Skiers and snowboarders from around the world have battled snowstorms and flight delays en route to Wanaka, New Zealand, to compete in this year's World Heli Challenge. Now that everyone has arrived on the South Island, the jet-lagged competitors are being greeted by accumulating snowfall for the competition, which starts this week.
"It's currently snowing in the mountains and we are looking like a first day start this coming weekend when clear weather and light winds are in the forecast," Tony Harrington, the founder and organizer of the World Heli Challenge, told ESPN.
With various options for possible venues and the ability to access everything with a fleet of helicopters, Harrington and his team have allotted a two-week window for the World Heli Challenge, from July 28 through Aug. 11, to ensure that the comp goes off in perfect conditions.
The first day of the two-day contest will be the big mountain portion, followed by a freestyle event that allows competitors to tee-up natural terrain in the backcountry.
There's an international field of skiers competing this year: Two-time WHC champ Ted Davenport, from the U.S., is hoping for a three-peat, Kiwis Sam Smoothy and Fraser McDougall are looking to keep the title in New Zealand, and Australians Chris Booth and Charlie Timmins are two favorites in the freestyle day. Squaw Valley's Mat Jackson turned heads on the Freeskiing World Tour this year, and he made the trip to New Zealand, too.
And you can't overlook the groms who will go toe-to-toe with the talented veterans: 17-year-olds Drew Petersen and Ian Borgeson, who finished second and third, respectively, on the North American Junior Freeskiing Tour and 13-year-old Mark Hendrickson, described by K2 as "the next Sean Pettit."
On the women's side, Freeride World Tour veterans Jess McMillan, Ane Enderud, Janina Kuzma and Jackie Passo could definitely earn podium spots, and also be on the lookout for Freeskiing World Tour athletes Vanessa Aadland and Nat Segal.
This year, the competition will use a new judging system to determine the winners of the big mountain, freestyle and overall titles. A number of long-lens cameras will film the comp runs and then videos will be posted online. The judging panel will have a few days to determine the winners based on the footage, and fans will be able to select people's choice winner online.
"No one gets to see the venues until the day of [the competition]," says Ted Davenport. "We get dropped off at the bottom and get about an hour to inspect with binoculars and cameras. Then you head straight up to the top, and it is game on. It's just like doing a film line. Now that judging will take place via camera, that's the line to ski: a film line."