SMALL by name, BIG by rep­u­ta­tion

Ski & Snow - - Skier Profile - Words by: Yvonne Kerr

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.”

Lo­ca­tion: Tre­ble Cone. Photo: Mark Wat­son.

Cap­ti­vated with the view. Photo: Mark Wat­son.

Ge­off stomp­ing an­other one. Lo­ca­tion: Re­mark­ables. Photo: Sam Hall

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