World Heli Challenge seeks young guns

The World Heli Challenge is looking for the next set of pros. Harrington

This year, New Zealand's World Heli Challenge, taking place July 27 through August 10, wants to broaden the field by inviting young guns -- male and female riders between the ages of 10 and 17 -- to make a case for their inclusion. New Zealand's Jossi Wells competed in the event at age nine, as a hand-picked invitee, and later went on to an international freeskiing career. Starting this year, other young skiers and snowboarders can see if they've got what it takes.

"While in the past, we've hand picked our young guns, this year we want to make the opportunity available to kids around the globe," said event founder Tony Harrington.

The World Heli Challenge in Wanaka, New Zealand, started in 1995 and, despite a multi-year break, it has become the southern hemisphere's answer to Alaska's King of the Hill. Both skiers and snowboarders challenge themselves on heli-accessed big mountain terrain and some of the biggest names in snow, including Chris Davenport, Kent Kreitler, Jeremy Jones, Temple Cummins and Axel Pauporte have competed in the past.

Interested rippers can post a video under three minutes long, a maximum of three action shots and the answers to the following questions on the WHC Facebook page. They need to answer these questions: Why should you be chosen as this year's World Heli Challenge Young Gun? What non-snow activity would you like to do if you are selected and get to visit New Zealand?

Entries must be submitted by May 31 and parents must submit on behalf of their children between the ages of 10 and 13 (to comply with Facebook policies). Winners will be announced on June 10 and will receive free entry into the event, valued at $2,200. Winners also get a discount to participate in the Junior World Heli Challenge Academy, a one- and two-week accredited training camp that involves coaching by WHC athletes at Treble Cone, education in outdoor activities including backcountry safety, mountaineering, and environmental studies. The real prize might be the boost in exposure a future pro might receive by performing well alongside skiing and snowboarding's premier athletes.

We thought the question "What non-snow activity would you like to do if you are selected and get to visit New Zealand?" was a little strange, so we hit up Jones Snowboards pro Ralph Backstrom, 2009 winner of the WHC's now-defunct Chinese Downhill for some insights into the event's vibe: "The WHC has deep roots in the big mountain scene, dating back to the early/mid-90s, and I enjoy taking part in events that have a bit of history in my favorite kind of snowboarding," said Backstrom. "Snowboarding aside, hanging out in Wanaka with a bunch of jolly Kiwis skydiving, bungee jumping, mustering deer, rallying beater cars on farms, surfing, and mountain biking are pretty epic activities that can be done with little effort. Last year was an awesome adventure that I won't soon forget even though snow conditions weren't ideal. I hope to make it again this year."

As for riding alongside the future, the 28-year-old Backstrom adds: "As far as competing with little boys goes, I'm pretty pumped on the idea. After all, 10-17-year-olds dominate every other aspect of snowboarding, and getting youngsters involved in this part of the sport is promising for freeriding's future. On the other hand, the venues for the big mountain comp have some pretty burly sections that require knowledge and experience to ride safely and properly. But I'm sure the more experienced competitors will mentor the kids a bit, making sure they pick a fun and safe line."