Brenna Huckaby competes in PyeongChang. (Photo: Joe Kusumoto)
As the inaugural World Para Snow Sports Championships get underway in Lillehammer, Norway, the U.S. Paralympics Snowboarding National Team arrives loaded with a combination of experience and optimism.
At the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, the team took no prisoners, capturing a total of 13 medals that included five gold, five silver and three bronze in snowboardcross and banked slalom.
Optimism that they can repeat that historic performance is understandable considering their fast start to the 2021-22 season. In three world cup competitions, Team USA has 32 medals total, 27 in banked slalom and five in snowboardcross.
At the opening event in Landgraaf, Netherlands, the team took home 16 medals, including a podium sweep in men’s banked slalom LL2.
World cup action moved to Pyha, Finland, in mid-December with the first snowboardcross event of the season. The U.S. picked up five medals including one gold, a silver and three bronze.
The following weekend, riders competed in Hochfuegen, Austria, for the final world cup event before the world championships. The team hauled in six gold medals, two silver and three bronze for a total of 11.
With final roster spots on the line for the upcoming Beijing Winter Games, here are five U.S. Para snowboarders to keep an eye on at Lillehammer 2021.
Noah Elliott (Steamboat Springs, Colorado)
After falling during the qualifying round of the 2019 world championships, Elliott bounced back to win the snowboardcross competition, then took silver in banked slalom.
The two-time Paralympic medalist picked up a pair of bronze medals in men’s SB-LL1 at this season’s opener in Landgraaf. He bested that performance in Pyha, winning a gold and a silver in snowboardcross, and followed that up with a pair of gold medals in banked slalom at the final event in Hochfuegen.
Brenna Huckaby (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
Huckaby has already made a splash on the world cup circuit this season, taking double gold in the team’s most recent competition in Hochfuegen. The two-time Paralympic gold medalist hasn’t competed in a world championship competition since 2017, where she won both the snowboardcross and banked slalom events.
She is also a 2015 world championships silver medalist in banked slalom.
Zach Miller (Silverthorne, Colorado)
Miller is looking to qualify for his first Paralympic Games. Even though he is only 22, he’s no rookie when it comes to making the podium.
Miller won a total of eight medals during the 2018-19 season, including a bronze in the men’s snowboardcross LL2 category during the 2019 world championships. That was his last podium visit until the opening world cup event this season in Landgraaf, where he picked up a gold and a bronze in banked slalom. He posted 10th- and 11th-place finishes in snowboardcross at the Pyha world cup event, and placed fourth and seventh in banked slalom in Hochfuegen.
Since being diagnosed with cerebral palsy at age six months, it’s been a challenge for Miller to gain weight and develop muscle mass. But he more than makes up for it with speed and intensity.
“We have a saying that you train how you race or you race how you train,” Miller said last month. “Just because times are up and points are up for grabs and you’re racing for medals doesn’t mean you’re going to be racing any different.”
Mike Schultz (St. Cloud, Minnesota)
At 40, Schultz is aiming for his second Paralympic Games. At the 2018 PyeongChang Games, he took gold in snowboardcross and silver in banked slalom. The previous year, he won silver in banked slalom and finished fourth in snowboardcross at the world championships.
This season, Schultz captured a pair of silver medals in banked slalom in Landgraaf, and two fourth-place finishes in banked slalom in Hochfuegen.
At the Team USA Media Summit last October, Schultz was asked what his future will look like after Beijing.
“I’m never going to say never, but it’s highly unlikely I’ll continue on beyond that,” he said. “It’s time to maybe look at the next chapter. We’ll see how it goes after Beijing.”
Evan Strong (Nevada City, California)
After winning a silver medal in banked slalom at the PyeongChang Games in 2018, Strong took a couple of years off to spend time with his family before coming back to the team this season. His last appearance at the world championships was in 2017, when he took home a silver medal in snowboardcross and finished fourth in banked slalom.
The 35-year-old Strong has four medals to his credit this season, including silver in banked slalom men’s LL2 in Landgraaf, bronze in snowboardcross in Pyha, and a pair of gold medals in banked slalom in Hochfuegen.
“It’s good to be back, because I feel better than ever,” Strong said. “I’m ready to race.”
Here is the full roster of athletes competing this week and next: