Alpine slopes, downhill runs and powder snow.
It's the winter playground that's taken New Plymouth's Finlay Neeson to the top of his sport - alpine ski racing.
The 19-year-old, who is based in Colorado for six months of the year, was recently selected for the 2013 world championships in Schladming, Austria, and the 2013 junior (under-20) world championships in Quebec, Canada.
The world championships, which are held every two years, are the largest and most prestigious alpine ski racing events behind the Winter Olympics.
"It's always been one of my life-long goals to attend and be competitive at the world championships," Neeson said.
"To be selected for both events is great. But due to funding, competing in even one event is a push. Funding is now affecting my ability to achieve and represent New Zealand in the worlds and the Winter Olympics in 2014," he said.
"Costs are where it gets slightly ugly. To attend the world championships, I have to raise $4000 and for junior worlds, $3000. It's not a sport where you can just rock up the day before the event and compete. There are so many variables - types of snow, weather, altitude, terrain, travel etc. So travelling to the location of the event a week to 10 days beforehand is a must."
Neeson said the sport in general demanded a lot of money.
"Throw in travel costs, training space, lift passes, accommodation, coaching, six pairs of skis and boots etc, it starts ticking up," he said.
"An average year for me costs about $25,000. Some people look at that figure and gasp. However, in this day and age, that is a base price. In a professional ski federation, prices skyrocket from that figure per athlete."
Neeson adopts the Kiwi attitude of making do with what he's got.
"You have to. It makes you appreciate every dollar spent and encourages you to take every opportunity . . . whether it be that extra ski run or that extra set in the gym."
Neeson said he was lucky in the off-season to have work when he returned home.
"I'm lucky enough so far to be offered a job cleaning cars by Hareb Deken Motors which is a huge help and I can raise some of my New Zealand funding that way in between winter seasons."
There's little time for work when he returns for the ski season in Canada.
"I'm flat tack. My day consists of 5am starts on the hill until 1pm, followed by my gym session lasting one to two hours. Then there's video analysis and of course the constant ski and equipment tuning to search for that perfection the following day," he said.
"The usual schedule is five days on, then one day off. So in other words, there's no time for extra work. My commitments are to a business degree I'm doing via correspondence through Massey University and constant travel on the United States-Canada circuit. It's tough going at times."
Neeson said he was fortunate to board with top junior United States skier Ty Sprock.
"I'm based out of Silverthorne in Colorado. The suitcase life between competitions splits my living arrangements up," he said.
"I see my family from mid-April until late June and then again from September until late October, so thankfully we have Skype! Christmas in New Zealand is a bit of a distant memory," he said.
"I've been joined by fellow Kiwi, Olympian Ben Griffin and, as well as Ben being a good training partner, it makes home feel that tad closer."
Neeson is sponsor-savvy and was quick to point out his main sponsors were his parents (John and Janis), Taranaki Elite Athlete Foundation, Hareb Deken Motors (for work opportunities), Rampage Fitness, TSB Community Trust and Dodge carbon fibre ski boots.
"I'm ever so thankful for the constant support they give.
"I return the favour by adding them to my website/blog www.finlayneeson.com which gives people an insight to my life as a ski racer and what is involved in the sport," he said.
"I've set up www.sportfunder.com and if anyone wishes to support my goals and aspirations and help get me to the world champs, then check it out . . . there are plenty of rewards for those who would like to be part of this journey."
Neeson said he lived, ate and breathed his sport.
"The aim is to keep representing New Zealand at the highest level and succeed in World Cup alpine ski racing."
Neeson said he believed he was on the right track for success.
"My aim is to compete at the Winter Olympics in 2014 through to the games in 2018," he said.
"Through my 10 years of competing in the sport and six years of representing New Zealand at junior level, the goals just get closer. I've achieved many of them and now the surreal feeling of being on the edge of competing in this magnitude of an event, just makes the desire for winning stronger."
Neeson said ski racing was an extremely mentally demanding sport.
"You ski thousands of turns, one after another, yet the execution in a race is a whole new playbook, facing the variables that weather and bib position on the day brings," he said.
"I could have no visibility for my run and yet the rest of the field may have clear visibility. That's the realities race day brings. It can be a long way to go to find that the weather is trying to beat you before you have even raced."
Neeson recently competed at the Copper Mountain resort in Colorado.
"The top 50 juniors from North America were racing. I started 17th and finished fourth in the giant slalom with a career-best points score. In the slalom, I started 25th and finished eighth. The season couldn't have got off to a better start."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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