New Zealand snowboarder Zoi Sadowski-Synnott made history last February when she won slopestyle gold at the Beijing Olympics, marking the first-ever gold medal for her country in a Winter Games. But perhaps even more memorable was the scene that broke out after the Kiwi’s medal-clinching run: Upon receiving her results from the judges, Sadowski-Synnott’s ecstatic competitors tackled the champion to the snow, working their way up to their feet for a jumping group hug with all the finalists.
“I think probably in a decade when I look back at my career, I think that’s one of the most special moments that I’ll ever have,” the 21-year-old told On Her Turf about that rare site in individual competition. “For us to all come together and celebrate an amazing day showcasing women’s snowboarding was super special. And to have that camaraderie in the squad and know that you have friends that you compete against who also support you is like — you don’t see that in any other sport, so feels pretty amazing.”
Just two starts into the competition season, Sadwoski-Synnott has picked right back up where she left off in her history-making career. She opened with a second-place finish in a Big Air World Cup in Kreischberg, Austria, on Jan. 14, where she became the first woman to land a switch backside 1260 with a weddle grab.
“It’s a super technical trick, and one of the really big tricks at the moment,” explained Sadowski-Synnott, who hopes to unleash the trick again this week when she defends her X Games title in Aspen, Colo. “So to learn that, and then put it into competition was huge, because it means that, you know, people now know it’s possible. Those girls that are coming up, they’re going to be like, ‘We need to learn this trick to be in the game.’ And that’s what makes it so exciting.”
But the three-time Olympic medalist – she also boasts 2018 bronze and 2022 silver in Big Air – upped the stoke level even more this past week in Laax, Switzerland, where she captured her second career World Cup win in slopestyle and third World Cup victory overall.
“The Laax Open has so much history and it’s such a prestigious event,” she said regarding the win. “So many of the famous snowboarders that I’ve looked up to have won that event — and for a reason: because they’re just so good and put down the best runs. Jamie Anderson and Christy Prior and Anna Gasser. So, to come away with that one means a lot.”
Sadowski-Synnott seemed almost destined to become a slopestyle and big air specialist, after spending the bulk of her childhood on the trails at the now-defunct Snow Park New Zealand, the country’s largest terrain park where her mother worked as the general manager.
“[The resort area] was completely focused on having the best terrain park in the world during in the Northern Hemisphere summer, where no one could train there,” she remembered of her childhood in Wanaka, N.Z. “So everyone would come down, and I got hang out with all the pros and watch them train and compete and have so much fun snowboarding. I got to snowboard almost everyday thanks to my mom being the GM, and that’s when things really kicked off. I was about 10 when I set the goal that I wanted to go to X Games, wanted to go the Olympics. There wasn’t really any turning back at that point.”
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She also found motivation in keeping up with her four siblings – two older brothers and two younger sisters, all of whom participate in sports. But she notes her parents, dad Sean Synnott and mom Robin Sadowski, are her greatest source of encouragement and support, a fact not lost on anyone who witnessed her father’s reaction following her gold-medal win.
“My dad is a pretty funny dude; he always thinks he’s telling the best jokes,” she said about his now-viral interview laced with celebratory “F bombs.” “After winning at the Olympics, I’m sure that it was time to fully let loose and have a couple of drinks, and I think he got a bit too carried away before the interview. It was so funny. But my youngest sister was [so embarrassed] that she didn’t talk to him for days, even though the whole country thought it was the best thing ever.”
New Zealand recently honored Sadowski-Synnott with the prestigious Lonsdale Cup this past December, awarded by the New Zealand Olympic Committee to the athlete (or team) who’s made the most outstanding contribution to an Olympic or Commonwealth sport during the previous year. Over the Cup’s 61-year history, she was the first winter sports athlete to receive the honor.
However, collecting accolades isn’t the only way she gives back to her country and community. Each year, Sadowski-Synnott donates an item for auction to help fundraising efforts for the Wanaka Snowsports Club. Most recently she donated her gold medal-winning snowboard from Beijing, which she also signed, to the club’s “Snowmelt” fundraiser.
“I thought this year, give them something from the Olympics and it just came about that I had the board kicking around,” she said. “I know how it feels being an up-and-coming athlete, how hard it is to get support to head overseas and for training and all that. So I thought it would be good to contribute something really special to help fundraise for those kids coming up and support the grassroots.”
Away from the competition season, Sadowski-Synnott still chases the snow. She says you can find her home snowboarding in New Zealand, filming in the backcountry or competing on the Travis Rice-designed Natural Selection Tour, where riders compete on ungroomed, natural terrain.
But for now, her attention is squarely focused on X Games, where she’s already collected seven medals since her rookie appearance in 2018. She earned double gold at X Games Aspen 2022, where she became the first woman to land back-to-back double corks in either a ski or snowboard contest. She’s earned two other X Games gold, both in slopestyle, at X Games Norway in 2020, and X Games Aspen in 2019.
“X Games is definitely one of the biggest accolades to get into snowboarding because there is so much history behind it,” she said. “And it’s where all the new tricks go down. The best riders perform their best. Everyone’s been training for the whole year for this event, so it’s definitely the most special to win or podium this week. I’m hoping to do my best and that I worked hard enough this last year to defend my titles.”
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