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Interview with Dion Newport: The Main Man behind the NZJFT and the MOFO

  • 9 min read

Ollie Hunt

Can you give us a brief introduction about yourself and your involvement in the New Zealand freeride scene?

Dion Newport 

My name is Dion Newport. I am tour director of the New Zealand Junior Freeride Tour. I got into the industry just by chance, learning in an outdoor education class when I was younger, through to the polytec course at Cardrona.

I then realised quickly I was never going to be Jossi Wells, and then I watched Charlie Murray and Jamesa Hampton compete back in the day at the junior nationals and decided 10 years ago that there needed to be a pathway for these kids.

And so I went off and just tried following up off what Stu and the crew from Chill used to do - it was really inspirational for me, and I wanted to bring those vibes back into freeriding.

 

Ollie Hunt 

How did you initially become interested in freeriding specifically? 

Dion Newport 

Actually, before I even started judging the Olympics, I was really into freeriding, again it was from the Chill Series. The people that were involved and the terrain, and the places they went, really, really inspired me. And it was a good crossover from the Olympic stuff that I used to judge the all the park stuff, certainly good. Good crossover, and it's how I got into the freeride world tour if they love me as an Olympic judge to be the pack specialist. Which is ironic but I've now left and more back than ever.

 

Ollie Hunt 

How would you describe the Freeride scene in New Zealand compared to other countries?

 

Dion Newport 

Much more inclusive in New Zealand. It's a really inclusive crew- really supportive as well. If I was to help if I was to be a part of it in Europe, it can be quite undulating and quite lonely in a way because it's such a big sport. But the community is what it's all about. It's that's New Zealand freeriding.

 

Ollie Hunt 

What makes New Zealand a unique destination for freeriding above and beyond the people?

 

Dion Newport 

The uniqueness of our terrain probably is what makes New Zealand so special. The views are so incredible in New Zealand everything's so beautiful, green, but it's pretty much our crappy snow that makes everyone really good skiers.

 

Ollie Hunt 

Where do you see the top locations in New Zealand for people to hone their freeride skills, the best places for freeride skill, competition or otherwise?

 

Dion Newport 

Competition wise, I personally think Remarks is the best resort to the home for your own skills because it's got such a natural progression from small faces to single and double cone. Honing your skills in a big mountain is probably the that's probably the best. And then the clubbies, just some of the best because you can just get so many reps and on the nut crackers and easy short hikes.

Sacrilegiously I have have never been to Temple Basin so I can't comment on that one.

 

Ollie Hunt 

Probably just keep that out of there..

 

Dion Newport 

Hahahaha

 

Ollie Hunt 

Unbelievable….. 


What inspired the creation of New Zealand Junior Freeride Tour and MOFO events, and how do these contribute to the growth and popularity of freeriding in New Zealand?

 

Dion Newport 

The whole reason I did the NZJFT is for a pathway for people that didn't exist when we were young. So to have that pathway to get kids for points to get over the Junior World Champs and then into the qualifying series is really inspiring. The MOFO event was it's always been a party disguised as a competition. And at the start, it was quite serious. And then I realised  quite quickly it doesn't need to be serious. We've already got serious events New Zealand, so it's local.

 

Ollie Hunt 

Who comes together to make these events happen? It's not just you who else is involved? How does that all work?

 

Dion Newport 

Well was made to find all the funding in those avenues but Snowsports New Zealand who specifically the accountant met for charities a huge help is very good at finding that funding. HR gaming trust is one of our biggest funders, bigger than any other forms that we have. And then it's just friends and part of the community that come together to get it done. Andrew Pollard flies out to Europe from America. My wife helps me a lot behind the scenes. But as many volunteers it's mainly people in the community again,

 

Ollie Hunt 

What are the challenges you face organising these events and how have you overcome them? 

 

Dion Newport 

Things that I have to overcome? Mainly anxiety, depression, as well afterwards, there's really highs and lows of running events.

 

And it's really just bringing bringing my friends together. My friends are pretty amazing people and overproduced All Star crew, especially for the mofo that was pretty out there.

 

Ollie Hunt 

Can you talk about the community aspect of the Freeride scene in New Zealand?

 

Dion Newport 

Community is whats it’s all about. If we didn't have the community in New Zealand like we do, I wouldn't run these events. It's quite satisfying to create a pathway but it's quite unsatisfying running events because you don't really get a lot of things you just hear about the bad things. But again, the community holds it together, and all the thank yous and the pats on the back. I go out for dinner with the Families and what it's all about. Seeing those smiling faces of the kids and the parents. 

Watching the parents make friends is one of my biggest buzzes.

 

Ollie Hunt 

So it takes a village to raise a freerider?

 

Dion Newport 

Certainly does take a village to raise a freerider, that's for sure.

 

Ollie Hunt 

How did the local communities, like each of the clubs up here, and some of the clubs down South benefit from the freeride events?

 

Dion Newport 

The sport has just grown so dramatically that just bringing people the pure numbers is what it takes to help these little resorts. It's pretty overwhelming to see how many people turn up for these events, especially and in a place like Mount Olympus. I'd love to see more events happening up here. It's tough because we don't have enough weekends in our winters to let people do coaching programmes and go skiing and do comps. I've been asked by every resort in New Zealand to run a comp and I can't do it because I want the families to ski. I want mom and dad to go skiing with the kids rather than comps every weekend.

 

Ollie Hunt 

It's a really good and interesting perspective actually. Because yeah, it comes to take up a lot of time and you only really get one or two runs in the day. Maybe an inspection where you’re probably not gonna jump off cliffs unless you really want to run it too close to the wire with the judges

 

Dion Newport 

Exactly, exactly, yeah. You got to travel to each comp and it cost's money and yeah, we all want to ski, and that's what a lot of comp jocks forget.

 


Ollie Hunt 

What steps you take to ensure the safety of participants. It's a risky sport, but these kids are good skiers before they start competing. What are you doing as the organiser to make sure that they're making safe decisions.

 

Dion Newport 

We assess the venue really well between patrol and my event crew.  Usually my event director and I will ski a face and probe landings and stuff like that. We close certain features -  if the takeoff's are dangerous or particularly if the landings are dangerous. And then we have a safety crew in place. Usually first responders, and volunteers more and more, and more in the future. And obviously the local ski patrol are the ones that we follow the lead of.

 

Ollie Hunt 

How do you see the inside freeride scene evolving in the next few years?

 

Dion Newport 

Yeah, this is an interesting question actually. I see it growing because it's already growing exponentially. I see funding coming soon. Now with the acquisition by FIS of the freeride world tour, I feel it's probably going to become an Olympic sport very soon. And that will create funding. 

I already know that Switzerland and a number of european nations have federations, and it hasn't even been announced.

So I know that people running that and that's going to create massive pathways and funding for athletes. It's just going to create a sour taste in a lot of people's mouths in freeride because the Olympics is a bit of a sellout.... And New Zealand's already got a little bit of funding. We're the only country in the world that has funding for freeride for athletes. And it's just going to create more and more pathways for other countries.

 

Ollie Hunt 

And so with this, against this new paradigm of potentially an Olympic sport in the big mountains in the freeride terrain, who are the up and coming New Zealand freeride athletes we should be looking out for and the juniors?

 

Dion Newport 

Surprisingly, because I don't know how they learnt to ski this well but a lot of the Clubbie kids are looking very good. Poppy Freeman's one to watch out for, she's probably going to be imitating Jess Hotter and trying to become world champion. And then also, Sam Hewitt, Ruby Hewitt, they are phenomenally good skiers. I still don't know how they learnt to ski like that at the club fields. But there's a shitload out there is really good Australian kids as well coming through at the moment.

 

Ollie Hunt 

Yeah, the Hewitt's I know are definitely very good, and with their old man skiing as well as he does, you can kind of see where they've inherited that from. Tara Hewitt obviously pretty involved in making these events happen as well, with the other team of mums.

 

What advice would you give to someone interested in getting into the Freeride scene in New Zealand?

 

Dion Newport 

I would highly recommend race training. Race training is the foundation of all good skiing. Either that or a ski instructor's ticket because you learn how to be a skier.

 

Ollie Hunt 

What if you're Sam Hewitt (and you’ve grown up in the clubbies)?

 

Dion Newport 

Just get on a bike and ride as fast as you can, I guess. And translate that over.

 

Ollie Hunt 

I'm keen to understand that a little bit more because a couple of our top skiers from New Zealand obviously, Craig Murray being one of them, have grown up on their clubbie diet, which is very light on racing and very heavy on rubbish snow. So there's been a few other skiers in that realm as well. Sam Hewitt being another one. What do you see the differences when those guys are competing? Racers versus clubbies?

 

Dion Newport 

The clubbies normally bite off quite a lot. They're not scared to jump off the bigger things. Where the races tend to just show us a better technique and faster runs. So there is a real balance.

 

The best thing about ski racing is they teach you how to flex your ankles and that's the difference between young riders and older riders is that at Angulation the boats are getting on to that edge. You can see really well in the Japanese kids that were competing because they were all skicross champions. national champs, winners of national championships in skiercross and their arcing turns are beautiful.

 

Ollie Hunt 

So they keep a nice consistent, smooth fluid line all the way down the face without losing control?

 

Dion Newport 

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Yeah, we if you see someone's skidding out on this edge, they're not asking the ski properly... That's important, especially in the junior world, that's where we care more about technique

 

Ollie Hunt 

Oh, that's a really good insight. Probably a good one for our readers here. And final question. Is there anything else you'd like to share with our Chill readers about the Freeride culture in New Zealand.

 

Dion Newport 

Just come get amongst it. If you're thinking about coming to watch an event come along. We're super inclusive. You might even get yourself a free hot dog.

 

It's just a good time. We're all about bringing people in. I always say to parents, don't push your kids into the sport. It's one of those sports you [the kids] need to want to do. It's very dangerous and if we don't like soccer dads, it's all about inclusiveness, for everyone.  Come, come be a part of  the community

 

Ollie Hunt 

You want those kids to be driving themselves into the sport you know, obviously exists. They want to be there.

 

Dion Newport 

Yeah, we don't want mums and dads pushing the kids up or off a cliff. Literally.

 

Ollie Hunt 

Bloody good well. Yeah, I mean, I think you've made a huge impact on the sport and it's been great to see the pathway that you have developed with the JFT and into the MOFO as sort of an unsanctioned event and then the 2star and 4star [Frontier events], that are still here in New Zealand. 

What I can see a huge number of people are picking up the sport and hopefully when we get to that Olympic level, we'll be getting some medals!

 

Dion Newport 

Exactly mate, that's the goal. I didn't think I was even thinking about the Olympics when I first started this. I was trying to get away from that, actually, but they're cool developments that are happening in our sport. It's gonna be really interesting to see what happens in the future.

 

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