NZ Heli Session

Sam Smoothy and Rebecka Eriksson, left, stoked for their first heli ride. Camilla Stoddart

In addition to international acclaim and riches, the top big mountain finishers at the Volkl NZ Freeski Open also earned a heli session together. That so-called expression session happened earlier today... considering New Zealand is 18 hours ahead of the U.S. Rockies. Still on deck at the NZ Freeski Open: slopestyle and superpipe, slated for later today and tomorrow depending on your comfort level with Greenwich Mean Time.

Meantime, Camilla Stoddart, senior photographer of New Zealand Skier Magazine, filed words and photos detailing the activites of earlier today in the Southern Alps:

"A crew of 12 jumped into a helicopter at the base of Treble Cone ski field in Wanaka, New Zealand, for The North Face heli session part of the Volkl NZ Freeski Open today. Finding out that it had rained up to 2000m the day before, we were more than a bit apprehensive on what the day would hold. The snowpack has a very unstable layer at the moment in the Southern Alps, and this was made worse by the rain crust. Nonetheless Southen Lakes Heliski operation took us out to see what we could find. With an avalanche danger rating of high though, we knew we would be skiing pretty mellow terrain."

"We were all fully aware of the dangerous reality the unstable snowpack today, and tried to keep spirits up as we hopped into the bird in two groups. The skiers were mainly of the Kiwi variety: Janina Kuzma, Sam Smoothy, Tom Dunbar and Fraser McDougal along with two internationals, Rebecka Eriksson from Sweden and Jérémie Heitz from Switzerland."

"After a stern briefing on the dangers the worried brows were wiped away as the chopper took off and flew up the breathtaking Matukituki Valley toward Black Peak. Popping out through the inversion we were met with the stunning range of the Southern Alps and the impressive Mt. Aspiring."

"While waiting for the rain crust to soften up we went to work on our 'heli bellies' and munched on an impressive luncheon laid on for us by the guides at the top of Black Peak—all before we even put our skis on. It was to be a reccy run first to scout the terrain and get a feel for the snow conditions."

"Quickly we came to an educated decision that we should build something to get a shot or two. A moment later we were digging like fury to make a small step over. The crew began to huck their meat and we got the heli to join to get some shots. Not quite Poor Boys Productions but we gave it our best 'shot'— pardon the pun...!"

"Last run and it was shoot from the heli time (my favourite part of the day!). The guys ripped down the spring snow to the valley floor with the chopper circling over their heads like a bird of prey scouting its dinner. Landing in the valley floor and looking back up at the terrain, we saw that a large slide had released, even on the 20-degree slope. No one was caught but it was another sobering reminder of the lethal conditions out there."

"As our hero guide Jeremiah so tactfully put it: 'It's Cambodian today, little buggers hanging out under the snow ready to napalm your ass...'"

"It was a good fun day all round, and we were stoked that we managed to play the game safely, after all things can go pretty wrong very quickly in the mountains. Southern Lakes Heli Skiing provided us with epic guides and not to forget 'Splat,' our trusted heli pilot (didn't dare ask why he was nicknamed this!), The North Face with our heli time and Volkl NZ Freeski Open for the event! Next year we will rip the comp again and hopefully be blessed with a more forgiving snowpack." —Camilla Stoddart