The opening of the games could not have been more auspicious with clear blue skies and perfect dry powder for 43 of the world’s best skiers and snowboarders who were fired up and ready to compete in the ‘Freeride Day’, one of three days of heli-access competitions held over a two week period. The athletes claimed it as “the most innovative, unique and cutting edge event ever”.
“The World Heli Challenge offers the athletes the best conditions in which to ultimately test their all round ability as a snow athlete. The unrivaled camaraderie among athletes, the two weeks of continuous adrenaline activities that the Wanaka region is renowned for and the incredible helicopter skills of Harvey Hutton and the Back Country Helicopter pilots make this event quite simply one of a kind,” event organizer Tony Harrington exclaims.
September 8th saw the “VnC Cocktail Downhill”. Brilliant weather and snow conditions heralded the dawning of the VnC Cocktail Downhill. This race taps into the child in all of us. Everyone has grown up racing their best mates down a hill – well, this race is all about that except it’s taken to another level. Dropped off by helicopter high on a ridge line above the Makarora Valley, the skiers and boarders race each other to the finish line at the bottom. It is an adrenaline high race of competitiveness and camaraderie. There are no rules and no regulations.
Honors in the event went to Ted Davenport (ski), Jackie Passo (Ski), Ralph Backstrom (Snowboard) and Maria Kuzma (Snowboard) and topped off 3 incredible days of competition.
The “Freeride Day” preceded this and was all about finding out who are the best performers of aerial manoeuvres in back country environment. The athletes were lifted by helicopter into some of the most spectacular landscapes on earth and let loose on the mountain. Some of the competitors were jumping in excess of 60 ft through the air performing “Misty 720 Flips” (2 rotations with a twist) and there was a stand out double front somersault from Lake Tahoe, California’s Mike Wilson.
The outstanding performers of the day were: skiers Mike Wilson (U.S.) in 1st, Chris Booth (Australia), Tim Dutton (US) in 2nd and Tim Myer (Australia) 3rd and snowboarders Quentin Robbins (New Zealand), Andy Finch (US) and Matthew Annettes (US).
In the female ski category Janina Kuzma of NZ took first with USA’s Jackie Passo 2nd and Ingrid Backstrom in 3rd. In the women’s snowboard Maria Kuzma (NZ) came in 1st, Amber Schuecker (Australia) in 2nd and Susan Mol (USA) in 3rd.
And then there was something completely unexpected – an “Expression Session”. This was a jump that had been specially built for the occasion and had people flying everywhere, including Mike Wilson who threw a triple back somersault. And then, to everyone’s amusement, surprise and enjoyment, instead of being helicoptered back down to the base, everyone was dropped off on the bank of the Makarora River to awaiting jet boats for a fast and furious ride back to the staging area.
With the completion of the final event, the overall World Heli Challenge titles were awarded to Ted Davenport (Men’s Ski), Andy Finch (Men’s Snowboard), Janina Kuzma (Women’s Ski) and Maria Kuzma (Women’s Snowboard).
Ted Davenport (U.S.) recaps: “The World Heli Challenge has been amazing! We were blessed with epic weather, epic conditions and incredible venues. Every day I was blown away by where we were dropped off at, I felt like a kid in a candy store!”.
The 3-day heli-event might be over, but this was a 2 week affair. There was no ways anyone could have predicted the perfect weather conditions allowing the heli-challenge to be completed at the start of the 2 weeks. From now on it’s fun, fun, fun with plenty of adventure related activities such as sky diving, bungy jumping and this Saturday nights grand finale music lineup of Matt Reardon, Drew Campbell and the Slur Tones headlining the “Afterburner Party” at Lake Hawea Hotel.