This week, the World Heli Challenge returned to Lake Wanaka, New Zealand, after a long hiatus. The two-week event tested athletes’ versatility by combining their scores from three events: big-mountain, freeride, and a speed skier/border cross event—think Chinese downhill style—all accessed by helicopter.
The contest is the brainchild of Australian action-sports photographer Tony Harrington, who wanted to bring world-class athletes to the Southern Hemisphere. For five years, the event was a favorite among both skiers and snowboarders. But the aftermath of September 11 put the comp on hold. Eight years later, the event is back.
Tony Harrington told us what’s new about the comp this year. “The format is proven and tested. This can’t be changed,” Harrington says. “In a day and age where every big-mountain event is just extreme, extreme, extreme, we have the three disciplines that caters to a racer, a freestyler, a freeskier and put the best of each of those disciplines up against each other. Some established athletes in the newschool realm may not like it because they are comfortable with their consistent top podium results in halfpipe and slopestyle, but this event isn’t like that, this event challenges an athlete on how good they can ski all-aound.”
The field included athletes such as Ingrid Backstrom, Mike Wilson, Russ Henshaw, Chris Booth, and Tim Dutton.
The top three women in the ski division were Janina Kuzma, Jackie Paaso, and Ingrid Backstrom. The top three skier men were Ted Davenport, Mike Wilson, and Geoff Small. Skiing spoke with Davenport, an Aspen-based pro skier, about the venue, his big win, and what’s it like to be back in competition.
“We arrived via heli to the most filled-in, spiny, and feature-full venue I’ve ever seen,” Davenport says. “It looks like something out of a badass skiing dream we all have at some point. The competition field was stacked with both freestyle and big-mountain athletes. Everyone crushed it on both the freeride and big-mountain days. There were definitely guys who were better at one than the other.”
Davenport won the big-mountain and speed event and placed eighth in the freestyle comp. “It felt great to win the big-mountain comp. For me, that was the biggest event of the contest and certainly the biggest test of snow-riding abilities,” Davenport says. “I’ve had a pretty bad string of luck in contests the past few years, so it felt super good to show the skiing community that after several years of injury, I am still in the game of competitive freeskiing.”
To check out Ted’s photos and video footage of his winning run, go to teddavenport.com.
To see complete results, videos, and read more about the competitors, check out www.worldhelichallenge.com.