Zoi Sadowski-Synnott added another trophy to her stack of winner’s bullion this weekend at Switzerland’s LAAX Open slopestyle World Cup, her first LAAX Open win, and clearly a much-coveted trophy. “I am so stoked, I’ve been dreaming of winning the LAAX Open since I started competing,” she said in a press conference after.
Still just 21, the multi-decorated champ threw down in challenging conditions, battling postponements, bad weather, and winds. Her first run proved enough to seal gold, with a score of 81.30 and a dizzying array of tricks in the air including a 900-switch stalefish, frontside 1080 melon, and backside 720 melon. This after showing off her technical rail game.
Zoi’s win at LAAX comes off a recent spate of impressive achievements. From becoming the first female to land a switch backside 12 in competition this January, to her jaw-dropping 2022, it’s been a pretty monumental rise. In 2022 alone, Zoi took first in (deep breath) Big Air at the Jossi Wells Invitational, first at the Baldface stop of the Natural Selection Tour, gold in slopestyle at the Olympics (plus two silvers to boot), and golds in the X Games Big Air and Slopestyle. Bam!
Zoi’s career trajectory in recent years is nothing short of stratospheric. The phenomenally talented rider has inarguably demonstrated her abilities not just in freestyle, but also freeriding, not to mention being a thoroughly liked good-egg amongst her peers.
“I am constantly saying ‘I think Zoi is the best snowboarder in the world right now regardless of gender,'” says Circe Wallace, a longtime agent who has represented many of the world’s best snowboarders including Travis Rice, Torah Bright, and Iouri Podladtchikov, as well as Zoi. “It’s not even a question, although some of her male contemporaries might argue that it’s hard to gauge when you have athletes like a Mark (McMorris) who’re doing multiple aspects of competitive snowboarding. But for her age, and as a woman, I think you would be hard-pressed to find someone who is doing more to progress the sport and make history literally monthly, if not weekly…” That is a certainty, and if we dial the clock back, this trajectory is traceable.
From a young age, Zoi has cut her teeth on the upper echelons of the world’s stages. Born in Sydney, Australia and raised in New Zealand, she started snowboarding by the age of nine, quickly developing her skills in the park. Apparently highly competitive by nature, Zoi soon began to enjoy the energy and excitement of competition, and set her dream of becoming an Olympian. Early goal setting clearly paid off, and by 2017 she’d taken her first medal, bronze at the 2017 Audi quattro Winter Games NZ, and was also named Snow Sports NZ Overall Athlete of the Year and Snowboarder of the Year. A short time later she added the title of Olympian in 2018 when she competed at the PyeongChang Winter Games, earning a bronze in women’s Big Air, becoming the second New Zealander to ever win a winter Olympic medal, as well as the nation’s youngest-ever flag bearer. Nominated for the prestigious 2019 ESPY’s as Best Female Action Sports Athlete, she was 2020’s Snowboarder magazine Rookie of The Year. Her wins reflected in the wider industry and her peers’ perceptions of her.
A Jedi-like approach to competition under the guidance of her coach Sean ‘Tomo” Thompson is clearly paying off, her technical abilities in not just slaying rails but equally on kickers, making her the first woman to achieve many of the newer tricks. As Sean told us, perhaps it’s the versatility of Zoi’s riding coming from New Zealand that’s been the backbone to her upwards trajectory: “Growing up snowboarding in NZ, you learn to ride everything,” he said. “One day you’ll be ripping icy park laps, the next you’re hiking steep pow lines. You just never know what’s going to be rideable each season, so you just try and ride it all. Kiwi snowboarders are always super versatile, and Zoi’s riding is about as versatile as it gets.”
Zoi burst into public consciousness last year, then just 20, at the winter Olympics in Beijing. She claimed New Zealand’s first ever gold after 70 years of trying, in slopestyle. Her shock was evident, managing a simple “what the fuck” on an Instagram caption, post-event. Antipodean snow athletes have for sure made their mark previously, one only has to think of perennial Aussie pipe rippers Torah Bright and Scotty James, the Wells trio of skiers from New Zealand, Rebecca ‘Possum’ Torr and rail slayer Christy Prior. As Jossi Wells told me, he believes that, “Zoi’s greatest strength is her head – her vision for her snowboarding. She’s always had a really cool approach to her riding, a strong focus on style and execution which has served her well as her technicality has progressed over the years. She’s operated at a point where her technicality, style, and execution is second to none. The competitive dominance she has shown across the board is proof of that.”
Equally, it’s perhaps her ability to have taken her slopestyle skills into the backcountry and big mountain with a maturity beyond her years, recognized by the likes of one Travis Rice, who invited her to the 2022 Natural Selection Tour. Just weeks after the Olympics, Zoi demonstrated her backcountry riding chops in a highly respected event to take out well-established freeride icons including Elena Hight in the final, posting creative runs and going huge, boosting massive wildcats off the natural kickers. For many riders, big mountain is the ultimate demonstration of not just one’s skillset, but technical ability, of creative expression, and flow with nature. This often comes after years of experience and Obi-Wan style tutelage. Broadcaster and journalist Ed Leigh, who was commentating at LAAX, suggested that laser-focus and the work put in prior has enabled Zoi to be the multi-skilled rider she is. “Zoi is unique in so many ways,” he said. “She might appear relaxed and almost a little shy on the surface, but beneath that lies a steel of determination that I have seen in very few people and a work ethic that just won’t quit. Zoi worked so hard on her fundamentals as a kid that she now has the building blocks in place to take her riding in whichever direction she wants and that has been born out in her Natural Selection success.”
“Honestly, I don’t think anyone was surprised by her Baldface win,” Wallace told me. “Especially after she came into Natural Selection as a wild card the year before and won Jackson with dominance. I think because she doesn’t beat her own chest or shout about her accomplishments, she’s a bit of a quiet assassin and people are still getting to know her. Americans take a minute to register an international talent of her magnitude, but I do believe she is just getting started, and we will have a long time to enjoy her skill and approach to riding a variety of mediums in snowboarding. That’s why Natural Selection is so important, there are so many variables and opportunity to see how well rounded a rider is and their approach to challenging and dynamic venues.”
Granted, Zoi will still has plenty to learn, but her synergy with big mountain riding is clear, also shown in Ben Ferguson’s big-epic, Fleeting Time, which won Film of the Year at the 2022 International Freestyle Film Festival. Zoi rounded out a cast of legends and icons-to-be, including Danny Davis, Mickel Bang, Hailey Langland, Austin Smith, Ayumu Hiramno, Rice and Ferguson.
We’re not even out the gates of 2023 and Zoi’s hit the ground sprinting, much to the stoke of her peers within the industry, as Mia Brookes perfectly encapsulated post-event at LAAX, “Zoi is such a G!” Clearly, it runs deeper than prowess. “There’s something very pure about how Zoi operates,” Jossi Wells said. “On and off the snow. She’s one of the most down-to-earth people you’ll ever come across. Her focus and drive to bring out the best in herself, while supporting others around her to do the same is super inspiring. She’s obviously competitive, but from the outside it seems like a very intrinsic competitiveness, not a trait that manifests towards others. How can you not get behind that? Zoi rules.”
A down-to-earth humbleness, matched with true versatility, it’s eye opening how much respect she’s garnered throughout the industry. “First and foremost, Zoi is one of the nicest, most humble and chilled human’s you will ever meet,” says coach Sean Thompson. “She is selfless and unassuming in the best of ways but somehow you just know that on the inside she has a goal that she’s attacking. And when she has a goal she doesn’t stop till it’s achieved.”
What’s next for the gifted ripper? Wallace thinks there are no limits. “Zoi can claim best snowboarder on earth with confidence in her ability to double gold at the X Games, triple medal in China, win a few NST’s, and film a part and win awards for her sportswoman-like conduct in ONE YEAR,” she said. “Although she would never claim such a thing as she is incredibly humble and generous in spirit. I love Zoi’s riding because she honestly has the best style of anyone on the mountain right now.”
Yes, as you can see, it’s Zoi’s world. We’re truly just living in it.