Once again the Championships have attracted the highest level of Australia's athletes from four snowsport disciplines who will match their skills against a strong contingent of overseas competitors in a chase for Continental Cup glory. The leading Australian contenders include snowboard cross riders Alex "Chumpy" Pullin, Jarryd Hughes and Cam Bolton, 2012 World Cup freestyle medallist Brit Cox, emerging alpine skier Greta Small, and ski cross athletes Scott Kneller, Anton Grimus, Jenny Owens, Katya Crema and Sami Kennedy-Sim.
All will take the opportunity to fine tune their skills in the lead up to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games qualification period which begins in earnest this coming northern hemisphere winter. Joining the talented Australians will be a large international contingent representing more than 12 nations and include World Cup winners and medallists.
Small's big ambitions
In last year's Suzuki series, promising alpine skiers Greta Small showed spectators and competitors why she has her sights set on emulating her hero, Australia's Olympic medallist Zali Steggall. The then 15-year-old won three events from three starts last year and was clearly the dominant skier of the Suzuki series.
Small, who was Australia's flag bearer at this year's Winter Youth Olympic Games, will be out to match those stunning results again this season.
Buller, which returns as a championship venue for the first time in many years, is the first stop with the Australia New Zealand Cup slalom event on August 2 and 3, before the alpine racers move to Thredbo to contest the national championships from August 6 to 10. The third leg of the alpine events, the giant slalom, will be held at Hotham from August 15 to 19. While Small is favoured to dominate the women's alpine events, Australia's top ranked slalom and giant slalom male athlete Luke Laidlaw and compatriot Mike Rishworth are expected to be the top two locals to stand in the way of the championship going to a European.
Leading the charge from the northern hemisphere are Belgium's slalom specialist Bart Mollin, Sweden's Continental Cup winner in super G and slalom, Johan Oehagen and Slovakian Adam Zampa, who won his national slalom and giant slalom championships in March this year.
Hotham's SBX festival
The Suzuki Snowboard cross championship returns to Hotham on August 4 and 5 after Victoria's highest resort successfully hosted last year's event, with Pullen the star attraction.
Pullin, the reigning snowboard cross World Champion and a former world number one, had to endure a frustrating northern hemisphere World Cup season in 2011/12, and is wanting to use the domestic series to recapture the form that catapulted him to the top. The 25-year-old Australian Institute of Sport rider also wants to secure his eighth national championship and launch his campaign to defend his world title in Canada in January when he headlines the snowboard cross national championship.
Pullin is expecting strong competition from seventeen-year-old NSW Institute of Sport rider Jarryd Hughes, who captured the attention of the world's best boarders with several brilliant performances in World Cup rounds earlier this year. Bolton, a fellow NSWIS rider who finished ahead of Pullin in the first of two races in the 2011 nationals and Andy Fischer are also expected to press for victory.
While Pullin is the hot favourite to win the men's championship, Belle Brockhoff is expected to achieve back-to-back victories in the women's event after winning her first championship at Hotham last year. And if the weekend of racing is not enough, Hotham and Ski & Snowboard Australia are hosting the Futures Event, aimed at developing the next generation of internationals. The two days will feature Pullin, Hughes, Brockhoff, Bolton and AIS snowboard program head coach Ben Wordsworth working with up-and-coming junior athletes from around the country.
Perisher gains Super Continental Cup status
Mogul skiing will be placed under the spotlight on August 16 and 17 when the Suzuki Nationals are staged at NSW's Perisher resort. The event has been granted "Super Continental Cup" status by FIS, which is a testament to the quality of field assembled here in Australia. A top class field of 48 internationals from 12 countries have entered the event, including world number 2, American Patrick Deneen, winner of three World Cup events last season and the 2009 World Ski Championship.
However the 25-year-old American will come up against the brilliance of Russia's Sergey Volkov, also a World Cup winner and currently ranked six in the world. Young gun and Australian Institute of Sport / NSW Institute of Sport scholarship holder Matt Graham will get a clear indication of his recent improvement when he competes in the Championship.
Other Australians with high hopes in the Championship are NSWIS athletes Brodie Summers, Rohan Chapman-Davies and David Graham. In the women's event, seventeen-year-old Cox is keen to continue her giant killing form in last season's moguls World Cup series, which saw her snare a podium finish in the US. She is also looking to improve on her strong performances in last year's Suzuki championship.
However the talented Cox comes up against Russian Ekaterina Stolyarova, who also has a World Cup podium to her name, Japanese veteran Miki Ito and fellow AIS/NSWIS athlete Nicole Parks and NSWIS racer Taylah-Paige O'Neill.
Hotham hosts ski cross "stouch"
Fierce yet "friendly" rivalry will reach boiling point on August 18 and 19 at Hotham among the ski cross athletes with Kneller, Grimus, Owens, Crema and Kennedy-Sim not only wanting to finish ahead of other Australian and international athletes, they will also be motivated to benchmark their performances against their World Cup teammates.
The final event in the Suzuki Snowsport Championship series, which is entering the third year of Suzuki's support, will be held at Falls Creek on August 25.
Hoppet back to Falls
The event will feature the country's top cross country skiers and is part of the highly prestigious international Kangaroo Hoppet, a 15-race series in four continents, and is the largest single ski event in the southern hemisphere.
Last year more than 900 cross country skiers from Australia and overseas battled it out across a gruelling 30-kilometre course around Falls Creek's summit plateau.
Results and race reports from all events will be posted regularly on the Ski & Snowboard Australia website.