As a bluebird day dawned on Lake Wanaka on New Zealand's South Island, some of the world's best skiers and snowboarders loaded helicoptors for day one -- the freestyle contest -- of the NZ World Heli Challenge. The venue? Mount Albert's east face, a powder bowl packed with natural hits, cliff drops, wind lips and roll-overs, perfect for throwing tricks off backcountry features.
"An all heli-access event to terrain like this is reason enough to come down here to NZ," said American Ted Davenport, a two-time winner of the World Heli Challenge. "Being in helis and skiing pow with an awesome crew is as good as it gets."
Australian skier Chris Booth was a crowd-pleaser, even if things didn't go off quite as he planned. He threw a massive corked 360 off a 60-foot cliff drop but then came undone on the landing and proceeded to rag-doll another 40 feet.
Markus Eder from Italy put down a run that captured the essence of the event, stomping a rodeo 540 and riding out switch before nose-buttering his way across the rollers to end with a corked 720.
NZ local snowboarder Jake Koia showed why he's one of the best in the game with a massive styled-out frontside 3 over a 40-foot cliff band, and backed it up with an equally massive frontside 7 over a windlip that lead into an exposed landing with rocks peppered precariously throughout.
Scott James of Australia topped off a run of consistently big airs with the only double flip of the day, riding out clean on a double backflip, putting him in contention as a judge favorite among the snowboarders.
Event Founder Tony Harrington couldn't have been more elated over the day's success. "I can't tell you how happy I am," Harrington said. "It takes so many components to come together to make an event like this happen, and today we had it all. The weather was perfect, the snow was great, and everyone was just stoked to be here. On top of that, we had no injuries, so tomorrow promises to be just as good, if not better."
The contest is scheduled to continue with the Extreme Day on Monday on a site that won't be revealed to riders until they are on location. Judging and winners will be determined after the contest based on film segments.