Shem Roose and I lucked out this year with a trip down to the south island of New Zealand to check out the Rip Curl Heli Challenge. Great pains were taken to assure we’d arrive on time, but somehow we still showed up late, missing the first part of the contest. The Rip Curl Heli Challenge is a three-day contest that, because of weather, usually has to be spread out over two weeks, so being only a couple days late, we didn’t miss all of it. And, thanks to Contest Director Tony Harrington, his illustrious staff, and their incredibly descriptive press releases, we were caught up to speed. We’d also missed the safety meeting with the pilots and loading crew of the helicopters. “Safety is a major issue.” Tony told us, “There is a high degree of danger involved in what these people do on big mountains, negotiating steep cliffs, tight chutes, and near-vertical terrain. The safety of competitors is the highest priority.”

At the first event, the Heli Freeride Day, the competitors were given two runs and were judged on difficulty of jumps and moves, how well the riders completed them, and the number of moves executed in each run. Points were also awarded for overall impression. The five judges were split into two groups in order to cover the length of the long, steep, and twisting course. David Pujol of Spain won the men’s snowboarding section against stiff competition. Pujol’s winning highlights included a frontside rodeo 540 on his first jump, and then another off a huge cornice during his second run. Elated with the win he said, “It’s my first time in international competition. I feel really honored to be riding against the people I’ve seen in videos.” Alaskan riders Andre Spinelli and Chuck Clasby tied for second. Local New Zealand girl Julianne Bray won the women’s event. She later said being familiar with the Southern Alps of New Zealand was a huge help to picking the correct line. 1998 Rip Curl Winner, Karleen Jeffery, landed in second place, drawing raucous applause with a massive air on her first run.

After Day One.

Men

1. David Pujol SPA

2. Andre SpinelliUSA

2.Chuck ClasbyUSA

3. Axel PauportéBEL

Women

1. Julianne BrayNZE

2.Karleen JefferyCAN

3. Marguerite CossettiniAUS

Chinese Downhill Day was the second event. Chinese Downhill is a no-rules, first-to-the-bottom-wins race. It was unanimously agreed that today’s races were the most challenging in the event’s five-year history, with competitors reaching speeds of up to 50 mph. The chosen site was Mt. Brewster a steep peak running into a crevice-littered glacier. The reaction of the competitors to the mile-long course, run on variable wind-affected powder ranged from awe, to praise, to outright fear. A sharp drop-away halfway down the course that the competitors hit at top speed caused a number of big falls, but no major injuries were incurred. Reigning champ and current Queen Of The Hill Karleen Jeffery won the women’s event, and summed it up by saying, “This was probably the most gnarly Chinese Downhill run in the world. It was awesome, the most terrifyingly, fun course I’ve ridden. It was so fast you actually had to try to keep some sort of a check on your speed, and the drop-away in the middle of the course was gnarly.” Julianne Bray came in second, followed by Marguerite Cossettini in third. Nineteen-year-old Ashley Call won the men’s event and commented, “This event is screwball, totally wild, there were people flying all over the place. The key fore was not turning. There ain’t no strategy, just point it down the hill and go fast!” Matt Goodwill came in a very close second with Tim Vlandis third.

Overall results after the first two days.

Men

1. David Pujol SPA

2. Andre Spinelli USA

3. Tim Vlandis AUS

Women

1. Karleen Jeffery CAN

2. Julianne Bray NZE

3. Marguerite Cossettini AUS

Because of snow conditions and weather, there was a seven-day wait between the second contest day and the third contest day. Luckily, Wanaka, the town where everyone stays, is well equipped to deal with the downtime. There are various activities you can partake in, like bungee jumping, jet boating, fishing, skateboarding, and drinking–far and away the most popular. The Rip Curl Heli Challenge pretty much takes over the town; mayhem may be the best way to describe it.

The final event was the Backcountry Heli Extreme Day. Five helicopters hustled for two hours delivering competitors, safety crew, media, and spectators to a massive horseshoe-shaped bowl known to locals as Odyssey. The competitors were given free reign to access any point of the bowl, opening to them an array of tight chutes, tall cliffs, and super steep terrain. The 30 cm almost a foot of fresh powder on hard-packed snow with ice in many places created harsh conditions for competitors, with the ever-present danger of unstable snow looming over their heads. Despite a favorable weather forecast, low clouds moved in late in the day to spoil the party. As a result, not all competitors were able to complete their runs, judges agreed to call the day a “fun freeriding expression session,” and overall placing was awarded for the event based on the first two days of competition. Karleen Jeffery won the women’s for the third time in as many years, and newcomer David Pujol took home the win in the men’s.

Overall results for the 1999 Rip Curl World Heli Challenge.

Men

1. David Pujol SPA

2. Andre Spinelli USA

3. Tim Vlandis AUS

4. Ashley CallUSA

5. Axel PauportéBEL

Women

1. Karleen Jeffery CAN

2. Julianne Bray NZE

3. Marguerite Cossettini AUS

4. Rene HollisNZE

5. Julie Larson USA

Rounding out the Rip Curl World Heli Challenge was the Pulsate/Wanaka Big Air Event. The event (which we renamed Wanakastock) took place on a hill overlooking the lake in Wanaka, well below the snow line. The jump was made out of a sketchy scaffolding that was about 60 feet tall, the landing was built out of hay bales, which ran out into a ten-foot plastic quarterpipe set up in front of the sound stage, and all were covered in snow trucked down from the mountains. Around dusk, about 6,000 people piled into the roped-off festival area (complete with food and booze tents). It was hard for the competitors to get enough speed, but that didn’t prevent them from hucking. As the “hard-rockin’ sounds” of Australian-band Grinspoon and New Zealand’s own Unleaded and Deep Kick filled the air, everyone (including the many of the competitors) were enjoying their Speights. The contest kind of dragged on, but after the ultra-super-super-post-semi-ultra final, local boy Sam Deuvoll and local girl Julianne Bray won.

Pulsate/Wanaka Big Air

Men

1. Sam Deavoll NZE

2. Grant QuinnAUS

3. Andre Spinelli AUS

Women

1. Julianne Bray NZE

2. Sasha Ryzy AUS

3. Julie Larson USA

For travel details, contact Qantas Airlines in the U.S. at 1-800-277-4500 or in Canada at 1-800-227-4500. You may also visit their Web site at qantas.com.au or check out the special event packages at helichallenge.co.nz site.

Special thanks to Rip Curl, Qantas, Salomon, and all the competitors who came down and nearly partied themselves to death. Let’s do it all again next year!

s, contact Qantas Airlines in the U.S. at 1-800-277-4500 or in Canada at 1-800-227-4500. You may also visit their Web site at qantas.com.au or check out the special event packages at helichallenge.co.nz site.

Special thanks to Rip Curl, Qantas, Salomon, and all the competitors who came down and nearly partied themselves to death. Let’s do it all again next year!