Words by Tania Pilkinton

Photos by Tony Harrington

Day 1 of competition at the World Heli Challenge in New Zealand began with the Freestyle Day, set in a stunning venue off of Mt. Albert that has never before been used for the competition and may well have never been skied before at all.

 

“The conditions were epic,” said event founder Tony Harrington.  “We couldn’t have asked for any better. The venue provided the perfect terrain for testing the skills of the competitors.”

Photo by Tony Harrington

Every athlete got two runs in with some of the strongest performances yet seen at a World Heli Challenge event, both by the men and the women. Judging at this event is different than that found at most freestyle and big mountain competitions. Rather than having set criteria, the judges will focus on overall impression and have communicated to the athletes that they need to represent what they do best and not try to be someone they aren’t.

 

“The event is built around our shared passion for skiing and snowboarding and we want to build on that by letting the athletes show us what they do best,” said technical director, Nick Mills.

Luke Potts. Photo by Tony Harrington

This was evident in some of the highlights during the Freestyle Day, where New Zealand’s Jake Koia threw a massive floating 720, while two-time World Heli Challenge Champion, Ted Davenport, found two cliffs to drop. Young Gun skier, Mark Hendrickson (13) from Calgary, left no doubt that he was the right pick for the Young Gun position this year after linking technical maneuvers down multiple features on the course, while snowboarder, Lyon Farrell (12) who was also selected as this year’s Young Gun, had a solid run himself, and said that it was the most amazing day he’s ever had snowboarding. Legendary snowboarder, Mike Basich, couldn’t agree more saying, “We need more events like this; this is the future of the sport.”

Ted Davenport. Photo by Tony Harrington

On Day 2, the competitors were treated to another amazing day during the final day of competition, the Extreme Day, also held on Mt. Albert. The day started in a most unusual way, with athletes and event crew boarding a barge that crossed the upper tip of Lake Wanaka heading towards the base of the Minaret Station. The barge became the launch site for the helicopters, providing an extra element of excitement for the day ahead.

Photo by Tony Harrington

The final day of competition saw many athletes going huge with awe-inspiring cliff drops that had the spectators holding their breath until they landed safely. Several of the lines looked near impossible to ski or snowboard on, but the athletes showed us why they are the best of the best, making the lines look easy.

Highlights of the day included exceptional runs by skiers Ben Schmitt (USA) and Fraser McDougall (Wanaka, NZ). “Fraser had one of the most ripping runs ever in the World Heli Challenge,” said Harrington. Snowboarders, Dave Saxton (Queenstown, NZ), Mike Basich (USA) and Will Jackways (Wanaka, NZ) also showed stunning displays of technique and ability with amazing line choices. On the women’s side, a few of the male competitors were overheard telling Australia’s Nat Segal that she skied her run like a man, while USA’s Drew Peterson (only 17) proved that he has a future in big mountain skiing. “All the Young Guns put in solid runs,” said Harrington. “It will be exciting to see what the future holds for every one of these guys.” It’s hard to capture in writing the joy that was emanating from the four Young Guns (Calgary’s Mark Hendrickson, Hawaii’s Lyon Farrell, Australia’s Mitch Reeves and local Hank Bilous), first in anticipation of the day and then even more so after they each pulled off astounding runs.

Will Bromelsiek, Winner of the Alaskan King of the Hill. Photo by Tony Harrington

Chris Booth. Photo by Tony Harrington

Two-time World Heli Challenge champion, Ted Davenport, in a bid to regain his title, went huge on his first fun but failed to make his landing and destroyed his ski on the rocky ridges. This didn’t stop him from going even bigger on his second run though, where again he had problems with his landing and unfortunately, this time around it was Ted who ended up injured. Kudos to the mountain safety team and helicopter pilots who got to Ted quickly and were able to assess and extract him from the mountain. In the end, Ted had broken his leg. Davenport’s biggest concern about the injury is that he’s getting married in two months and he is worried that his fiancé won’t be very happy with him.

Ted Davenport. Photo by Tony Harrington

Photo by Tony Harrington

The ridgelines were filled with several of the world’s top photographers and filmers, all vying for their chance to win the coveted award of best photographer or filmer at the first-ever World Heli Challenge Shootout. Their photos and mini-documentaries will be featured at the World Heli Challenge Showcase evening on Thursday, August 11th, at the Lake Wanaka Centre. This event is open to the public, with tickets only $12 and available at the Wanaka i-site, Racer’s Edge, Southern Lakes Heliski and Base.

 

The athletes now have ten days to experience a mixture of off-snow adrenaline activities as well as taking in some of the culture of New Zealand. Throughout these ten days the anticipation is sure to build, as the winners will not be revealed until the World Heli Challenge Showcase evening.

Photo by Tony Harrington

The competitors will choose from a number of activities including surfing with the legendary former world surfing champion Mark Occhilupo, bungee jumping off the Nevis bridge, sky diving, jet boating and mountain biking. Those looking to tone down the adrenaline can choose to spend a day wine tasting at Rippon Vineyard, go golfing, fishing or just relax at a café drinking lattes and taking in the beauty of Lake Wanaka. And no trip to New Zealand would be complete without a day on a station, so athletes will be treated to a day at the Glen Dene station, on the shores of Lake Hawea, where they will have the opportunity to ride quads and shoot clay pigeons. Also on offer is an overnight adventure to the Dingleburn Station, where they will be hosted by legendary big mountain skier Bridget Mead.

For a personal look at what the athletes are up to, check out the World Heli Challenge Facebook page where many of the athletes, photographers and filmers have been posting their personal take on their experience while here in New Zealand.

Photo by Tony Harrington

Voting is also now open for the 2011 World Heli Challenge People’s Choice. An international panel of judges will determine the official winners of the competition, but there will also be awards for those selected by popular vote. Every run was filmed with two long lenses and the runs can be viewed by logging on to http://www.worldhelichallenge.com/athletes and clicking on each athlete’s name, and voting is also available on Facebook at the World Heli Challenge People’s Choice Voting Now Open page. The deadline to get votes in is Wednesday, August 10th at Midnight New Zealand time, and the winners will be announced at the aforementioned World Heli Challenge Showcase at the Lake Wanaka Centre on Thursday, August, 11th. For more information on the World Heli Challenge, log on to http://www.worldhelichallenge.com.


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