The first ski races took place in New Zealand in the 1920s. Racing events became an important means of contact between the ski clubs in early years. The first nationwide ski championships were held at Ruapehu in 1929, and competitions between New Zealand and Australia began in the 1930s. Federated Mountain Clubs set up a ski sub-committee in 1931 and then a Ski Council in 1932 to organise these events. An independent New Zealand Ski Council (now the New Zealand Snowsports Council) was established in 1954. National and Australia-New Zealand competitions are now managed by Ski Racing New Zealand (SRNZ).
The main informal opportunities for competitive skiing are interschool and Masters events. Masters skiing is a nationwide programme where adult competitors can measure their results (adjusted for age) against a standard.
Major international skiing events are not held in New Zealand. This is largely because there is no infrastructure for such large competitions.
Because there was no local circuit at élite level, skiers who wanted to compete individually once had to attach themselves to an overseas team. This was made possible from the 1960s by overseas national teams training in New Zealand in their off season. New Zealand’s winter months are from June to August.
New Zealand ski champions
Ski racing in New Zealand, as elsewhere, has been dominated by descendants of ski-racing families from Europe. Annelise Coberger, of German ancestry, was the first New Zealander to achieve international skiing fame when she won a top-level World Cup race in 1992. The same year she won a silver medal in the slalom event at the Winter Olympic Games in Albertville, France.
Austrian-born New Zealander Claudia Riegler also achieved World Cup successes, and skied in the 1994, 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympics. She retired in 2003 after nine years on the World Cup slalom ski circuit.
An exception to the pattern was Simon Wi Rutene, of Māori descent. New Zealand national skiing champion from 1986 to 1995, he competed in four Winter Olympic games in the 1980s and 1990s.
A skiing family
German immigrant Oscar Coberger began teaching skiing at the Hermitage, Aoraki/Mt Cook, in 1926. He saw the potential of Arthur’s Pass as a ski field that could be reached by train from Christchurch. He set up a shop there to sell skiing equipment – one of the few such places in New Zealand. His granddaughter, Annelise, went on to become New Zealand’s first Olympic skiing medallist.
National representative teams
The New Zealand Disabled Ski Team has been attending the Winter Paralympics since 1980. It won New Zealand’s first medals in international skiing in 1984 at Innsbruck, Austria, and has had notable success since then. Gold medallists at the 2002 Winter Paralympics at Salt Lake City, USA, were Rachael Battersby and Steve Bayley. In 2010 Adam Hall won a gold medal at Vancouver, Canada.
Since the early 2000s, a national representative ski team has competed at international events, notably the Winter Olympics.