Are Heliskiing Competitions Good for the Sport?

Summer in the northern hemisphere means a few things: long days, warm weather, no snow, no skiing. But summer in the northern hemisphere also means quite the opposite for our brethren in the southern hemisphere. The winter ski season is just hitting its stride in places like Argentina, Chile, and New Zealand. In fact, the annual World Heli Challenge is set to kick off in Wanaka, NZ on July 30th. This event, along with a sister King of the Hill competition in Valdez, Alaska in April, is the pinnacle of competition in the sport of heliskiing. Together, they showcase the world class abilities of dozens of skiers and riders on a global scale. The crowds that come out to watch grow year to year – as do the sponsorships and media coverage. This is a good thing for the sport of heliskiing, right?

It seems like the obvious answer is, yes. A growing popularity and interest in the sport is exactly what heliskiing deservers. The extreme, freestyle, and big air competitions in New Zealand represent the sport in a favorable light – the fact that there are winners and losers is a necessary evil. How can you drum up energy and excitement without scores, finish times, judges, and leader boards? Prizes for those who come out on top are nominal. There are no (ridiculously) inflated egos to prop up with world champion titles, gold rings, and fancy sports cars. Afterwards, spectators and participants alike end up mingling at a party like everyday folk enjoying a shared appreciation of heliskiing as the bond which has brought them all together. The sport grows, local economies benefit, everyone has a good time, what could possibly be the problem with these competitions?

Heli-Ski Skis
Heli Ski at Last Frontier : Photo by Dave Silver

Naturally it depends who you ask. Some old schoolers grimace, look down, and wag their heads when you mention these huge, commercialized events. Aren’t competitions are antithesis of what heliskiing is all about? It’s the people, the crowds, and the commercialism that the heliskiing trip aims to alleviate in the first place. And the judging and scoring? Skiers who like to race should stick to the slalom, while those who wish to perfect their switch corkscrews should stay on the freestyle trails. Why do we have to attach numbers to freedom of heliskiing. Isn’t finding that clean line, perfect turn, and sense of weightlessness enough? Heliskiing is the soul of skiing. Competitions will only degrade the sport.

Where do you sit on the issue? Are you a soul skier intent on keeping the sport an individual haven from the nonsense of business and competition? Or do you believe such events are a blessing to the sport and its enthusiasts? Maybe the best line of thinking is to remember that the World Heli Challenge and king of the Hill are happening whether you support them or not. They are simply reflections of the growing popularity of heliskiing, not the cause of it. The sport is for no one’s enjoyment but your own.

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