The World Heli Challenge 2013 (WHC) started with registration night at the Lone Star in Wanaka where we were welcomed, introduced to everyone and the heli that had landed in the car park, given a briefing on what was to happen, and administered our goody bags (that included remote control helicopters, Ion POV cameras, genie wallets, and a WHC hoody).
Unfortunately the first planned fly day was a false start. We were up at 5.30am to meet the crew and drive 45minutes out to Makarora where we were supposed to be meeting the helicopters in a paddock to fly up Mt Turner to do the freestyle day. Instead we got there, played a few games in the field and had many discussions amongst the crew about how the weather was closing in and the light was super flat on the course, until finally we got the call that we would not be flying. This was a blessing for not only me to rest my knee injury longer but for all the athletes as competing in flat light conditions especially in the back country that we did not know can result in many dangerous crashes. So we all convoyed back to Wanaka and went and played paintball. Fellow team froth member Harry Giddings and I took it to the next level dressing in our most gangster get up to scare off our opponents and get our heads in the game. We split into teams of snowboarders versus skiers including filmers and other WHC crew. The battles got tough and sometimes personal with a few gang-ups and cheap shots within the 10m minimum distance taken, however everyone made it out alive despite a few welt wounds here and there, my shoulder blades suffered the most from a snowboarder being cheap attacking and me from the blind side. The skiers were victorious in the 2 rounds of capture the flag (which was a rugby ball), and the snowboarders out did us in winding their flag to the top of the pole in the third round. Of course this was all very thirsty work so we finished with a beverage or two of Carlton Dry the official drink of the WHC.
Word got around that Friday was the day, weather was still looking a little variable but the crew decided we really needed to get the first day done, so we all prepared to fly in the hope that the weather would play ball. Again we were up early and congregated outside Racers Edge with our coffees watching what the wind and clouds were doing up on the mountains eagerly awaiting a decision. The call was made that again we should all travel out to the waiting area where a further decision about flying and competing was to be made. After a few hours of waiting, playing cricket, hackie, frisbee, flying mini helicopters and having a boogie down to our car stereo systems the call was finally made that we would be flying and had 30 minutes to get ready. Suddenly I got a rush of nervous butterflies and adrenalin, holy moly we are really doing this! Boots are forced on, dins checked, a quick run through of safety equipment and any other gear we want on the hill, transceivers switched on, and we are hussled for a safety briefing and run through of what is going to happen. We are numbered off, assigned a heli, and one by one they fly in pick up a load and taxi us all to the top of Mt Turner where we were competing. Snow spray blasts in our faces as we all pile out of the heli and huddle on a tiny point at the top of the mountain waiting for the loaders to unload our gear and see the heli off safely for its next trip. My gear finally makes it back to me and we trudge down in the knee-deep powder to the start line where we prepared for our inspection run.
Being able to inspect the run is good as you can see more accurately how big the drops were, the angle and condition of the landings and the snow conditions on different areas of the course. The snow condition was variable, as an avalanche had recently gone down the centre of the course leaving avalanche debris on a lot of the central face. The snow at the top of the course was reasonably deep powder but was quite heavy, making it easier to ski further down the face where it was still soft but not as deep and heavy on your skis. The bottom of the course was excluded from the judging due to icy rubble and only one exit point to the bottom of the face. The face they had chosen was great for the freestyle day terrain wise as there were many different lines and options you could take such as steep chutes, wind lips, mellow roll overs, and rock drops, as well as wide open aspects to get some fast powder turns in. Picking my line was challenging as 1) there were so many options I couldn't make up my mind about where I wanted to go. 2) I was limited by the size of the drops and airs I could do due to having a week old grade 2 MCL tear in my left knee. 3) I just really wanted to drop the big stuff like everyone else even though I told myself and my physio and supporters I wouldn't. And 4) I needed to try pick something that suited my style of skiing and that was easy to remember and had a nice flow to it so there was no getting lost on the course. My first line consisted on a small air off a natural kicker at the top, some open face turns into a smaller wind loaded section, to a drop which turned into an unplanned double and excessive speed straight to avalanche debris, resulting in an ejected ski and a few flips down the hill, gutted! My second run I decided to take the same line but take the bigger drop from a different angle so I didn't need to make a sharp turn to avoid it turning into a double again. All was going according to plan until I reached the take off only to discover two eager photographers parked right where I needed to go, a few angry and exasperated words were yelled and I had to switch into adventure mode finding an impromptu line I hadn't scoped. I carried on down a mellow ridgeline and managed to find a small wind lip I could drop off to link up with the planned bottom section of my line. By the time we did our second runs it was getting quite late in the day, the temperature had dropped and the snow had started to crust up making the skiing quite hard. Speaking to the on course ski judge Geoff Small at the end of the day he mentioned it was obvious the snow conditions had hardened and could see us tiring at the end of our runs, this is where strength and stamina play a massive role in big mountain skiing as the runs can be long and hard on your body. Despite things not going quite as well as I would have liked the freestyle day was a great experience and a lot of fun. As well as competing it was cool to be able to watch the other awesome riders throw down such as Fraser McDougall with two impressive runs involving huge 360's, single and double back flips! The heli ride down off the hill was a major highlight for everyone as the pilots get to let loose a little bit and give us a roller coaster ride on the way down. It was a long day filled with adrenalin so we were all pretty tired and hungry once we got home. A great meal at Amigos with a complimentary margarita for WHC athletes was a satisfying end to a good day.
The next day was another down day as we waited for the weather to clear. I was woken mid morning by team froth members (Harry Giddings & Ricky Bates) bounding into the lounge and disturbing my peace shouting "we are going to jump off a cliff"! "Get up we have 45 minutes to get out to Treble Cone. I have to say I think I am getting pretty good at this quick showering and making myself look semi tolerable to the eye thing in rushed and extremely short periods of time due to being the only female member of team froth and the boys regularly wanting to get places last minute and ASAP! Mal Haskins one of the highly experienced heli skiing guides for the WHC was our paragliding pilot. After a briefing on flying safety and practicing how to take off we were set to go. First Harry jumped off, then myself, and Ricky took the final flight. Each of us had an absolute ball, as you will see from the Team Froth paragliding video. The highlight was skimming past the waterfalls so close we were getting sprayed by the water.
******** Paragliding video ***********
The weather was still looking pretty variable for the next few days so the WHC crew decided we should go on a mission down to Riverton for a 2-day surf trip. We were all up bright and early ready for an 8m depart from Wanaka, with a three hour drive ahead of us we didn't want to be mucking around too much so we could get down there in time to fit a surf in that afternoon. We had a decent sized convoy on the way down with four vans and a few cars filled with skiers, boarders, filmers, photographers, heli guides and other crew from all around the globe. We stopped off in Riverton to have lunch at Mrs Clarkes a cute little café with local staff who were stoked to see us all turn up. I had the best mushroom soup I have ever tasted, and the breakfast baguettes were pretty darn good at pleasing the hungry males too! We then headed out to Colac Bay to check out the waves, we looked at a few spots such as down on the point but there was an offshore breeze making the best place to surf straight off the beach about midway down the bay. I was in two minds about heading out for a surf as the water was freezing but decided I had better give it a go after driving all the way down there and didn't want to miss out on the fun. By the time I made it out to the back of the surf my hands were the colour of a purple Willy Wonker nerds bar and barely had feeling in them. It was a this point I decided my 2mm thick Warehouse wetsuit didn't cut it in the icy ocean at the bottom of the South Island quite like it does in the north island. Luckily a champ had lent me their bootys so I managed to stay out a little longer than I otherwise would have. After a few nice sets came through and my amateur surfing skills and attire didn't quite match those of the pro Australian surfers around me, as well as the repetitive thought of "I need a hot milo" took over my mind, it was time to paddle in and get warmed up. It took a fair while but after a few sips of good Scottish heart warmer were passed around, puffer jackets applied, car heaters blasted, and a bomb fire lit we were back to being able to feel our bodies and function normally again. That night we all stayed in The Globe, Riverton's finest pub and backpackers, where everyone had a good meal and a few bevy's in the bar downstairs before retiring to bed after a long and epic day. The publican was a great host making everyone feel welcome, even getting up at 4.45am to see off the shearers staying at the pub for their days work and getting all our breakfast items organized. A big feed of bacon, eggs, and toast got us started for another great day of surfing, back country road adventures, bomb fires, fish & chip eating, and the journey back to Wanaka.
Waiting, waiting, waiting was the game for the rest of the week. The only day that was looking possible for us to fly was Saturday the 17th, which also happened to be our last day of the weather window so it was vital for us to fly in order to get the extreme day (the second competition day) done. Unfortunately the weather was not clearing and the mountains were constantly socked in with clouds and strong winds up high making flying dangerous. To add another curve ball the recent snow fall had heightened the avalanche risk to above level 3 which makes it a no go taking 40 people up onto a mountain especially when athletes are riding extremely steep terrain and jumping off cliffs. The call was made on Friday evening by the guides and heli crew that we wouldn't be able to fly on Saturday after a lot of work checking weather and terrain, meaning the extreme day would not happen for the 2013 WHC. Disappointment took over us all, as the extreme day is what most riders look forward to as the terrain is steep and its extreme big mountain style rather than freestyle is the main discipline of most of the athletes in this event. Its gutting waiting around so long and not being able to get the second day in but this is what can happen in competitions especially in a sport where weather plays a major role, something we can only learn from knowing that it is always important to treat the first run and competition day as though it might be your only one. I had so much fun on the one competition day we got in and on the down days over the past two weeks getting to hang out with some of the best freeriders in the world.
The WHC was wrapped up with its famous awards night and Canon shootout photo competition at the Wanaka events centre where the films and photos were shown and winners announced for the skiers, boarders, filmers, and photographers. I came second in the womens ski category. Well done to everyone who competed and those who placed on the freestyle day, as well as the winners of the newly named Shane McConkey award; Fraser McDougall and Jessy Brown.
Massive thank you to the people who supported me getting to & competing in the WHC: Martyn Davies from Snow.co.nz, Volkl NZ, TCB Ski & Board Ohakune, Opus Fresh, Mum & Dad, and Harro and his crew from the World Heli Challenge.