Meet New Zealand’s sibling skiing quartet
They’re skiing’s answer to the Von Trapp family. Four brothers, three of who have competed in a Winter Olympics, with another about to make his Olympic bow at PyeongChang 2018.
Ever since he can remember, Byron Wells’ feet have been strapped to a pair of skis and sibling Jossi has been there to encourage him — in the way only elder brothers can.
“It was one of my first memories skiing, I must have been three or four at that stage,” Byron, now 25, told CNN.
“I remember it being the first day of the season, we went up to the top of the ramp and I freaked out and said that I couldn’t do it.
“Jossi was sitting there getting all mad at me, yelling at me telling me that I can do it, that I did it last year and I just needed to hurry up.”
The pair have come a long way in the intervening 20 years and are now part of a successful Wells sibling skiing quartet, also comprised of Beau-James and Jackson.
All four had aspirations of competing at PyeongChang 2018, though Jossi — the eldest at 27 — has been forced to withdraw through injury.
“It’s kind of a bummer, but we’ve had our time off and had our share of injuries,” Byron said of Jossi’s absence.
“But that’s all just part of the game, he’ll be over there with us supporting, so that’s quite cool. It’s quite exciting, it’s definitely a bonus to have most of my family … mum will be there as well.
“It’s always been an added extra for us traveling the world and doing all the contests with my brothers and whole family with us. It’s been quite a blessing really.”
Since they were bickering on the snow in New Zealand as kids, both Jossi and Byron went on to become Olympians, qualifying for Sochi in 2014.
Byron, however, was injured in his first training run so is now more determined than ever to achieve his “ultimate goal” of securing a medal.
Beau-James, the second youngest at 22, also competed with his two older brothers in Sochi and had the honor of being nominated as New Zealand’s flag bearer for PyeongChang 2018.
The youngest sibling, 19-year-old Jackson — who was in the media spotlight in 2016 after becoming the first skier to successfully land a “quad cork 1620” — is appearing at his first Winter Olympics.
Father and coach, Bruce Wells, couldn’t be prouder.
“It’s funny, as you go through life there just seems to be this evolutionary process,” Bruce told CNN. “The different stages of your children’s development and also having a number of them at different ages.
“They’re all young men now and they’re trying to live their own individual lives, but at the same time they’re four brothers and they’re all supportive of each other as far as the skiing side of things goes.
“But they all have their own different interests that they all pursue away from the snow and I really encourage that and hopefully when they’ve all finished skiing they have something behind them they can go on with and be good citizens of the world.”
‘The best job a person could ever have’
With an education in nursing and a passion for skiing, Bruce Wells was drawn to becoming a ski patroller in his native New Zealand, which he describes as “one of the best jobs a person could ever have.”
Soon after taking the role, Bruce recalls, he realized there was a huge difference between being a recreational and professional skier, though he never for a moment regretted his decision.
Sometimes working up to an hour away from the nearest hospital by helicopter, Bruce and his highly-trained team were entrusted with mountain rescues in often hazardous conditions.
“That forced us into a position where we had to do some high level care up on the mountain,” he said. “We had to have some pretty competent people around us.
“It is remote in itself, plus what the weather can throw at you. It can be pretty atrocious out there at times.
“I remember even working there for 30 years I could occasionally get quite geographically confused in a whiteout, that’s for sure.”
Working daily in the mountains, it will come as little surprise, then, that Bruce soon introduced Jossi to the snow.
With his wife Stacey, the sixth member of the well-oiled Wells machine, homeschooling the four brothers until they turned 18, Bruce regularly found time to train them on the slopes.
“On reflection, why the boys have been so successful I think the family factor has a lot to play in that and you know their mother has been always probably the key member of the family really,” he said.
“Being a coach herself, she’ll certainly hold the boys to account for their performances that’s for sure. If it’s not quite up to scratch, she wants to know why.
“And she digs in and asks those really hard questions that none of us really want to answer. It seems to work really well for us and so long may it last.”
Due to the individualistic nature of freestyle skiing, Bruce explains, the phrase “sibling rivalry” doesn’t necessarily apply to his sons.
With an element of subjectivity in the tricks and jumps, there has been more of a domino effect in inspiring the next youngest sibling, starting with Jossi.
“I mean we all say Jossi is the captain of the team,” Bruce says of the family dynamics. ” He was the oldest boy that broke through at the age of 14 into some major events in North America.
“But even when he was growing up, Jossi would go out and do something and Byron would see what he did and would try and copy it … and then Beau would go: ‘Well they’re doing it, so I should do it too.’
“Then that followed back down to Jackson as well. So maybe not so much a competitive part with each other. With the boys it was more like: ‘Well if Jossi can do that trick, then I should be able to do that trick too.'”
Despite traveling as a group for the best part of eight months every year, Bruce says arguments between the group are rare.
“I think generally we get on pretty well, the boys get on really well together,” he said. “They’re quite supportive of each other and they seem to put up with an old fella like me hanging around.
“(We wondered) would this be a good thing or would this be a bad thing … and it seems to work out for us.”
For a man who spends much of his life in different corners of the globe, Bruce admits he would rather not be traveling and would instead choose to enjoy a few simple home comforts.
From the picturesque town of Wanaka on New Zealand’s South Island, where every view looks like the picture on a postcard, the patriarch of the Wells family extends an invitation to his home — but warns any visitor may never leave, such is its beauty.
“Oh yes, I love home. I love my home,” he says. “I must admit I am a homebody, I’d rather not travel. I’d rather stay at home with my new ride-on mower, my trial bike and my wife.”
He recalls the advent of the “wonderful software” Skype and how much easier it has made being away from home, although admits he was initially skeptical about technology which would let you video chat with somebody on the other side of the world — and all for free.
“It made that period, up to five months away at a time, much more bearable that’s for sure,” he says.
Despite often wishing for the warmth of his own bed, Bruce appreciates how fortunate he’s been to have seen the places he has — and all in the company of his four sons.
“At this stage in life you do what you’ve got to do, and it’s been a pretty exciting period.”