The History of the World Heli Challenge
The World Heli Challenge burst onto the scene in 1995, putting Wanaka, NZ on the map as a world class snow and adventure lifestyle destination and blazed a fresh trail in freeriding competitions.
While competing alongside some of the pioneers of extreme skiing including Shane McConkey, Brant Moles, and Chris Anthony at the World Extreme Skiing Championships in Alaska, World Heli Challenge founder, Tony Harrington (Harro) was inspired by the passion and camaraderie amongst the athletes.
On the same trip, Harro met Nick Perata, founder of the legendary “King of the Hill” snowboarding event in Valdez, Alaska. Together with a handful of the worlds most influential snowboarders including Steve Graham, Jim Hale, Dani “Kiwi” Meier, Jason Beaton, Lori Gibbs and Pepi Ahonen, the concept of creating an event similar to “King of the Hill” in New Zealand was hatched.
With help from Perata, many of the athletes made the trip to Wanaka and each pitched in a total of $600 to buy helicopter time. The event incorporated the same three discipline format as “King of the Hill,” including Downhill, Freestyle and Extreme. The only difference was that the “timed” downhill event became a “Chinese Downhill,” with everyone starting together at the top of the mountain. First to the bottom wins!
The event ran and continued to grow year over year for seven years from 1995 to 2001. In 2001, the tragedy of the 911 terrorist attacks caused chaos with international sponsorship support leading to an eight-year break.
Throughout those eight years there were many who wanted to see the resurrection of the event, none more than event founder Tony Harrington. Footage from the previous years events continued to play worldwide.
In 2009 it all came together and the World Heli Challenge made a magnificent come back.
Now the World Heli Challenge embraces an exciting new format in 2014 with the “Call Up” competition enabling athletes from around the world to win a place in the Challenge via a video competition. Only TWO teams (2 athletes in each) will make it through to experience the 9-day Heli Challenge around the incredible Aoraki Mt Cook and Ohau area in New Zealand and will be in the chase for a total of NZ$14,000 cash.
The Wanaka Big Air
A 50-year storm dropped half a metre of snow in Wanaka two weeks before the first World Heli Challenge.
Harro decided to make use of the snow, asking the council contractors who were clearing the roads if they would stock pile the snow in the car park of Barrows Tavern (previously located at the intersection of Brownston and Ardmore Streets).
Harro’s plan was to spread the snow out and make a snow jump over his 1972 Escort van. He estimated that about three to four hundred people might make it down to watch, a thousand people showed up that first year.
The legendary Wanaka Big Air grew year over year and by 2001 60 loads of snow were being trucked in, a huge scaffolding ramp was built for the jump and international headline bands played in front of 8000+ spectators while athletes flipped and flew across the night time sky of downtown Wanaka. The Wanaka Big Air had become, and still is, the biggest and most spectacular snow event ever held in Australasia.
Past winners include skiers Chris Davenport, Kent Kreitler, Guerlain Cecherit, Seb Michaud, Robert Ollson, Piere Yves Le Blanc, Thomas Diet, Andrea Binning, Samala Singer, Ted Davenport, Janina Kuzma and Ane Enderud.
Snowboarding winner include Steve Graham, Gille Voirol, David Pujol, Antonin Leutaghi, Karleen Jeffery, Florian Orley, Russell Holt, Andy Finch, Maria Kuzma, Travis Rice and Aline Bock.
Other competitors include international legends Jeremy Jones, Temple Cummings, Axel Pauporte, Brad Holmes, Stephan Dan, Charlotte Moats, Jen Berg, Chris Anthony, Matt Goodwill, Mark Andre-Believeau, Danni Sappa, Jose Carron, Kaj Zackrisson, and Sverre Liliequist.
The World Heli Challenge was resurrected in 2009 thanks to the support of the athletes, the tireless efforts and investment of the production team, Marker and Volkl. Two 30-minute shows were created and aired across Australia, Europe and North America and the WHC featured in Warren Miller’s “Wintervention”.
The World Heli Challenge continues to thrive and grow now being seen internationally on media around the world and drawing athletes from all corners of the globe.