By Rachael Oakes-Ash
Photos by Camilla Stoddart
It’s Over – It’s Done, but who won?
Not a bad place to hang out a with other competitors waiting to drop in to a contest line.
Aspenite, Ted Davenport, is psyched. It’s his first time in New Zealand and it shows, with an HD helmet cam on the mountain and a point and shoot happy snap digital practically glued to his fingers. The big mountain extreme skier and base jumper is lakeside at Lake Hawea for the World Heli Challenge in the South Island.
After three days of welcome events and three days of waiting for the weather (and some attempts to drink the sky blue) the athletes scored the goods on day four with a super dry snow front dumping a good half metre into the upper peaks of the Southern Alps.
It has been seven years since the last World Heli Challenge and event organiser Tony Harrington has tried for the past two years to get the event back off the ground. Third time lucky in 2009, and forty athletes have flown in from around the world ready to strut their stuff on the big mountain terrain.
The Aussie contingent (think Chris Booth, Charlie Timmins, Tim Myers and their friends) have taken over the frat house up the road from the Lake Hawea Motor Inn otherwise known as HQ for the WHC. They are joined by the likes of Andy Finch , Mike Wilson and Tim Dutton, all acting like caged animals, frothing at the bit, ready to pounce as each day rolled into the next and whatever other clichéd phrases we can find to say they just wanted to go skiing.
When they did they went large with the free ride expressions day kicking off the event. For some it was their first time in a helicopter and for others the first time out of the terrain park but this kind of back country competition sorts the wheat from the chaff and the men from the boys, damn, there are those clichés again. Let’s just say Mike Wilson stomped it, but then he is the ‘man in the air’.
The World Heli Challenge is not a live spectator’s event, it’s more suited to ski mags, television and the big screen, more devised for slick snow porn images to make the viewer envious plus it’s hard to get a stadium audience up on a remote mountain. Hard, and expensive.
Pick your line. This is the mountain face for “Big-Mountain” day. Athletes choose a line and rip it for the judges.
So Taking the Piste considered ourself fortunate to have a ring side seat on day two, the Big Mountain Day. A collective inhale sucked the chopper oxygen dry as it rose over the ridge below Mt Albert to reveal the spectacular spire like terrain which was to be our ‘venue’. Hmmm perhaps we should have registered as a competitor after all.
Big Mountain skiing has always been my favourite to watch, the kind of skiing that put McConkey and Chris Davenport (yes he is related) on their maps. Ted Davenport, Geoff Small and Mike Wilson showed us why they consistently win what they enter, taking on the terrain with confidence and style, making mince meat of cliffs, dining on finger chutes for breakfast and doing it all with a grin a mile wide. Andy Finch was, well, Andy grace and style Finch.
A snowboarder shredding a spine on the big mountain competition day 2.
As for the girls Aussie twins now living in New Zealand, Maria (snowboarder) and Janina (skier) Kuzma ripped it up in their respective categories. Taking the Piste? We just had to watch and plan our own lines we wouldn’t be taking.
There is a reason Burton, Billabong and Armada shoot their catalogues in New Zealand and it’s not just the exchange rate. The terrain itself is breathtaking and every winter the ratio of named athletes rises with the snow base. The premiere of Poor Boys Productions’ Every Day is a Saturday at the local Cinema Paradiso co-incided with the last day of the World Heli Challenge. A spectacular day of jet boat rides, Apocalypse Now style helicopter flyovers and a mammoth kicker on which the athletes could express their stuff followed the VnC Chinese Downhill when it was every man for himself.
Day 3 is Chinese downhill – first to the bottom gets the gold.
A skier finding his line through the spines on Big Mountain competition day.
Ted Davenport left his ski boots at HQ and had to rally drive back to get them in time to ensure he made it to the chopper. Clearly the rally driving work out worked as he caned it in the battle with Geoff Small for supremacy.
Come Saturday night and together with Russ Henshaw and Anna Segal we mixed it up at Cinema Paradiso with Armada’s Chris O’Connell and athletes TJ Schiller and Colby West. Not that we’re name dropping, ok, we are. There could have been others but after an adrenalin pumped few days and some free booze at the film we couldn’t tell our Simon Dumont from our JP Auclair. Vodka Red Bull can do that to you.
So, who won the World Heli Challenge? We can tell you that Jackie Passo and Maria Kuzma were first across the line for skiers and boarders for the girls in the VnC Chinese downhill. We can tell you that Ted Davenport and Ralph Backstrom did it for the boys. That Ingrid Backstrom and Maria Kuzma took podium for the Big Mountain Day alongside Ted Davenport and Ryder McCune.
Chillin for lunch on the last day of competition before having a jumping session on a nearby windlip.
Australia’s Chris Booth launching from a natural windlip.
Tonight is the official presentation night when the results of all three events are combined to divulge the overall skiing and snowboarding champions though it doesn’t take a rocket scientist amongst the athletes to figure out who will get what.
Watch this space.