Athletes and coaches react: Snowboard changes for 2014-15 season

By Caryn Maconi | April 16, 2014, 5 p.m. (ET)
Nicole Roundy
Nicole Roundy, a 2014 U.S. Paralympian, is one of the athletes excited about proposed changes to para-snowboard. 

The International Paralympic Committee announced today that it looks to add a new discipline of banked slalom to the 2014-15 para-snowboard calendar, in addition to a change in the format of the snowboard cross (boardercross) competition.  

"We are currently in the process of finalizing the rules for these changes with the aim of having everything signed off at the next sport technical committee meeting in late May," said IPC Alpine Skiing Sport Technical Committee Chairperson Sylvana Mestre.

In banked slalom, athletes will race on a slalom course down a gulley run with a number of other features. In the snowboard cross competition, athletes will now race two at a time rather than individually, with the winner of each head-to-head race progressing to the next round of competition.

Snowboard cross made its debut at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games for standing athletes with lower limb impairments. The possible changes and additions for the upcoming season, the IPC said, will help grow the sport and increase its competitiveness leading into the Pyeongchang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.

In Sochi, the United States won four medals in snowboarding, including all three medals in the men's snowboard cross event. Evan Strong took gold with Mike Shea and Keith Gabel placing second and third. Amy Purdy won bronze in the women's event.

U.S. athletes and coaches reacted positively to the news of possible changes.

Miah Wheeler, head coach, U.S. Paralympics Snowboard National Team

“The IPC is taking small steps to make sure to get it right. Two years ago, I wouldn't have let my athletes race each other in boardercross, and now I embrace that possible change. Their skills and awareness have progressed so much. If we’ve come this far in two years, I don’t see why in another two years we won’t see another big step by the IPC [to advance the sport].”

“People will understand boardercross more when they see people race each other versus one-at-a-time. It’s like the NASCAR mentality. There will be more excitement, so media can really embrace it. And there will be some fantastic crashes, so in that respect, it'll be action-packed.”

“It’s really cool to see banked slalom because it’s the future direction of the sport right now and it’s pretty popular with able-bodied athletes. It’s a lower-risk opportunity for people to enter into adaptive sports instead of going straight into the higher-risk boardercross scenario. When people enter the sport and they’re thrown right into boardercross with its big jumps and technical features, it turns them off or they get hurt. Now people can go out there and have success finishing the course, and that will inspire them to stick with it.”

Mike Shea, 2014 Paralympic silver medalist

“I think the two-by-two format for boardercross is definitely a move in the right direction. It’s what we’ve always viewed boardercross as, and for the past couple years we’ve just been waiting for it to actually happen.”

“The way we train as Team USA is now going to change quite a bit with the new boardercross format. We’ve always kind of trained on the course one person at a time and stayed away from working on things like passing and strategy. Now we’re going to have to focus our training on that in the next year.”

“Boardercross is a bit tough for people just getting into the sport because the jumps and features can be intimidating. Banked slalom courses are fairly straightforward, and that helps bridge that gap between the grassroots-level snowboarders and professionals.”

“Any discipline that I can compete in, I will – 100 percent. We all love snowboarding, so the chance for us to compete in another discipline, good at it or not, we’re going to enjoy it.”

Keith Gabel, 2014 Paralympic bronze medalist

“I think it’s great. It’s the natural progression of our sport. Boardercross is one of those things where there are multiple people on the course, so head-to-head is a step in the right direction – but I don’t think that’s where it should stop. We’ve proven we can run four-by-four, and that’s the route our sport needs to go if we plan on continuing to progress.”

“We need this for our sport. I’m glad it’s been accepted as a new format and that we may get a chance to showcase that. It’ll be exciting to watch two people chasing that finish line together.”

Heidi Jo Duce, 2014 U.S. Paralympian

“I’m stoked on the [proposed] changes. I’m super competitive, so I really, really enjoy racing head-to-head. I’m stoked to see the sport heading in the direction we’ve all been hoping it would.”

“I think our training is going to change significantly, just in the fact that you have another whole aspect to deal with on the course. Now we have to learn to pass properly and how to draft and all those things that before were never things we had to train for. We’re going to have to work really hard.”

Cristina Albert, 2014 U.S. Paralympian

“It’s exciting to have another event to compete in. Banked slalom will be a fun addition. As for racing side-by-side, I've been wanting our sport to go that direction. There's a whole different energy occurring that's exciting. I'm definitely intrigued how these changes will progress our sport.” 

Nicole Roundy, 2014 U.S. Paralympian

“I was among four women that demoed a head-to-head snowcross race in Canada last year. Not only was it more fun than timed racing, it was more challenging. I'm excited for this change to the format and can't wait to see the difference it makes in our abilities.”

“Banked slalom is a growing able-bodied discipline and creates a ‘pipeline’ experience for new riders. I think it will present a new set of challenges and skills for competitors while still allowing the sport to be fun. While we are skilled and talented athletes, above all, snowboarding is supposed to be fun. Banked slalom presents a great combination of skill, talent and fun.”