Alpine skiing: Piera's plea to tame ski slopes

By Anendra Singh

She steps gingerly on a 7m fluorescent yellow belt hooked just below the bumper of a car and the deck of a relative's beach house in Waimarama, half an hour south of Hastings.

Effectively Piera Hudson is walking a tightrope on a crisp spring day.

Hawke's Bay photographer Glenn Taylor zooms in for a shot. The 16-year-old wobbles and loses her perch.

Unfazed, the teenager from Tikokino bounces straight back into the balance act. The steely determination etched on her face is unmistakable as she treads, egg-shell fashion, to the bumper.

Her face breaks into a triumphant smile as her parents, Fiona and John Hudson, watch from a comfortable distance. The family dalmatians, Dougal and Poppy, go nuts.

Fiona explains the need for her daughter to work on power strength as the cardio tends to drop off as the Hawke's Bay alpine ski racer attempts to acquire a state of ski fitness.

The Hudson family is making the most of the Bay weather before Hudson hits the powdery slopes of exotic Canadian and European ski locations to realise her dream of making the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in 2014.

If Hudson is metaphorically walking a tightrope, it's definitely in the money stakes as her family helps her embark on "We're Taking Hawke's Bay to the Winter Olympics" with a cocktail party at Birdwoods Gallery, in Havelock North, on Wednesday next week from 6pm.

Needing $136,000 a year to achieve her goal, the Hudsons hope to raise about $30,000 in next week's cocktail from the generosity of the province.

"We're appealing to the business community to help raise the funds so to get some support will just be fantastic - anything, really," Fiona says, after the family sold their Tikokino farm to live at a relative's home until the New Year.

Alpine skiing, considered a minority sport, receives no funds from the Government.

While, for argument's sake, BMX rider Sarah Walker, in a field of 141 elite riders, receives financial support and reaps the benefits of high performance academies, Hudson frustratingly finds no respite among a field of 6000 elite female skiers internationally.

Fiona's business, Cinta Research, a national firm focusing primarily on the agricultural sector, is Hudson's main sponsor.

Piera has a number of international equipment sponsors and receives a grant from the Jarrod Cunningham Trust and Sport Hawke's Bay, which cover a small proportion of the costs.

If Hudson, a Super G, giant slalom and slalom skier, makes it to the Sochi Winter Olympics she'll create history as the the first Bay person to do so.

"I'm really determined to go there. I'll be 18 on the opening ceremony [February 7] day so it'll be an awesome experience because I've always wanted to represent New Zealand at the Winter Olympics," says the youngster who favours the high-speed Super G and giant slalom to a sedate slalom.

"In slalom you hit the poles too much and it slows you down," says the country's third best slalom racer who clocks 116km/h over a 2km downhill run in the Super G.

Hudson is circumspect about finding a place on the podium to the tune of God Defend New Zealand in her first foray into the Winter Olympics.

Instead, she expects to get her feelers out at Sochi to gauge everything from the atmosphere to her elite rivals' demeanour but definitely fancies chasing medals in the subsequent Games.

Weight for weight, pound for pound, she is the eighth best in the world for her age group in Super G and has an overall world ranking in the low 300s.

Her New Zealand coach, Jonny Rice, puts that in perspective: "After a successful first season it is often difficult for a young racer to back up their results in their second international year.

"With international podium finishes this Southern Hemisphere season she has proven she has the ability to perform when it counts and not only consolidate last year's excellent successes but to eclipse them. She is on track to put New Zealand back on the map in the most competitive of all winter sports," says the elite women's coach at the Cardrona High Performance Centre, in Wanaka, who speaks fluent German.

"He puts Post It notes on items like the TV and everyday things because German basics is very useful in having a light conversation," says a grinning Hudson, who intends taking German as a subject.

Hudson has been based at the Cardrona centre for the first part of the season, finishing second in the FIS Tech Series against an internationally ranked field of 35.

Last year she competed in the World Juniors but this year a tighter schedule means she'll go straight to the FIS Alpine World Ski Championship to mix it with the big guns at Schladming, Styria, in Austria, from February 4-17 next year.

How has a girl from dusty, rural Tikokino dreamt of Winter Olympics?

"I mean we've always had the Ruahine Ranges in the background but we always went on skiing holidays when I was a kid so we went to Cardrona [her favourite skifield in the world] and I learned to ski at an early age."

It hasn't been easy staying away from home six to nine months each year, sometimes not experiencing a decent summer.

"It can be hard because you don't see your family, friends and pets but there are so many other rewards you get from skiing that make it worthwhile," says Hudson who has embraced online schooling because it's too hard to revert to a classroom environment after a nomadic lifestyle.

Yesterday she was catching up with her skiing boyfriend, Charlie Raposo, 16, of London, who is at an American academy.

They will meet again at Christmas in Switzerland but before that, Hudson will be the guest of German women's coach, Thomas Stauffer, to train and race with his stable in Hinterreit skifield, in Sweden, and Norway.

To help, fans can "Like" Piera Hudson Athlete on Facebook.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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