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Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Updated: November 17, 4:00 PM ET
Leading Ladies, 7: Janina Kuzma

By Brigid Mander
ESPN Action Sports

Here's what Janina Kuzma did on her summer vacation: dominated the NZ freeski contest scene then signed with The North Face.

[Ed's note: This story is part seven of a series on some of freeskiing's most stand-out females, the women who are pushing the limits of what we all thought possible. Check back next Wednesday for the next installment, an interview with ski-BASE jumper Suzanne Graham, written by Ingrid Backstrom. And see below for ones you've missed.]

1: Anna Segal 2: Rachael Burks 3: Angeli VanLaanen

4: Photographers

5: Jackie Paaso

6: Say Their Names7: Janina Kuzma8: Suzanne Graham

For the last six years, if your name is not Janina Kuzma, winning the New Zealand Freeski Open has apparently been a tough take. In August, Kuzma took home second in halfpipe and her sixth consecutive title in big mountain at the NZ Freeski Open. Earlier that month, the Wanaka, NZ-based 25-year-old won the biggest air award in the World Heli Challenge and placed second overall (she won last year). Kuzma recently signed on as one of The North Face's newest ski athletes and she has her eyes set on halfpipe and slopestyle in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

And that's just the beginning: She has an extensive list of podiums and top 10 finishes in big mountain, slopestyle and halfpipe contests over the last five years. Which is rare in an industry where few skiers manage to stay at the top of both big-mountain and park-and-pipe contests. For her dual talents, Kuzma joins a short list of crossover athletes that include Candide Thovex, a former X Games competitor who won the Freeride World Tour in 2010, and Claudia Bouvier, who competed in the U.S. Open before winning a stop on the Freeskiing World Tour.

Now that winter is rolling up to the northern hemisphere, Kuzma's name is sure to pop up again: She's planning to compete in the Freeskiing World Tour, the Nissan Freeride World Tour any other event she can fit into her schedule.

Kuzma practicing her natural airs in New Zealand.

Kuzma was born in Australia and raised in Papua New Guinea and Borneo as the daughter of a Filipino mother and a Scottish father. Her sister, Maria, is a pro snowboarder. They spend their winters flipping back and forth between New Zealand and Fernie, BC.

When I first met Kuzma in 2007 right before the US Freeskiing Nationals at Snowbird, Utah, her penchant for charging huge airs and running on high power all the time made her hard not to notice.

I watched her straightline into a big, shady-looking natural ramp with a wretched landing on a ravine wall at Snowbird. The feature looked like something most skiers wanted to avoid, but not Kuzma. A purple blur arced high over some small trees, touched briefly on the transition and landed a perfect air. Her unending enthusiasm convinced me to ski it too. And that's just her style: have an idea, execute it and drag along anyone nearby.

She says she's inspired by a lot of people, and she names Ingrid Backstrom among them. Like Backstrom, Kuzma wants to inspire other people, especially women, to achieve higher levels of sport. "With hard work anything is possible," Kuzma says. "I want to be a positive role model for girls. [Women's skiing] has progressed, but not as fast as men's skiing has. I would like the comp sponsors and filmmakers to support the women like they support the men. What I can do as an athlete is keep trying to push the limits of our sport."

They're just this tough in New Zealand.

This winter, she wants to focus on getting on the podiums at the Freeride World Tour, and her new partnership with The North Face is helping her make plans for expeditions and filming. "Signing with the North Face has been one of the biggest steps in my skiing career," she says. "It will and already has provided me with opportunities to push my big mountain skiing to the next level."

And with halfpipe and slopestyle skiing poised to make its Olympic debut in 2014, she'll also nonchalantly inform you that competing in the Olympics for New Zealand is a goal she plans to meet.

Does she prefer big-mountain comps over park events? "I just love doing both," she says.