To push a stick in the sand and write the story of a sport that is about as niche as you can get (maybe aside from a short history of underwater hockey) is a bold leap of faith. But I’m glad Sam Masters took it. In The Story of New Zealand Freeskiing, he has captured in this slice of New Zealand subculture the passion, drive and the raw talent the Kiwis took to the world by force at the
end of the 90’s and in the early millennium years. What they spawned was an entire industry segment birthed from the smouldering ruins of the competitive mogul skiing scene.
Tongue firmly in cheek, he breaks down the barriers to a community of fringe dwellers, brings them back to the realm of the mortal, and moulds them into relatable entities – a hard task given the nature of the subject. Weaving the tech, geography and competitions (from the 1974 New Zealand Hot Dog Championships to the World Heli Challenge to the Olympics) together through a timeline that cements the pioneers (like Bridget Mead and Paul Ahern) to the new schoolers (including the Wells and the Bilous brothers), Sam takes us on a journey through a part of Aotearoa’s skiing history that’s never really been captured in any medium, other than hearsay or slander at the bar.
If anyone has the right skills, both as a skier and a wordsmith, to pull off such a bold ambition, it is Sam. The former editor of Powderhound magazine, he is definitely fit for purpose, having skied (competitively and for shits and giggles), partied, photographed and written his way around the snow globe for more than 25 years. He captures this snapshot of time beautifully, blending the people, the competitions, the ski technology and the iconic photography into one excellent coffee table read. But unlike the blue top milk in the fridge that’ll go off in a week, this book will stand the test of time as a solid grungy salute to skiing’s dark counterculture, and to the characters and places that made the world-beating Kiwi freeride scene what it is today. – RM