s talking about his first love, free skiing and the express ticket it gives him to explore the mountains with abandon.
“Free skiing is harnessing the energy of the mountains,” says the national free skiing champ. “They’re a huge untapped resource, there for us to use.” A Queenstowner for the past 10 years, Geoff has been coaching a lot of late. He’ll supervise the Freeski programme at Treble Cone this season, including a camp with international athletes, and he’s been involved with the Queenstown Alpine Ski Team for the past year. “I do enjoy coaching,” Geoff says. “It’s a great stage in my life and skiing career to do that.” But competing is his priority. He can’t wait for the snow to fall and is furiously cross-training in several multisport events to increase his fitness for the slopes. His goals are to win the national champs three more times, making it 10 titles, and regain his North American free skiing trophy. “I just want to get out there and start charging.”
Free skiing is a natural progression from the conventional notion of skiing, Geoff says. “It’s looking at a mountain and choosing your lines, not just using certain parts of the mountain, it’s using the contours and utilising the snow and really being at one with the hill.” The sport of competitive free skiing comes as a whole new way of riding, he says. There are no limits, no gates and no restrictions. Competitors are given a start and finish area and must descend quite “radical” terrain to maximise each free skier skill level. “You can’t charge a real easy line to win,” says the experienced ski racer. “You have to use everything you’ve got to manage the line and manage yourself on the mountain.” The best skiers are creative with their route finding and those who are playful on the slopes are rewarded by judges, Geoff says.
He’s drawn to big mountain skiing because of its magnitude and its emotional challenges. “You have to deal with your inner fears, pick your lines well and really back yourself.” Geoff’s attempt at the North American title last year was hindered by the death of his father, which obviously affected his morale. “I was feeling a little lonely,” he says. “But I’m feeling stronger than ever now. I can’t wait for the national events.”
Captivated with the view. Photo: Mark Watson.
Geoff stomping another one. Location: Remarkables. Photo: Sam Hall