As promised, the first day of competition went off without a hitch on Wednesday (that was Tuesday in the States, folks) in the backcountry near the pastoral heaven called Makarora, an absolutely amazing forty-minute drive from Wanaka on New Zealand’s South Island. That’s where four helicopters were shuttling competitors, event crew, and media up to a run called Mr. Clean. It’s quite an operation getting an entire contest and all its hangers-on up in them thar hills, and Backcountry Helicopters should be commended for handling the circus with professional aplomb.

Mr. Clean was an ideal location for the Freeride competition, where a couple-thousand feet of heli-accessed terrain is spiked with a series of man-made booters. Snowboarders and skiers alike were flying around what amounted to an overgrown natural terrain park. Massive flips – both front and back – were the huck du jour, withloads of other inverts and spins thrown in.

Spaniard David Pujol surprised the field when he quietly dominated the Freeride portion with a Rodeo 5 off a huge booter and a clean 540 off the cornice atop Mr. Clean. Consistency during his two judged runs (not to mention some stylie old school layback carves) proved the decider on freestyle day. And rumor has it David’s not a freestyle rider but actually somewhat of an Alpinist – he considers extreme riding his bread and butter.Y’all better axe somebody.

Kiwi Julianne Bray took the women’s Freeride portion, with last year’s Rip Curl World Heli Challenge champ Karleen Jeffery taking second.

The AK Youth Kollective and kicking ass and take names down here. Green-haired Andre Spinelli sits in second place after the Freeride portion, thanks in part to a fat backflip gap jump stuck cleanly, thank you. Fellow AK kids Chuck Clasby (third) and Ashley Call (eighth) also rode well. Oh yeah, they all rip and are looking for sponsors.

The Belgian Hellion Axel Pauporte, sitting in fourth place after the first day’s competition, quietly waits knowing he’s in good positition for the extreme day.

Despite missing a couple landings, Matt Goodwill sits in tenth place after clearly launching higher and farther than the rest of the field. Unmatched power and speed. Serious balls.

Event honcho Tony Harrington made the announcement last night at the pub at the Lake Hawea Motor Lodge (ground zero for Rip Curl Heli Challenge goings-on and a ripping good place to hang) that the Chinese Downhill will run on the next flyable day instead of the Extreme portion. With plenty of time left in the weather window, theorganizers are hoping the front due in a few days will provide a bit more snow for the extreme competition.

In the meantime, competitors are busting out the race wax and reviewing “Hot Dog,The Movie” looking for the secret Chinese Downhill strategy that will be the winning edge in what is, for the most part, an Alpine powder crap shoot. Medics, man your stations.

There’s a good chance the choppers will fly for the Chinese Downhill today (Thursday in the States). Stay tuned for a full recap. Until then, this is Snowboard Life’s Ewan Morrison, signing off.