Alana Nichols, pictured at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, led the United States with four medals at the last Games. She missed part of the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing World Championship due to injury but hopes to return to top form for the 2013-14 season.

Preview

Alpine skiing was the most medal-rich American sport at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, as U.S. athletes reached the podium 11 times, earning three gold, five silver and three bronze medals. With the addition of men’s and women’s snowboard cross to the 2014 Paralympic program, both of which will have five U.S. competitors, Team USA could easily surpass the 2010 alpine medal count.

With four medals, including gold in both the women’s downhill sitting and the women’s giant slalom, alpine skier Alana Nichols (Farmington, N.M.) was the most decorated U.S. athlete at the 2010 Games. After sustaining an injury in a training run, she withdrew from early events at the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing World Championships in La Molina, Spain, but returned to win her race of the non-medal team event. Team USA finished second in the team competition.

Despite the absence of Nichols, the U.S. Paralympics Alpine Skiing Team brought home three medals at the world championships, as Stephen Lawler (Burlington, Vt.) won the silver medal in the men’s downhill sitting, the only men’s medal in Spain. Laurie Stephens (Wenham, Mass.) led the charge for Team USA, medaling twice, winning gold in women’s downhill sitting and bronze in women’s super G.

In Sochi, the Paralympic alpine competition consists of 32 events both for men and women including three speed disciplines, two technical disciplines and the lone snowboard event, standing snowboard cross. Speed events are downhill, super G and super combined with visually impaired, sitting and standing divisions in each. Technical events are slalom and giant slalom with the same three divisions. Standing snowboard cross will include one division for athletes with lower limb impairments.

 Mike Shea, Keith Gabel, Evan Strong and Amy Purdy at the Sochi 2014 test event
Mike Shea, Keith Gabel, Evan Strong and Amy Purdy in Sochi, Russia, after the test event for the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.

U.S. skiers had their first opportunity to test Sochi terrain during the 2013 IPC Alpine World Cup Finals from March 7-12. Snowboarders competed in Sochi on March 6.

During the Games, alpine skiing competitions will be held at Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort, which holds 18,000 spectators. Snowboarding will be held at Freestyle Skiing and Snowboard Park, which has a capacity of 8,000.

In May 2012, it was announced that men’s and women’s snowboard cross would debut at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games as a part of the alpine skiing program. U.S. Paralympics selected first snowboarding national team in May 2013.

Americans Evan Strong (Maui, Hawaii), Keith Gabel (Ogden, Utah) and Mike Shea (Winter Park, Colo.) swept the medals at the 2012 World Snowboard Federation Para-Snowboard World Championships. At the IPC Alpine Skiing Snowboard Test Event on March 6 in Sochi, Russia, Strong won the gold medal. 

As of Nov. 30, 2013, Gabel and Strong share a No. 1 world ranking with Carl Murphy of New Zealand. Shea is ranked fourth. 

In the women’s competition, Amy Purdy (Summit County, Colo.) is the front-runner for the Americans but she has to contend with Heidi Jo Duce (Ouray, Colo.), who won the inaugural U.S. Paralympics Snowboarding National Championship. At the test competition in Sochi, Purdy finished second. Purdy is ranked second in the world as of Nov. 30, 2013, while Duce is ranked No. 3.

Storylines

  • The inaugural U.S. Paralympics Snowboarding National Team was selected in May 2013. In May 2012, the International Paralympic Committee announced that men’s and women’s standing snowboard cross for athletes with a lower limb impairment would debut at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games as a part of the alpine skiing program. American's Evan Strong (Maui, Hawaii), Keith Gabel (Ogden, Utah) and Mike Shea (Winter Park, Colo.) are favorites for the men’s competition, while Heidi Jo Duce (Ouray, Colo.) and Amy Purdy (Summit County, Colo.) lead the way for the women’s event.
  • Military athletes who are seeking a spot on the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing Team include: Heath Calhoun (Clarksville, Tenn.), ret., U.S. Army, in men’s sitting; Jon Lujan (Littleton, Colo.), ret., U.S. Marine Corps, in men’s standing; and Chris Devlin-Young (Campton, N.H.), ret., U.S. Coast Guard, in men’s sitting.
  • In an attempt to improve performance among U.S. mono-skiers at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games and beyond, U.S. Paralympics officials turned to motocross designers and manufacturers during the 2012-13 season to help create suspension that will enhance Team USA’s performance. The retail price for mono-ski seats, suspensions and skis is more than $5,000 apiece, with custom-built equipment increasing in cost.
  • Kevin Jardine currently serves as high performance director for U.S. Paralympics Alpine Skiing and Snowboard for the United States Olympic Committee. Jardine received the Amazing Leader Award from the USOC in 2007 and the International Disabled Coach of the Year in 2006 from U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.  He also holds the position as chairman of the USSA Adaptive Sports Committee and is a member of the IPC working group for alpine rules and factoring.

Athletes to Watch

Mark Bathum (Seattle, Wash.)
At the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, Mark Bathum won the silver medal in men’s visually impaired downhill, making him the only U.S. man to medal in alpine skiing at the 2010 Games, and took fourth in the men's super G. He began skiing at the age of 9, and just three years later discovered his passion for ski racing.

Heath Calhoun (Clarksville, Tenn.)
A competitor at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, Heath Calhoun was the U.S. flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony, which was the highlight of his Games. He has continued to improve in alpine skiing since 2010, winning his first major international medal last season. Calhoun is a U.S. Army veteran who lost both legs during the Iraq War. He has three children.

Heidi Jo Duce (Ouray, Colo.)
In January 2013, Heidi Jo Duce stood at the start of her first ever snowboard cross competition. And she fell coming right out of the gate on the Copper Mountain, Colo., course. “I had to hop and hop and hop just to get started,” Duce said. Little did she know, the start of her first race, a small regional competition, would also mark the start of a storybook tale that could include a chapter on the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, come next March. Far less experienced than her competitors, Duce won four bronze medals in international competition in 2013. She capped off her season with a win at the 2013 U.S. Paralympics Snowboarding National Championships. Duce beat favorite Amy Purdy 1:50.32 to 1:50.35.

Keith Gabel (Ogden, Utah)
In June 2005, snowboarder Keith Gabel was involved in an industrial accident that crushed his left foot. Following four blood transfusions, 26 hyperbaric treatments and a blood clot in his left lung, the doctors told Gabel that he would most likely watch his foot die. After two weeks, he made the decision to amputate his foot. Gabel returned to his snowboard three months later. He won the silver medal behind teammate Evan Strong at the 2012 World Snowboard Federation Para-Snowboard World Championships. He won the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Snowboarding World Cup event in Maribor, Slovenia, beating New Zealand’s Carl Murphy and Strong who shared the top spot in the world rankings as of June 2013. At the end of the 2012-13 season, Gabel ranked No. 3 in the IPC snowboarding world rankings. He opened the 2013-14 season with a silver medal at the IPC Snowboarding Alpine Skiing Snowboard World Cup in Netherlands, which lifted him to a shared No. 1 world ranking as of Nov. 30, 2013.

Allison Jones (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
Allison Jones, born without a right femur, was second in the women’s standing super G and giant slalom events at the Salt Lake City 2002 Paralympic Winter Games, which marked the first of an impressive string of Paralympic appearances. The Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games would mark her seventh Games. She won gold medals at the Torino 2006 Paralympic Winter Games and the London 2012 Paralympic Games (cycling) and silver medals in Salt Lake City and the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games (cycling). A graduate of the University of Denver, Jones is currently a part-time virtual recruiter for Adecco’s Recruitment Center of Excellence in Rochester, N.Y., an opportunity made possible through the United States Olympic Committee’s Team USA Career Program.

Alana Nichols (Farmington, N.M.)
A native of Farmington, N.M., Alana Nichols wants to her second consecutive Paralympic Winter Games appearance for Team USA in 2014. In Vancouver, she won four medals – including two gold medals – in women’s sit skiing events. She also has a gold medal from the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games (wheelchair basketball). In 2000, while snowboarding in Colorado, she attempted a back flip but over-rotated and landed with her back on a rock. She was instantly paralyzed from the waist down.

Amy Purdy (Summit County, Colo.)
At the age of 19, Amy Purdy contracted Neisseria meningitis, a form of bacterial meningitis.  Due to the disease, which affected her circulatory system, both of her legs had to be amputated below the knee and her spleen had to be removed.  Two years later, she received a kidney transplant from her father. Her friends now refer to her by the nickname “Lucky”. Purdy, a Las Vegas native who co-founded Adaptive Action Sports, one of the top para-snowboard organizations in the country, is also a model and actress in addition to a world silver medalist. In 2012, she was a contestant on “The Amazing Race” reality television competition with her boyfriend.

Mike Shea (Winter Park, Colo.)
Mike Shea used to build custom furniture in his garage. In 2010, after he was laid off from his job at an aerospace engineering facility, he packed up his woodshop and sold his tools in order to focus solely on his sport and finance his snowboard training. That December, Shea, who had his left leg amputated below the knee after a rope became wrapped around his ankle while wakeboarding, moved from Los Angeles to Colorado to train. It was in Colorado that his career flourished. He finished third at the 2012 World Snowboard Federation Para-Snowboard World Championships behind teammates Evan Strong and Keith Gabel. Shea started the 2013-14 season by beating Gabel for the gold medal at the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing Snowboard World Cup in Netherlands. 

Laurie Stephens (Wenham, Mass.)
If she makes the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Team, Laurie Stephens will compete as the United States’ only reigning world champion in alpine skiing. She won the women’s sitting downhill competition at the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing World Championships in La Molina, Spain, and later added a bronze medal in super G. Stephens won two gold medals at the Torino 2006 Paralympic Winter Games, in downhill and super G, and the silver in downhill at the Vancouver Games.

Evan Strong (Maui, Hawaii)
Evan Strong is currently ranked No. 1 internationally in men’s standing snowboard cross, beating teammates Keith Gabel and Mike Shea at the 2012 World Snowboard Federation Para-Snowboard World Championships. He also won the men's event at the International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing Snowboard Test Event, March 6, in Sochi, Russia. A native of Hawaii, he grew up wanting to be a professional skateboarder. With a few years’ experience under his belt, Strong was ready to begin traveling for skateboard competitions, until his entire life took a turn. Stephanie, his older sister, received a motorcycle for her 21st birthday. In 2004, when Strong was 17, he missed his ride to work and needed to borrow the motorcycle.  A mile from home, Strong was struck by a drunk driver. She crossed over the line into oncoming traffic, striking the car in front of Strong and hitting him head on at full speed. His left leg was amputated three days later. After five surgeries in the week following the accident, Strong assured his family that he would skate again. He did. Later, he found snowboarding while at his uncle’s vacation home in Sun Valley, Idaho. Strong now lives Nevada City, Calif., about an hour’s drive west of Lake Tahoe. He and his wife, Mariah, also operate their organic vegetarian restaurant, The Fix for Foodies.

Stephani Victor (Park City, Utah)
Three-time U.S. Paralympian Stephani Victor’s Road to Sochi may be paved in gold. In August 2013, she opened up the International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing World Cup season with four consecutive victories. In the first world cup in Coronet Peak, New Zealand, Victor beat out teammate Laurie Stephens in the women’s slalom sitting race by more than seven seconds on Aug. 22. On Aug. 23, she won another slalom title by more than 24 seconds. In Mt. Hutt, New Zealand, she claimed the women’s super-G title by more than eight seconds over Victoria Pendergast of Australia. She won seven total gold medals in the first two world cup events. With the momentum of her performance Down Under, Victor looks to build on the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, where she won the gold medal in super combined and silver medals in slalom and giant slalom. 

Tyler Walker (Franconia, N.H.)
Born without much of his spine and then losing his legs at age 4, Tyler Walker made big gains every year in his quest to become one of the top mono-skiers in the world. He captured his first world cup win in 2004 in giant slalom and his first title in 2006, also in giant slalom. Walker is the 2009 Overall World Cup Downhill Champion. Vancouver marked the second Paralympic Winter Games competition for Walker, who is looking for his first medal in Sochi. Walker is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire where he has degrees in geography and international affairs and minors in German and political science.

Danelle Umstead (Park City, Utah)
Danelle Umstead, who is a visually impaired alpine skier, competed at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games with her husband Rob Umstead, who serves as her guide. In Vancouver, the husband and wife duo won bronze medals in the downhill and combined. At the age of 13, Danelle was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic eye condition where the retina progressively degenerates and eventually causes blindness. Currently, her spotted vision limits her sight to less than five feet, and even then, only contrasting colors without any level of detail. There is no chance of return vision, nor is there a cure. She was also recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and central nervous system. A native of Plano, Texas, she once lived in Taos, N.M., and now resides in Park City, Utah, with her husband Rob and their son Brocton. Danelle's guide dog, Bettylynn, who was matched with her in September 2008, retired in 2013 due to blindness. 

Qualification

The International Paralympic Committee allocated the United States 28 spots in the alpine skiing competition for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. For snowboarding, the IPC allocated the maximum amount of slots to the United States, five (5) for males and five (5) for females. 

For complete qualification criteria, click here.

Selection

All International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing competitions held between Dec. 8, 2012, and Jan. 31, 2014, will be used in the selection process for the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing Team while all IPC Alpine Skiing Snowboard competitions held between Jan. 27, 2013, and Jan. 27, 2014, will be used in the selection process for the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Snowboard Team. At the time of selection, an athlete must be a national of the United States, with a valid U.S. Passport that will not expire prior to Oct. 16, 2014, and meet the minimum standards of the International Paralympic Committee, as the international governing body for the Paralympic Winter Games and the international federation for Paralympic alpine skiing.

The U.S. Paralympic Alpine Skiing Team will be nominated to the United States Olympic Committee for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games no later than Feb. 17, 2014. Snowboarders will be nominated to the USOC no later than Feb. 4, 2014. 

The entire 2014 U.S. Paralympic Team will be named no later than Feb. 21, 2014, the deadline to submit delegation rosters to the IPC. 

For complete selection procedures, click here.

Contact

U.S. Paralympics, a division of the United States Olympic Committee, is the National Governing Body for Paralympic alpine skiing and snowboarding. For media inquiries for U.S. Paralympics alpine skiing athletes and staff, please contact Beth Bourgeois or Jamie Blanchard.

Beth Bourgeois
Communications Associate Director, U.S. Paralympics
United States Olympic Committee
719-866-2039
Beth.Bourgeois@usoc.org

Jamie Blanchard
Communications Manager, U.S. Paralympics
United States Olympic Committee
719-866-2068
Jamie.Blanchard@usoc.org

Resources
Revised Dec. 2, 2013