Don't mention Sochi to New Zealand's most seasoned men's free skier Byron Wells.

The Winter Olympics four years ago are a time he acknowledges was ''quite a dark period''.

Injury ruled the Wanaka skier out of the Games at the last minute. Injuries are part and parcel of snow sports competition, that's a given. It was the lateness of having to withdraw which hurt.

''It was pretty miserable and I've tried to block out all those memories. I've had my fair share of injuries, as has everybody in the sport,'' Wells said as he prepared for the Games in PyeongChang.


He had damaged his lower leg. It felt like a broken leg, but without the break.

''We ended up chucking a whole heap of local anaesthetic in trying to numb it up as much as we could. But I couldn't get to the point where I could pull a ski boot on.''

There should have been four Wells brothers in South Korea. But this time, it is the best-known of the quartet, Jossi, who is missing.

A torn patella tendon suffered last June hasn't come right to the point he felt he could contend for a medal, having finished fourth in Sochi. So it's just Byron and younger brothers Beau-James and Jackson in PyeongChang. Beau-James will contest the halfpipe with Byron; Jackson, the youngest at 19, is in the slopestyle.

Byron Wells has been at this game several years now. At 25, he's something of a veteran of essentialy a young person's sport.

But as he was quick to point out, ''on the day [of competition], age isn't really a factor''.

That was said in relation to the nipper, Nico Porteous, who at 16 is second youngest, by days, to slalom skier Alice Robinson. But he could just as easily have been talking about himself, at the other end of the age scale.

The reason he's now specialising in halfpipe is simple: he's better at it.

Byron Wells of New Zealand competes in a qualifying round of the FIS Freeski World Cup 2018. Photo / Getty
Byron Wells of New Zealand competes in a qualifying round of the FIS Freeski World Cup 2018. Photo / Getty

''I ended up falling into it, getting results and became better at it than slope. Slopstyle is always a whole heap more fun and a little more creative.

I liked that every event is a different course. Halfpipe is the same everywhere we go. I just happened to be getting results when I was 15, making finals in halfpipe events. I realised that was probably where I was going to do my best.

It's a great discipline and feels awesome when it goes right.''

It's up to the skier to add little bits of flair into the routine to make it eyecatching for the judges.

Wells has had a smattering of top class international results, but injuries have kept him grounded, and realistic.

''All you can do as an athlete is compete to my very best; I can't ask too much more than that,'' he said.

''But whenever you go to an event, you need to be going to win. You go and ski your best and see what they [the judges] think.''

And Wells is confident New Zealand will at least double its Winter Olympic medal tally,
which stands at one, the supreme silver medal won by Annelise Coberger in the slalom at Albertville, France, in 1992.

''To see the young guys we've got coming through, and the team we have, there is potential for one, if not more of them to be standing on the podium. It is cool to see.''
Wells credits Snow Sports NZ with the development of the younger crop.

''It's getting kids into a state where they can perform and learn and start climbing the ranks.''

Once upon a time, Byron Wells was in that group. He may now be an elder statesman of this game but at heart he's still having as much fun as he ever had.