Sport | Olympics

Tūwharetoa teen skier represents NZ at Winter Youth Olympic Games

Madeleine Disbrowe from Ngāti Tūwharetoa is one of 22 athletes representing Aotearoa at the Winter Youth Olympic Games in South Korea.

The 15-year-old said it was her first time competing in the international competition she’s “super excited to be here”.

“It’s such a cool experience to get to have staying in the village… I’m really happy I get to share it with my teammates.”

The competition is being held across four cities in the Gangwon Province of South Korea. Disbrowe, from Queenstown, has qualified to compete in two events including women’s freeski slopestyle and big air.

For freeski slopestyle, athletes ski down a course with a variety of obstacles including rails, jumps and other terrain park features. For big air, athletes take turns hitting one massive trajectory jump, performing airborne spins and flips before landing back on the snow.

“I love the adrenaline rush that you get before and after learning new tricks. Being super nervous and scared to do something and then doing it and succeeding is the coolest feeling in the world,” says Disbrowe.

On Wednesday she made the finals for slopestyle and placed ninth.

“I just wish I could have landed my run but I learned a lot today and the girls were doing super good so I’m happy,” she said.

On Saturday, January 27 Disbrowe will compete in the women’s big air event to qualify for the final on Sunday.

A recent career highlight for Disbrowe was being chosen to compete in the junior worlds last year

“I came fourth in slopestyle which was really cool and I wasn’t expecting it but I did well so was really proud of that. Then I came roughly 15th at the last Dubai World Cup which was another big highlight because I wasn’t even expecting to even go to a world cup.”

She also won slopestyle gold in the 2023 FIS Australia-New Zealand Cup landing a run that included a right cork 720 with a lead tail grab on the second jump.

She says “The biggest part of our sport is definitely the psychological side”.

“Obviously it’s very physical but I think people need to realise it’s very psychological. Pretty much most of the things we do, we’re scared to try it. We just have to accept being scared and having to overcome it. Whenever you’re trying a new trick you’re going to be scared for the first time because you can fall and you can definitely hurt yourself, she says.

“But you shouldn’t be too scared to try a trick because if you’re scared then it kind of means you’re missing a step. So we do a lot of preparation before we try new things so we’re not as scared, so we’re more prepared and more confident.”

Disbrowe first started learning how to ski when she was seven years old in Queenstown.

“I didn’t really know how to ski that well and I was a very nervous skier. I remember one day mum put me in this progamme to get my confidence up so I could go skiing without being scared and I think after a season I became a lot fitter at skiing and I did a few competitions and ended up starting my career.”

She’s competed in freestyle for four years.

“Freestyle skiing has definitely taught me a lot of life lessons in general. I’ve been able to put myself out there and be who I am.”

An inspiration for younger female athletes

Disbrowe says she hopes to compete at the Winter Olympic Games as an adult, “to be one of the best in the world and inspire other females that if they want to do it they can do it too”.

Disbrowe is in year 12 at school this year. Due to the travel, she is completing her NCEA studies online.

“I’d really like to go to university one day if I can fit it in and if I did I would study sports psychology or become a coach.”