Words by Tania Pilkinton

Photos by Tony Harrington & Miles Holden

Top skiers and boarders from around the world were treated to a perfect window of fresh powder, sunshine and epic Southern Alps terrain for the 2012 World Heli Challenge competition days held this past week.  Snowboarding legend, Antti Autti, who’s snowboarded the world over said, “This is some of the best terrain I’ve ridden in a very, very long time.”


With the two competition days of the 2012 World Heli Challenge in the bag it’s now up to a handful of the world’s top judges to determine the winners.  Event organisers are continuing with the innovative online judging format that draws on the experience of internationally regarded judges from around the world to review each run and analyse in detail before deciding who this year’s winners will be.


The World Heli Challenge is collectively supported by the regions leading helicopter, heli skiing operations and land-owners. Southern Lakes Heli Ski provided the guiding service, the Freestyle Day venue was held on the Buchanan Range provided by Harris Mountains Heli Skiing, with Mt Albert Station and Backcountry Helicopters providing the Extreme Day venue on Mt Albert, a grandeur peak towering over 2000 metres in altitude above the head of Lake Wanaka near Makarora.  


While Thursday’s Freestyle competition got off to a slow start due to low lying cloud cover, in the end the weather gods cooperated and by 10am helis were being loaded with athletes, photographers, cinematographers and the event crew, all of whom were fizzing in anticipation of the day ahead in the Buchanans.


“Even non-competitors were treated to some adrenaline,” said event spokesperson, Tania Pilkinton. “Ours came early courtesy of Aspiring Helicopters and Alpine Helicopters skilled pilots.”


Conditions on the Freestyle day of competition saw champagne powder at the top of the venue with some grippy snow towards the bottom making the competition that much more challenging.


The athletes put on a show using the natural terrain to show off their freestyle tricks including 360’s, flat threes, cork threes, method airs and even a few back flips.


“Overall we saw a great show of ability and strength in terrain that they have never seen before, let alone ridden,” said head snowboard judge Mike Hygeman.


With little time to rest, the second day of competition, the Extreme Day, was held at Mt. Albert on Friday.


“We returned to Mt. Albert again this year because it’s such an amazing venue for extreme riding,” said event founder and director Tony Harrington (Harro). “This year the snow coverage was much better, opening several lines that were unskiable in 2011.  The competitors took full advantage of the conditions showing us why they stand amongst the best in the world, skiing long fluid lines down spines, off rock faces and through narrow chutes.”


“We can’t talk too much about the highlights of the day without giving away who the winners are,” said Harro.


Winners will be announced at the Lake Wanaka Centre on Thursday evening at the ION Showcase Awards and Canon Shootout. “Guests will be treated to the most mouth watering aerial and land based cinematography ever shot in NZ created by the world’s top and emerging cinematographers and photographers,” said Harro.


“This not to be missed black and white attire awards night will once again be the snow industry’s most spectacular evening. Some of the most incredible adventure lifestyle and snow sports footage ever documented will be featured on the big screen and simultaneously beamed via a live webcast to media partners in Australia, Asia, Europe and the Americas.”


The night will also feature awards for photography, cinematography and winners of each day as well as the overall winners of the event. New this year, skiers will be pitted against snowboarders and only one will come out on top to be named the ultimate snowsports athlete from the Challenge.


Tickets are $20 and available at Base, the Lake Hawea Hotel, Racer’s Edge and the Federal Diner. Includes drink on arrival and entry to the After Burner Party at Opium.


The live webcast can be viewed on http://www.worldhelichallenge.com starting at 9pm (NZ time) this Thursday.


While riders wait for the results, they will continue to take advantage of all the adventure and activities the Queenstown Lakes District has on offer including sky diving, jet boating and more to keep their adrenaline levels high.  Several have also been sited at the local op shops in search of attire for the awards festivities.