Did you know? Fourteen facts on snowboarding

By Jamie M. Blanchard | Feb. 18, 2014, 12 p.m. (ET)
Evan Strong
Evan Strong, who won the first race at the 2014 world cup finals in La Molina, Spain, is tied for No. 1 in the world rankings with teammate Mike Shea, who won the overall world cup title.

The Paralympic Winter Games are March 7-16, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. With six medals up for grabs in the men’s and women’s snowboard cross competitions, Team USA will send 10 athletes to compete. Get ready for Sochi with these 14 facts on snowboarding:

Starting in Sochi

Snowboarding will debut at the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, as a part of the alpine skiing program. The International Paralympic Committee announced the decision on May 2, 2012. “It is important for the growth of the winter Games that there are more sports and more medal events to contest,” IPC Chief Executive Officer Xavier Gonzalez said when the news was announced. “I am particularly looking forward to see how athletes perform in this exciting new discipline and believe it will prove extremely popular with spectators and TV viewers alike.”

Canada welcomes the world (cup)

In 2008, Canada Snowboard hosted the first ever para-snowboard world cup in Whistler, B.C., introducing classification for the first time in the history of the sport. For the 2012-13 season, the International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing organization governed the first ever world cup circuit. The overall points titles for individuals and the nations cup were introduced with the 2013-14 circuit.

Don’t cross me

The type of snowboarding that is included in the Paralympic Winter Games is snowboard cross, which is an event based on speed. Each athlete competes three runs down the course with their finish time of their best two runs determining the final order based on ascending time. Unlike able-bodied competition like the Olympic Winter Games where multiple athletes compete at the same time, only one Paralympic rider is on the course at a time. The event takes place on a man-made course constructed from a variety of terrain features like bank turns and various types of jumps and rollers.

Multiple identities

Snowboard cross has multiple names in the snowboarding community. Boardercross, boarder-X, BX, snowboarder X and SBX are other names for the event although it is officially called “snowboard cross” in both the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.


Internationally, snowboarding is governed by International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing, which openly communicates with the World Snowboard Federation, the global governing body for able-bodied snowboard. U.S. Paralympics, a division of the United States Olympic Committee, is the National Governing Body for snowboard in the United States.

Amy Purdy
Amy Purdy is No. 2 in the world rankings for her classification, tied with teammate Heidi Jo Duce.

Low rider

Only standing athletes with lower limb impairments are eligible to compete in snowboarding at the Paralympic Winter Games. Standing athletes with upper limb impairments are eligible, however, to compete on the world cup circuit.

A perfect 10

U.S. Paralympics nominated 10 athletes – five men, five women – to compete in snowboarding at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, the maximum a country can enter. Tyler Burdick, retired U.S. Navy, Keith Gabel, Dan Monzo, Mike Shea and Evan Strong will compete in the men’s event. On the women’s side, Team USA will be represented by Cristina Albert, Heidi Jo Duce, Megan Harmon, Amy Purdy and Nicole Roundy.

Nationwide strength

Team USA has one of the most dominant Paralympic snowboarding programs with more riders on the world cup circuit than any other nation. On the 2013-14 International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing Para-Snowboard World Cup circuit, the United States finished 21,605 points ahead of the Netherlands to win the first nations cup.

Tied at the top

Heading into the Paralympic Winter Games, Americans Shea and Strong are ranked No. 1 in the world by the International Paralympic Committee in the men’s lower limb classification. Both have 1000 points. Gabel, now ranked No. 3, was ranked No. 1 earlier in the season.

History making Mike

Shea won the first-ever overall title for the International Paralympic Committee Alpine Skiing Para-Snowboard World Cup circuit in the men’s lower limb impairment classification in February 2014. “Every now and then I have to pinch myself in order to confirm that I am not dreaming,” said Shea, a below the knee amputee due to a wakeboarding accident. “That happened again this Wednesday (Feb. 12) in La Molina, Spain, for the world cup finals. Being presented with the crystal globe for the world cup overall title was something that in will never forget. It helps to build a great deal of confidence going into Sochi. I couldn't have done it without the help from my family, our coaching staff and the entire U.S. Olympic Committee. I know we're getting close to Sochi because I am starting to have dreams about it in my sleep. Only three more weeks.”

Unbeatable Bibian?

Dutch snowboarder Bibian Mentel-Spee is the favorite for gold at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, going undefeated during the last two world cup seasons. Once an able-bodied hopeful for the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic Winter Games for the Netherlands in snowboarding, Mentel was diagnosed with bone cancer at age 27, leading to the amputation of her leg. Four months after the amputation, she was back on her snowboard. Seven months later, she was once again her country’s national champion. She did not compete in Salt Lake City but hopes to strike gold in Russia.

Heidi Jo is no joke

Duce will compete at the most respected event in para-snowboard cross, the Paralympic Winter Games, only 14 months after making her competitive debut in the sport. Despite competing for the first time ever in January 2013, Duce is now ranked No. 2 in the women’s lower limb impairment world rankings along with her seasoned teammate Purdy.

Three of a kind

The top three American men (Gabel, Shea and Strong) share a similar disability as all are single, below-the-knee amputees. On the women’s side, however, the top three U.S. women all have different disabilities. Duce is a single, below-the-knee. Purdy is a double, below-the knee amputee. Roundy is a single, above-the-knee amputee.

Tribal leader

Miah Wheeler is the head coach for the U.S. Paralympics snowboarding program, which athletes like Gabel call a “tribe” rather than a team. Well respected in the able-bodied snowboarding community and active with United States of America Snowboard Association (USASA), Wheeler was previously the head of the Aspen Valley Snowboard Club and Windells Academy before helping U.S. Paralympics develop a program.