This weekend looms as a pivotal one for New Zealand ski racing star Alice Robinson.
The 19-year-old won two of the six completed World Cup Giant Slaloms last season but has struggled for consistency so far this campaign. However, she returns to a slope she likes more than most, Kranjska Gora in Slovenia, for back-to-back races on Saturday and Sunday night.
It was on the Kranjska Gora hill last February that Robinson won her second World Cup GS race in what turned out to be the final event of the Covid-hit season; and with firm icy conditions expected, this weekend's races present the ideal opportunity for the Queenstown skier to rediscover her top form.
She has been skiing well but without any significant results and her co-coach Chris Knight acknowledges she needs results this weekend to boost her confidence.
"A couple of good results through the finish line will really set the ball racing. We are pretty lucky with the results she's had and a cancellation that she's still in the top seven and now we have to take advantage of some luck and ski well to get some results," Knight said.
What Knight is alluding to is the last World Cup race in Semmering in Austria which was cancelled due to high winds before the second run. Robinson had crashed on the first run so wouldn't have featured for the second. She failed to finish her two previous Giant Slaloms in Courchevel in France after recording a 12th in the season-opening race in Solden in Austria.
The overall GS Globe title, a goal at the start of the season for Robinson is, remarkably, still a possibility with five races to go including this weekend's double-header. In 25th, on 22 points, the Kiwi will need a series of podium finishes to have a chance to overhaul Italian Federica Brignone who has 205 points.
The lack of results in the three completed races has led to Robinson changing her focus for Kranjska Gora this weekend.
"I kind of have a new mindset. I am going into this a bit more relaxed than the other races and don't have these big expectations and really just want to put down some good skiing.
"I feel like the races before, there has been a lot of stuff going on around the scenes and I put a lot of pressure on myself and I want to go into this one with more of a relaxed attitude and, if I am relaxed, good skiing will come from it."
Reflecting on the failure to finish her last three Giant Slalom runs and one Super G, Robinson admits it's been tough, but she's philosophical - given her career is still very much in its infancy.
"It's tough not making it to the finish line and it's hard to deal with it sometimes." Robinson said.
"But there are always going to be blips in the road and that's what it's been for me and it's been a tough season. One of my crashes for sure was really bad with my ski popping out [from its binding]. So I put it down to bad luck, along with the other one - when I crashed two gates from home - so that's pretty tough.
"The other day it was a super difficult Super G course, and I was going in there having never seen the hill before; so when you're going at 120 kilometres per hour down the slopes and you slightly lose focus it can be very costly making a mistake, so it's about speed too and I am still learning."
Robinson will compete five times in GS and Super G before heading to Cortina, in Italy, where she will spearhead the New Zealand team at next month's Alpine Skiing World Championships. She is relishing the chance to be a part of a New Zealand team again and has a realistic chance of winning a medal in the Giant Slalom.
The individual event entries will be confirmed on Monday, but Snow Sports NZ Head of Alpine Jono Howson has indicated the following entries are likely for the event which takes place from the 7th to the 21st of February:
Robinson – Alpine Combined, Super G, Giant Slalom and Parallel.
Piera Hudson – Giant Slalom, Slalom and Parallel.
Willis Feasey – Super G and Giant Slalom.
Jack Adams – Giant Slalom, Slalom and Parallel.
While Robinson is the obvious focus following her World Cup success, Snow Sports NZ have high hopes for the other members of the team.
Hudson made waves in 2018 when she became the first Kiwi alpine athlete to achieve a top 30 result and score World Cup Slalom points in fifteen years.
She impressively skied from bib 59 to finish in 26th place at the Killington Cup in Vermont, USA and brings her slalom experience to the team.
Hudson will also be on the start list for the two World Cup Giant Slaloms in Kranjska Gora this weekend.
Feasey, who competed in Slalom, Giant Slalom and Super G at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games, brings over thirteen years of FIS racing experience to the team.
"It's always an honour to be selected for a New Zealand team. To ski in Cortina for the most important winter event this year will be amazing and well worth a watch if you can," Feasey said in a media release.
"It's been a pretty weird build up trying to juggle Covid lockdowns and that sort of stuff, so I'm really looking forward to just getting there and trying to ski as fast as possible."
Adams, who has recently achieved his season best score of 43.00 at a FIS Slalom race in Hochfuegen, Austria, rounds out the Kiwi team of four.