The fragile and unpredictable nature of big mountains was experienced today by over 100 people participating in the Rip Curl World Heli Challenge deep in the backcountry of New Zealand’s epic Southern Alps.

Five helicopters worked for two hours delivering competitors, safety crew, media and spectators to the majestic alpine location of the Rip Curl World Heli Challenge Backcountry Heli Extreme Day ¿ the third and final day of this unique three day free-riding event. Despite a favourable weather forecast, which delivered brilliant blue sky conditions in the morning, low cloud moved in late in the day to slightly spoil the party creating a potentially dangerous situation and resulting in eight competitors being forced to abandon their planned runs and others battling poor visibility. As a result of not having all competitors complete their runs, judges agreed to call the day a àƒ,à‚Å’fun free-riding expression session’ and overall placing’s were awarded for the event based on the first two days of competition which were fully completed in perfect backcountry conditions.

Event Director Tony Harrington was disappointed that he was unable to fully complete the Backcountry Heli Extreme Day, however he was characteristically philosophical about the happenings of the day:

“We were all set for an epic day and got off to a great start, but it’s just a shame for all the competitors that they couldn’t all get the run they wanted to. The backcountry ¿ what can I say? The weather did what the weather does. But it makes me so happy to still see that everybody out there finished the day with big smiles on their faces. It just shows that even after a bit of a hiccup like today, this ain’t some rigid and tight competition. It’s about having fun in the mountains with some of the world’s best, just free-riding and enjoying the mountain spirit”.

The camaraderie of the event was evident with every competitor wearing a big smile at days end understanding that it’s the very nature of a helicopter accessed contest deep in the backcountry that brings the weather into play.

Event organiser Kathy Harrington indicated how important safety considerations and professionalism are when taking an event like the Rip Curl deep into remote and dangerous backcountry in helicopters when she commented:

“It took us a long time to get going yesterday. The mountain face we were using was so huge and beautiful, but the beauty only slightly concealed the dangerous and raw nature of the environment we were operating in. To the credit of the competitors and the safety crew, we had no drama. It’s super cool to get everyone back home safe and sound. A real relief!”

The arena for the Backcountry Heli Extreme Day was a massive horseshoe shaped bowl known to locals as Odyssey. Competitors were given free reign to access any point of the natural amphitheatre, opening them to an array of tight chutes, tall cliffs and super steep terrain. The snow pack of 30cm of fresh powder on hard-packed snow created testing conditions for competitors, with the ever present danger of sliding snow pushing competitors off their chosen lines.

In the men’s overall snowboarding results, rookie David Pujol (SPA) – who truly reflected the free-riding spirit by putting his career on hold and living out of his car to save money whilst training for the Rip Curl event ¿ was rewarded for his passion by finishing in first place ahead of an impressive list of world class free-riders.

Cameron Baranski, editor of Australian Snowboarder magazine, was impressed by David’s overall attitude:

“He’s just one of those guys that gets out there and does what he loves without any hype. I think we’ll see a lot more of him in the future. I can’t wait to see how he performs in the Rip Curl Mountain Challenge next year in Europe”.

Karleen Jeffery (CAN), made it three overall wins in three years in the women’s snowboarding division, showing the sort of abbilities that would even have seen her place highly in the men’s division.

Richard Heggarty (AUS), summed up the thoughts of many when he said: “Karleen took a highly dangerous line on the Extreme Day at a speed that surprised many of the onlooking male competitors. If something had have gone wrong she would have hit a rock face at full speed. She rips”.

During the awards presentation last night, Rip Curl marketing man Paul Lacy praised the efforts of event creators Tony and Kathy Harrington, saying: “These guys have created a very special event indeed and are to be totally congratulated for their efforts. Their vision and passion for what they do is inspirational. They have helped create a new movement in the mountain world, a move away from the rigid confines of traditional competition to a much free-er and more fun free-riding festival”.

On Saturday night Wanaka hosted the grand finale of the Rip Curl World Heli Challenge as snowboarders and skiers took to the air in the Pulsate Wanaka Big Air event.

The massive big air jump overlooked the beautiful township of Wanaka, where truck loads of snow had been brought into town and packed onto a huge scaffolding tower to make a jump that had competitors flying up to 25 meters in length and well over 5 meters above the ground.

“Competitors trained on the jump all day and it was a truly remarkable night of entertainment as some the world’s best snowboarders and skiers demonstrated new school aerial tricks never before seen in the Southern Hemisphere in front of approximately 5,000 onlookers, backed by the hard rockin’ sounds of Australian band Grinspoon and New Zealand’s own Unleaded and Deep Kick. It was a hell of a party to finish off this festival of free-riding” said Tony Harrington.

Overall results for the 1999 Rip Curl World Heli Challenge are as follows:

MEN

1 DAVID PUJOL SPAIN 189.44
2 ANDRE SPINELLI ALASKA 188.16
3 TIM VLANDIS AUST 187.00
4 ASHLEY CALL ALASKA 186.76
5 AXEL PAUPORTE BELG 184.03
6 CHUCK CLASBY ALASKA 182.69
7 MATT GOODWILL USA 180.48
8 RICHARD HEGARTY AUST 176.54
9 STEPHAN ROUTIN FRANCE 174.78
10 JAYSON ONLEY AUST 170.83
11 MATT RIGBY USA 167.85
12 STEVEN ROZENDAAL USA 167.53
13 NICOAS MARDUEL FRANCE 166.82
14 JAISON LEROY USA 164.50
15 REON MORLAND NZ 153.66
16 CHRIS MCKENZIE NZ 152.61
17 DANIEL KNEITEL AUST 152.39
18 PHILLIPPE BATAILLE FRANCE 151.76
19 OLLY BURKE NZ 148.44
20 JIRO AIDA JAPAN 143.38
21 TODD MASON AUST 131.37
JEREMY JONES USA 83.19
TEMPLE CUMMINS USA 76.23
PIERRE YVES LEBLANC CAN 72.33
SHAUN MCCOOMB NZ 65.37

WOMEN

1 KARLEEN JEFFERY CAN 198.02
2 JULIANNE BRAY NZ 195.11
3 MARGUERITE COSSETTINI AUST 170.53
4 RENE HOLLIS NZ 152.89
5 JULIE LARSON USA 151.98
6 LUCY MARCUS USA 150.41
7 ALLIE SHIELDS USA 140.11
8 JAKKY ROBERTSON NZ 50.04