WORLD HELI CHALLENGE – Sam, Janina, Benny, Abby Win!

August 12th, 2011

World Heli Challenge

Winners of the 2011 World Heli Challenge, Sam Smoothy, Janina Kuzma, Benny Bright and Abby Lockhart took centre stage last night at the World Heli Challenge Showcase.

Athletes, media and the general public filled the Lake Wanaka Centre and were treated to an amazing evening last night as the most successful ever World Heli Challenge came to an end.

World Heli Challenge winner Sam Smoothy. Image:: Harro

Who won the WHC Shootout? Find out here.

The Winners

The finale to the evening was the announcement of the 2011 World Heli Challenge champions. The athletes were able to share their winning runs on screen to a packed house in the Lake Wanaka Centre.

And this year’s winners are:

Men’s Ski Champion – Sam Smoothy (NZL)
Women’s Ski Champion – Janina Kuzma (NZL)
Men’s Snowboard Champion – Benny Bright (AUS)
Women’s Snowboard Champion – Abby Lockhart (NZL)

The overall winners (best all around skiers) were chosen for their performance over the two days of competition (Extreme Day and Freestyle Day).

An esteemed panel of judges from around the world was chosen and for the first time in World Heli Challenge history, judging was done online, with each day of competition captured by two long lenses and uploaded for viewing. Nick Draxl and Mike Hygiemann were the onsite ski and snowboard judges and were able to consult with the “virtual” judges about the day’s conditions and any other specifics that may not have been discerned from the videos.

Draxl said that this was the best method he’s ever seen for judging and made the scoring much more accurate and easy to facilitate.

He said, “This year, consistency is what separated the winners from the rest of the field. It’s really challenging to perform at your peak over the two days, and those who stomped their tricks and stuck their lines were rewarded for it.” Onsite snowboard judge, Hygiemann, concurred saying, “At the end of the day it came down to control.”

Scores were really tightly contested within the top five in all categories.

New Zealand was represented well in this competition where in a field of international competitors, three of the four overall winners were kiwis. All three expressed an equal amount of surprise at coming out on top.

Sam Smoothy commented on how this competition isn’t about winning, for him it’s about spending two weeks with some of the world’s best skiers and snowboarders. “I had the best time ever,” said Smoothy. “I’m a bit blown away by the win as I was being conservative having just come off an injury. I feel privileged to be named this year’s champion amongst all the amazing skiers who were out there.”

Having won in 2009 but then relinquishing the title to Ane Endurud last year, Janina Kuzma was pleased to once again be named the champion for 2011.

“I’ve been a part of the World Heli Challenge since it’s resurrection three years ago and this year was the best ever,” said Kuzma. “The girls pushed it really hard, especially on the freestyle day.. This was the most competitive field I’ve skied against at a World Heli Challenge and it was great to land on top. It was fantastic to compete against Natalie Segal, her aggression is amazing and I’ve never seen someone send it so much.”

World Heli Challenge winner Ben Bright. Image:: Harro

A humble Abby Lockhart seemed a bit shocked to have earned the women’s snowboard title this year saying she was “amazed” by her win and that it was completely unexpected.

Rounding out the winners was Australia’s Benny Bright who after a few words about snowboarding versus skiing went on to comment, not on his win, but rather on the level of camaraderie at the event, “What sets the World Heli Challenge apart from other events is the camaraderie. I’ve been in and around lots of competitions, including heli-accessed competitions, and nothing compares. The camaraderie at the World Heli Challenge speaks for itself; it’s amazing.” Adding, “I’m pleased with the win because these days I spend more time coaching and managing athletes than in competition, this proves to the athletes that I’m working with that I actually know what I’m doing.”

Individual winners from each day’s competition are as follows:

Freestyle Day
Women Ski – Janina Kuzma
Women Snowboard – Abby Lockhart
Men Ski – Markus Eder
Men Snowboard – Jake Koia

“Markus Eder was an absolute standout,” said Draxl. “This young Italian showed exactly what the freestyle day is all about, bringing big tricks to the backcountry.

“Abby put down an incredible run,” said Hygiemann. “She started with two good airs straight up, followed by a backside 360 spin, straight air with a method grab finishing with a stalefish air. She pulled some good tricks while staying in control throughout.”

“Benny went fast from the word go taking a nice air off the top and then stringing multiple airs throughout his entire run including two 360’s, an inverted 360 and a cork seven. He chose a different line too, which made the run stand out even more,” said Hygiemann.

Extreme Day
Women Ski – Victoria Beattie
Women Snowboard – Iris Lazzareschi
Men Ski – Sam Smoothy
Men Snowboard – Shin Biyajima

“It was tough up there,” said Draxl. “The athletes had only one run to show their stuff and Tori and Sam put down awesome runs, sticking their landings.”

This was the first year that saw a contest to select Young Guns. Canada’s Mark Hendrickson and Hawaii’s Lyon Farrell were the young skier and snowboarder selected to compete from an international cast of hopefuls.

In another first for the World Heli Challenge, the general public was invited to watch each athlete’s run and vote for his or her favourite. Following are the winners of this year’s People’s Choice Awards:

Men Ski – Young Gun, Hank Bilous
Men Snowboard – Roland Morley-Brown
Women Ski – Natalie Segal
Women Snowboard – Abby Lockhart


Two-time World Heli Challenge Champion and Volkl Rider, Ted Davenport, who was injured on the Extreme Day of the competition, joined everyone via skype.. He showed off some of his new wheelchair tricks and told a few stories of his adventures while in hospital. Ted will fly back to the USA Saturday where he will be rejoined by his fiancé who has been eagerly awaiting his return.