Perfect blue skies and spectacular mountain ranges were the awe-inspiring backdrop for an adrenaline-filled third and final official stage in the Rip Curl World Heli Challenge – the Chinese Downhill – in the picturesque back country of Wanaka, New Zealand.
Seventy of the world’s most elite snowboarders and skiers were airlifted by helicopter to the top of a 2 km course deep in the heart of New Zealand’s Mt Aspiring National Park where the ‘no holds barred’ Chinese Downhill began.
Conditions for the Chinese Downhill race were perfect, with no winds and 10cm of powder snow covering the enormous Tindle Glacier. The glacier rises up among snow-filled summits in an area where the aptly named Wonderland Valley lies.
Instead of a starter’s gun, the race kicked off with the raising of a shovel. From there it was an all-out charge to the finishing line at breakneck speed. Male and female skiers and snowboarders competed in separate heats for the unique race that has only one simple rule; to get to the bottom of the course as fast as possible without jumping the gun.
With only one injury from today’s action, the title of fastest skier went to Robert Olsen (Sweden), with Harold Putz (Austria) taking the title of fastest male snowboarder. In the women’s divisions, Karleen Jeffrey (USA) crossed the finish line first for the snowboarders while Charlotte Moats (USA) was the fastest skier.
Said women’s overall snowboard winner Karleen Jeffery, who also took first place in today’s Chinese Downhill: “I was really happy with the terrain. This year there was one injury and last year there were ten. In the Chinese Downhill I just tried to jump the bumps and go for it, and I’d waxed my board three times beforehand just to make sure I would!”
The event brought an exciting close to a week of intense competition and knocked the leading men’s skier and leading men’s snowboarder off their top post. Snowboarder Steve Klassen (USA) and skier Guerlin Chicherit (FRA) were the casualties – losing their top places by a matter of a few split seconds in the Chinese Downhill.
The Rip Curl World Heli Challenge features three different segments of competition to capture and celebrate the spirit of freeriding in big mountain terrain. After a period of two days waiting for perfect snow, the challenge began with a display of ‘new school’ ski and snowboarding tricks on the Freeride Day. This was followed by a jaw-dropping Extreme Day in which competitors leapt from cliffs through narrow rock-filled gulleys into powder snow.
It was a search for the all-round freeriding mountain athlete and in the end, consistency was the key.
The OVERALL HELICHALLENGE WINNERS after all three stages of competition were as follows :-
1. Florian Orley (Austria) 281.76 points
2. Steve Klassen (USA) 279.91 points
3. Erik Themel (Austria) 278.84 points
4. Richard Heggarty (Australia) 275.31 points
5. Tom Gilles (USA) 273.98 points
1. Karleen Jeffrey (USA) 286.47 points
2. Pepe Ahonen (Switzerland) 261.33 points
3. Julie Larsen (USA) 257.66 points
4. Robin Soifer (USA) 232.54 points
5. Sasha Ryzy (Australia) 215.86 points
Said event organiser Kath Brown: “The men’s snowboarding event was just so close. After the second day, Steve Klassen was only half a point ahead of Florian – and Florian only beat Steven by a single second in the Chinese Downhill.”
To wrap up the event in true Freeriding style, lunch was served on the glacier before competitors gathered any leftover adrenaline to launch from a jump they constructed near the helicopter landing area. As snowboarders and skiers sailed through the air and showed off their best aerial tricks high above the jump, a formation of five helicopters hovered behind them against a backdrop of mountains and blue sky.
Said Rip Curl’s event organiser Andy Higgins: “The emotion amongst competitors at the end of today was amazing. It’s rare to see so many high proofile athletes so relieved after an intense three days of competition.”
The Chinese Downhill today brought an end to an incredible week of action in the Rip Curl World Heli Challenge that began on July 28. Seventy athletes from fifteen countries around the world gathered in the tiny township of Wanaka, South Island, New Zealand, for awesome helicopter rides, big mountain thrills, intense competition and a spirit of cameraderie unmatched in the aggressive world of ski and snowboard competition action.