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Deep, Dry Southern Powder
Wanaka, New Zealand, July 24 - Aug. 8, 1999

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World's Best Alpine Athletes Kick-Off Winter in New Zealand
Heli Challenge
Heli Access
Continuing through next week, more than 75 of the world's top alpine athletes are participating in the Rip Curl World Heli Challenge in Wanaka, New Zealand. The awesome big snow of the early season laid an excellent snow base and a number of storms are stacked on the horizon promising more deep, dry southern powder.

"We have two weeks to complete the three days of competition, and Mount Aspiring National Park is our playground. A warm period over the past week has hardened the competition courses, so we will wait just a little longer to commence the event. We'll hold off for the best conditions possible to let this awesome group of athletes do their stuff," Event Director Tony Harrington said at the start of the event.

"That's what it's all about — riding as much fresh, steep powder as I can..."— Karleen Jeffrey, two-time World Champion

The Rip Curl World Heli Challenge has been heralded as the Super Bowl of modern day ski and snowboard competition, placed alongside the Olympics as one of the world's most coveted titles. The difference with the Rip Curl event is that it takes the sport back to the basics. It is less structured and more in line with what everyone does out on the mountain in their free time, having fun, but performing at an elite level.

The Rip Curl event is one of the only events in the mountain world that uses helicopters to fly competitors to amazing mountain terrain in search of the very best and most radical conditions.

Featuring the combination of helicopter-accessed skiing and snowboarding in the remote Mount Aspiring National Park, the results of the three disciplines: Freeride, Extreme and the Chinese Downhill, are added together to find out who is the world's best all-around skier and who is the best boarder.

Judging for the Chinese Downhill is simple — first to the bottom of the mountain wins. All competitors leave the starting gate simultaneously, resulting in frantic and explosive skiing and boarding. The Extreme points are awarded for the most dramatic and difficult route down the mountain while the Freeride is based on style points — style which includes 720-degree spins, back flips and competitors reaching heights of 15 to 20 meters above the snow.

Karleen Jeffery
Karleen Jeffrey
1999 Rip Curl winner, two-time World Champion and Transworld Snowboard Woman of the year, Karleen Jeffery (CAN), is the only participant snowboarding and skiing, in an attempt to get more runs on the powder snow. Her win in the snowboard division and second in the skiing of the 1998 event is just an example of multi-talented athletes in the event.

"That's what it's all about - riding as much fresh, steep powder as I can," said Jeffrey.

Australian Dave "Gravy" Keam is also here for a win and after spending the last month in elite training camps, including the Camp of Champions which is based in Canada.

As an up-and-coming star on the rapidly growing international freeskiing scene, Gravy is quick to acknowledge the Wanaka event as the best in the world.

Dave Keam
Dave "Gravy" Keam
"The location is awesome, the organization is great and with the continuing support of big-name sponsors such as Rip Curl, this competition has huge respect around the world. Over the two to three weeks we're all together, it's also a great chance to hang out with the world's best and push our limits," said Keam.

After months of hard work and preparation, the Rip Curl World Heli Challenge launched into its 5th year of competition. Gathered are the world's foremost extreme skiers and snowboarders — a veritable who's who of the skiing and snowboarding world, including Frenchman Guerlin Chicherit, winner of this year's World Extreme Skiing Championships in Alaska. Karleen Jeffrey, 1999 Transworld Snowboarding's female snowboarder of the year, Jeremy Jones, a world leading freerider, Marguerite Cossettini, a former world bordercross champion, and Axel Papaute, current "King of the Hill."

All athletes attended a brief safety meeting with the pilots and loading crew of the helicopters that will be used to transport them deep into the back country of the New Zealand Southern Alps.

"Safety is a major issue for us," said Tony Harrington. "There is a high degree of danger involved in what these people do on big mountains, negotiating steep cliffs, tight chutes and near vertical terrain. The safety of competitors is the highest priority."

Harrington blasted things off in his introduction speech, applauding Rip Curl, Qantas, Red Bull, and Jack Daniels, for making and keeping the event a success. Tony emphasized that, "....without the continued support of great sponsorship, this event would not have reached the international success that it has."

After the welcoming presentation the competitors relaxed, joked, and caught up with other elite mountain athletes from over 12 countries on six continents. Current world champion snowboarder, Matt Goodwill, summed up the feelings of the competitors, "We're all feeling really excited about this event. It's great that we can all come down here for two weeks catch up with old friends and challenge each other to keep raising the level of our sport."

"This event is about freeriding, which is a big movement in the mountain world these days," said Harrington. "It's more camaraderie than competition and the vibe of this event is very special - more of a social gathering - but the action really is spectacular as the best in the world go off in what is more an expression session than a rigid competition."

The Rip Curl World Heli Challenge began July 24 and concludes on August 7 with the Pulsate Wanaka Big Air, a spectacular display of boarding and skiing tricks on a massive jump constructed of scaffolding in the center of Wanaka. Competitors use the opportunity to showcase their breadth, throwing maneuvers in front of over 5000 spectators.

Looking further ahead at the weather, a big low pressure system is currently sitting South of Australia and making its way across to New Zealand. Forecasts show that it should hit New Zealand by tomorrow (July 30) bringing with it big dumps of fresh snow followed by clear weather ready for the third and final day of competition, the Rip Curl Chinese Downhill.

— Tony Harrington, Event Director

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