Pemberton skier wins gold Down Under 

Pierre-Yves Leblanc of Pemberton returned home from Down Under this weekend with significantly more than his dirty laundry and spent rolls of film – a gold medal for winning the overall title at the World Heli Challenge in New Zealand.

This competition is a combination of different skiing techniques over three days, in big mountain terrain that can only be accessed by helicopter.

The first day is "Freestyle," whereby the skiers and boarders used the natural terrain features to turn the mountain into a giant terrain park. It’s essentially a backcountry slopestyle.

Starting out a little rusty after injuring his ankle on the Blackcomb Glacier last summer, Leblanc finished in sixth place. Marc Andre Belleveau of Quebec picked up the slack for Canada taking first place.

Day two is the "Extreme" competition, which is the same big mountain skiing format as featured at the Canadian Freeskiing Championships held on Blackcomb each year.

"The venue was really impressive," said Leblanc. "Couloirs, flutes, big cliffs – it was all there." The name of the game is to find the hardest line down a mountain side, cliffs and all, and then ride it smoothly for the judges.

With a strong background in big mountain skiing, Leblanc won the day.

The third day is the "Chinese Downhill," whereby 30 skiers lined up shoulder to shoulder at the top of the mountain and raced one another to the finish line. This time it was Leblanc’s experience as a ski racer that came in handy, as he edged past the other racers to win for the second time in as many days and claim the overall title for the 2001 World Heli Challenge.

Leblance is at the cutting edge of a new breed of freeskiers from Whistler that have been gaining a worldwide reputation over the last couple of years. The list includes skiers like Hugo Harrison, the International Freeskiers Association world tour champion for the last two years, Jeff Holden, the IFSA champion from the year before, and Ryan Oakden, who finished first at the 2001 World Freeride Championships in Tignes France.

"So far we have just been seen by people who follow competitions," says Leblanc. "So this year we are also focusing on shooting (movies)."

Leblanc and a number of other local skiers are currently providing footage for Pimpin’ Frogz Productions, a new Whistler-based film company that is putting together a big mountain ski movie for the fall of 2002.


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