Piera Hudson is home once again but this time she has just one burning preoccupation.

"For the next couple of months I'll have [Winter] Olympics in the back of my mind every day," says Hudson, from her Havelock North home shortly after returning from the 2015-16 northern hemisphere season.

The sense of conviction in the voice of the Hawke's Bay alpine skier is unmistakable, as one would expect from a 20-year-old in the quest to make the cut for the 2018 Pyeongchang Games in South Korea.

"Being here already I don't have to travel, which is nice," says Hudson, who has racked up 22 back-to-back winters on the Federation of International Ski Racing (FIS) circuit.


It's sometimes easy to forget how a 9-year-old girl embarked on a daunting but exciting journey from her then Tikokino family farm to hone her skills on some of the most challenging powdery slopes in the world.

During that expedition she has quietly, but purposefully, made incremental physical and psychological gains in pursuit of an international template.

"I'm older, stronger and I'm skiing a lot faster now," says Hudson, a four-time national champion in slalom, super G and giant slalom who missed out on the Sochi Games in 2014.

Perhaps the best affirmation of her self-worth comes from New Zealand alpine women's team coach, Jonny Rice.

" ... she is now in a position where she can legitimately challenge for an Olympic team place and make inroads into the European and World Cups," says Rice of his protege who is the Audi Quattro ANC Continental Cup International yellow-bib holder.

Ironically her endorsement comes on the heels of poor early snow conditions in Europe that raised the bar and prompted Rice to relocate his team to North America for ideal racing and training conditions.

"This set up Hudson with the mileage and confidence necessary to be successful," he says of her No16 position in giant slalom at the World Junior Championship in Sochi, Russia, and consistent top 10 results on the FIS circuit.

Traditionally, the team descend on the Colorado and Canadian slopes in December before jetting off to Europe post-Christmas but this time they didn't switch continents until January.


Her top 205 ranking among 3700 FIS-registered women from 70 countries competing in giant slalom speaks volumes.

She scored two career bests in giant slalom (technical) in Austria and New Zealand's best result in the same discipline at the junior worlds, as well as three gold podiums in super G (speed) races in the US.

The highlight was accruing 18 FIS points at Bad Hofgastein, Austria, from a bib start of 21 in a field of 74 to finish seventh.

"The 18 FIS points is the second best giant slalom FIS result in NZ history for a Kiwi female and I was up against the top World Cup Austrian women," says Hudson.

The giant slalom feat, she says, was this country's best for both sexes at the alpine junior worlds with a bib start of 39 in a field of 80.

In the US, she won the super G at Copper Mountain and back-to-back titles in the same category at Aspen Highlands in a field of 42.

She shared the podium with world cup winner and four-time winter Olympian Sarah Schleper.

However, Hudson's accidental shift in schedule remains an "unknown territory" and "weird" for her, as well as Rice, to make any concrete plans on following a similar script next season.

Her return home opens the door for the biggest block of off-season training for a world cup circuit where the average age of female athletes is 28.

That begins with twice-a-day sessions at the Peak Fitness gym in the village with trainers Jess Hanara and Lisa Walford.

"With G forces you need strength and good aerobics fitness because it's not a stagnant sport."

This Kiwi winter will signal the start of a new Winter Olympic qualification cycle with a focus for the next four years on making the 2018 muster.

Last winter here, Hudson made a clean sweep of the FIS tech series, national championship and the Continental Cup events which paved the way for bib starts in the northern hemisphere.

Nevertheless, holding one's performance mentally and physically for six months isn't easy for a northern hemisphere programme that demands 45 race starts and switching between a dozen countries in North America and Europe.

Last year she consulted mental coach Edmond Otis, of Napier, and reaped the rewards.

"He's more of a help with pre-race stuff and kicking out of the start gates," she says.

"Not a lot is going in your head but just how fast you are going to go," she reveals, once she's out of the gate but emphasising erasing self-doubt is paramount.