IT'S almost like going against the flow of trolley pushers through the supermarket aisles for Piera Hudson.
With the fourth and final term beginning this week, the 13-year-old Woodford House pupil could be excused for feeling as if she's starting a new year at high school as her school mates count down to a few more weeks before the Christmas holidays.
"It feels a little weird going through the school gates," Hudson tells SportToday soon after returning from the exotic skifields of the Deep South.
She went through the ritual of reacquainting herself with fellow boarders on Sunday and then more welcome backs during her first five classes with various teachers on Monday.
Ironically, she was pleasantly surprised to return with her mother, Fiona Hudson, last week to find snow-capped mountains towering over the family sheep and cattle farm in Tikokino.
Says Fiona: "It's quite a hoot, really. We can't quite pack away the winter woolly clothing just yet."
As a first-year K2 skier, the third-former has again tamed the powdery slopes of South Island during the 2009 New Zealand alpine ski race season.
Based on overall results, she is the fastest under-15 female skier in the country. In the process, she collected 12 gold medals, accrued the most national points in super G, giant slalom and slalom disciplines and clinched the sought-after Otago Daily Times Interfield six-race series.
In the K Cup national point race at the Cardrona skifields, she established a 11.2s gulf between herself and other competitors in all K2 girls' events and a 10.28s lead at the Mt Hutt K Cup event.
"Piera is now provisionally selected for the New Zealand Junior team and is seeded No 1 to compete in Slovenia, Italy and Canada," her mother said.
It was that school-gate feeling again when Hudson last month competed for the Woodford House A ski team, which finished 24th in a field of 105 schools during the North Island Secondary School competition at Turoa ski field.
"It was the first time Piera was eligible to race as she has always been too young, so you can imagine the look on many a face when she won the entire junior section from 300 Year 9, 10 and 11 competitors," said Fiona after Hudson blitzed the entire field, boys and girls, as the fastest junior in what was Woodford's best result.
Hudson's A teammates were Kate McHardy, Philippa Glenn and Emily Aitken with older sister Rebecca Aitken captaining the side.
In August she was the recipient of the Hawke's Bay AMP regional award for outstanding ski racing here and overseas and also won the the Snow Vision McKenzie Foundation scholarship.
The awards are a testimony to her eight-hour, five-day-a-week training regimen at the Cardrona High Performance Centre, in Wanaka, for three months before attending evening academic lessons. It embraced dryland training in parks and gyms involving co-ordination routines, tightrope balancing, and physical and cardio fitness.
Aiming to make it to the 2014 Schi Winter Olympics in Russia, Hudson's speed was down to a change in technique as she followed the natural progression of her biological development.
Having enjoyed a growth spurt of 5cm in the past year, Hudson has had to contend with buying new gear such as longer skis and slalom ski poles.
"You don't want to grow too tall, though, in the skiing world," she cautions with a laugh, adding a lower centre of gravity on the slopes is essential for good balance.
She believes she has matured mentally too, finding herself more committed to training.
"Each year I get older I'm more focused and ski training comes first in winter," she explains, revealing she has had to curb tendencies to "hang out with mates".
Before Hudson dashes off to catch up with two friends in the farming neighbourhood and hoon around on bikes, she says she'll jet off to Switzerland a little later in January next year to begin her three-month northern hemisphere campaign.
"Because I'm in my first year of K2 a lot of the other girls are much bigger and stronger so I'm not expecting to do so well."
At 13, it seems there's no need to rush for a girl who is destined to, everything being equal, do her family and country proud in an Olympic arena which is a far cry from the rolling hills of Tikokino.