Extreme skiing in Australia?
The Buller X big mountain freeride competition hosted by Tony Harrington promises to be the event of the season. Could it also change the way we look at skiing in Australia?
The obvious question out of the way first. Surely Australia doesn’t have hills or snow to host a proper big mountain skiing event?
Harro, who has been around the block after 30 years as a photographer, event co-ordinator and snow lover, doesn’t even bother to bristle at the barb.
“If people don’t think we have the terrain or conditions to produce world class athletes then they better look around them,” he tells me.”Look at Russ Henshaw, look at Chumpy Pullin, all the aerialists. Australia has such a small number of people but it is one of the most successful on a global stage for the number we have.”
Now we’ve got that straight, what is the little event at Mt Buller?
The concept is actually a devilishly good one that could put a bunch of Aussie rippers on the map, much the same way as Harro’s Wanaka-based World Heli Challenge did back in the 90s and 2000s.
Get a bunch of the country’s best skiers to sign-up, registering their interest in a competition to be run on Mt Buller’s infamous chutes.
Whittle that number down to eight (including men and women) by July 15. Then. Well, then wait.
It’s no great secret that Buller gets the least snow of the five major resorts in Australia. And in a country that doesn’t exactly get snowpacks to rival Japan, that can be a problem. But the devil as they say is in the detail, and that is why Buller X could just work.
There’s a two-month window for the competition to take place starting from August 1. And Tony and the Buller crew have done the math.
“We know we get eight to ten days a season on average where we’ll get the conditions we need,” Harro says. “It’s all well and good but you need the snow to ski those chutes – 80 to 90 per cent of the time they are not safe to ski and should be closed off.”
“So many of these events have set days and they are competing in less than ideal conditions – dangerous for the athlete, media and not a good result for sponsors.”
The competition, which will be judged over two runs is scored based on speed, fluidity, style and control.
More genius comes in the specifics of the scoring. Instead of the vagaries of on the spot judging the runs will be put online and accessed by a team of pros around the globe. They’ll dissect the skiers’ runs, the numbers will be tallied and a winner will be announced at 8pm that night.
“It’s very grass roots. I don’t want a rock star skier to wait for an invite.”
The punters in the meantime just get to watch some awesome skiing on some of Australia’s best terrain. There’s a reason these chutes carry signage that a fall there could result in death.
Harro, who has spent plenty of time with the big boys having done big mountain ski competitions with the likes of Shane McConkey and Kent Kreitler in Alaska back in the day, wants to make it clear this is all about the Aussies.
“It’s very grass roots,” he said. “I don’t want a rock star skier to wait for an invite. We are creating an event for local athletes in Australia to make a global name for themselves.”
Yep it’s a movable feast – but pencil it in and don’t complain that there’s nothing for serious skiers here that doesn’t involve a park or pipe. It’ll be easily watched on the hill; alternatively there’s broadcast details to be confirmed.
And if it takes off it really could be a game changer in a local ski industry that sometimes needs its game to be changed every now and then.
“There’s been nothing this exciting in skiing here for years,” Harro says. “It’s something unique, exciting, captivating and different.”