Lake Wanaka (12 July 2010) – The infamous World Heli Challenge was resurrected in 2009 and returns this year from 30 July to 8 August, this time bringing back the legendary "big air" event that in its time drew some of the largest spectator crowds of any snow event in the Southern Hemisphere.
Fifty of the world's top skiers and snowboarders will converge on Wanaka for eight days, including two days of helicopter-accessed competition with a goal of finding out which athlete is the best "all rounder" by combining their freeride and free style skills to showcase their overall talent.
New Zealand's back country is some of the most beautiful in the world and while watching this event first hand is not possible for most, everyone will have the opportunity to view it through the lens of six of the world's most renowned photographers and two 30 minute TV shows that will air globally.
"This event is much more than just a ski and snowboard competition," said event director, Tony Harrington.
"We've incorporated arts and culture as well. We've invited six of the world's best photographers to Wanaka to capture the spectacular scenery and action. All will be on display at a post event media awards evening."
The World Heli Challenge is more than just a competition for the athletes as well. For six of the eight days that they are in Wanaka they will be treated to a variety of activities.
One day will be spent at the Glen Dene Station sheering sheep and mustering deer after which they will be treated to a dinner featuring NZ's culinary delights. This activity is being sponsored in part by Mons Royale, a new undergarment line that features merino wool and is owned by former World Heli Challenge competitor and one of NZ's best skiers, Hamish Acland.
Competitors will also be treated to New Zealand's fishing, golfing and a day on the West Coast in the surf.
The athletes will be sure to leave knowing much more about New Zealand's adventure and its culture, than simply about the epic backcountry terrain that's on offer.
In keeping with the times, the big air event comes back as the Exstream TV "Street Style" Snow Show and promises to be as much fun for spectators as it will be for the competitors.
The event takes place at the Hawea Hotel from 6pm to 9pm on Saturday, 7 August. Truckloads of snow and a big ramp will ensure that participants get plenty of air and, unlike back in the day, modern technology allows a soft landing for all, thanks to a giant 10mx15m cushion, "The NZ AirBag."
This family event will feature great music and plenty to eat and drink. All proceeds from the event will be donated to residents of Hawea in the form of added funding for the expansion of the Hawea Community Center.
The equally legendary "After Burner Party" will follow the Street Style Snow Show and will continue into the wee hours of the morning.
World Heli Challenge History
The original World Heli Challenge was created in 1995.
After competing alongside Shane McConkey, Brant Moles, Chris Anthony and a host of the legends of the sport in the World Extreme Skiing Championships in Alaska, event director Tony Harrington met Nick Perata. Perata is one of the all time lord's of snowboarding and the founder of the legendary "King of the Hill" snowboarding event in Valdez.
With the likes of Steve Graham, Jim Hale, Dani "Kiwi"Meier, Jason Beaton, Lori Gibbs, Pepi Ahonen and a handful of other hard core riders wanting to come to NZ, Harrington knew that a helicopter accessed event in New Zealand would be a success.
With support and some direction from Perata, the crew came to Wanaka and each threw in $600 to buy some helicopter time. The goal was to run three events similar to Peralta's "King of the Hill." The only difference was that the "timed" Downhill event was changed to a "Chinese Downhill," where everyone started together on top of the mountain, and the first to the bottom was winner! A resounding success in its first year, the event continued to grow year over year until 2001. Unfortunately the fall out from the 911 events dried up the sponsorship, but due to athlete and industry pressure, the event just had to come back – and so it was resurrected in 2009.
Wanaka Big Air History
Two weeks before the first World Heli Challenge, a 50-year storm dropped half a metre of snow in Wanaka. Event director, Tony Harrington, rang up the council contractors who were clearing the roads and asked if they could stock pile the snow in the carpark of Barrows Tavern. Imagine the look on tavern owner Pete Barrow's face that morning when he arrived at work and found his carpark buried in snow! Harrington explained his plan to make a snow jump over his 1972 Escort van to Barrows. He predicted that the event would draw between three to four hundred spectators; it drew one thousand that first year. Within a few years, 60 loads of snow were being trucked in to a new and bigger location, Lismore Park. A huge scaffolding ramp was built for the jump and international headline bands played in front of 8000+ spectator. The Wanaka Big Air had become the biggest snow event in Australasia.