The first ski races took place in New Zealand in the 1920s. Racing events became an important means of contact between 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 was established in 1954. National and Australia–New Zealand competitions are now managed by its successor organisation, Snow Sports New Zealand.
The main informal opportunities for competitive skiing are interschool and Masters events. Masters skiing is a nationwide programme in which adult competitors can measure their results (adjusted for age) against a standard.
Major international skiing events are not held in New Zealand, mainly because the country lacks the infrastructure for large competitions.
Because there was no local circuit at élite level, skiers who wanted to compete individually had to attach themselves to an overseas team. This became possible from the 1960s as overseas national teams trained 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 gain international attention when she won a 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 at 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 Olympics in the 1980s and 1990s.
In 2019/20, teenager Alice Robinson won two World Cup giant slalom races and was sharing the lead in the standings when the season was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A skiing family
German immigrant Oscar Coberger began teaching skiing at the Hermitage, Aoraki/Mt Cook, in 1926. Seeing the potential of Arthur’s Pass as a skifield that could be reached by train from Christchurch, he set up a shop there to sell skiing equipment – one of the few such enterprises in New Zealand. His granddaughter, Annelise, became New Zealand’s first Olympic skiing medallist.
National representative teams
The New Zealand Disabled Ski Team has competed in 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. Multiple gold medallists have included Patrick Cooper (four), Rachael Battersby and Mathew Butson (three), Vivienne Martin and Adam Hall (two).