The Adaptive Action Sports Banked Slalom races on Friday at Breckenridge marked the second time Adaptive Snowboarding has been contested at Dew Tour and the first time the event has been sanctioned as a NorAm competition by World Para Snowboard, meaning it doubled as a qualifier for the 2018 PyeongChang Paralympic Games. Racers were divided into impairment classes, according to World Para Snowboard rules.
Photos by George Crosland Chris Ortiz

Evan Strong, the Sochi 2014 Para-Snowboardcross gold medalist, helped lead a powerhouse American contingent on the course, a traditional snowboard banked slalom course with 22 turns. Strong, who rides with a below-the-knee prosthetic on his left leg, won the Men’s Lower Limb 2 Impairment class, ahead of fellow Americans Michael Shea and Keith Gabel, in an echo of the trio’s podium sweep in Sochi.

“To have the Dew Tour hosting a Paralympic qualifier for the adaptive division is kind of surreal when I think back on my 10 years in this sport, from when it was real grassroots and we had a hard time getting anybody to take us seriously,” Strong said. “And now look at us: we’re at Dew Tour, getting to snowboard right next to our biggest heroes, with a chance to truly show everyone what we are capable of. I’m really proud of my sport: the field is so deep now, the stakes are higher than ever, and the talent of these racers is blowing my mind. I wouldn’t have guessed 10 years ago that it would have grown anywhere near this fast.”

Noah Elliott, a newcomer to the sport after losing his left leg above the knee to osteosarcoma bone cancer two years ago, won the Men’s Lower Limb 1 Impairment class, ahead of Mike Schultz and Dutch rider Chris Vos. Michael Minor, who was born without a right forearm, won the Men’s Upper Limb Impairment class ahead of Australian rider Simon Patmore and Italian rider Jacopo Luchini.

“It’s been an incredible journey so far,” Elliott said. “I’d been a lifelong skateboarder until, at the age of 16, I got diagnosed with a osteosarcoma, which led to me choosing to amputate my leg at age 17. I went from re-learning how to walk to getting back into boardsports as fast as I could:  I just started snowboarding last season, just the beginning of getting something back that I thought I’d lost forever, and so far it’s going really good.”

Americans won two of the three women’s race classes, with Brenna Huckaby finishing ahead of Amy Purdy and Nicole Roundy in the Lower Limb 1 Impairment class and Peggy Martin as the lone competitor in the Women’s Upper Limb impairment class. Dutch rider Lisa Bunschoten won the Lowe Limb 2 Impairment class, ahead of Australian rider Joany Badenhorst and Dutch rider Renske van Beek.

Huckaby, wearing a purple BioDapt Moto Knee prosthetic developed by Mike Schultz and dyed purple hair to match, finished 5.29 seconds ahead, the biggest win margin of the day. The former gymnast from Baton Rouge, Louisiana lost her right leg to bone cancer in 2010. She said she was honored to bring Banked Slalom racing, one of snowboarding’s most storied and respected events, to Dew Tour. The event will debut as a Paralympic discipline in PyeonChang in March, 2018.

“The course was really fun and flowing, a true traditional banked slalom — which, who in snowboarding doesn’t love banked slalom? – so it was fast, and because it was a long course it was also a burner,” Huckaby said. “A course like this can be extra challenging with prosthetics because there are very tight sections, you’re pumping for speed through every corner, so it’s super important to have a knee and ankle that are going to move under you at the right time that you need it. I’m really thankful to have mine working so well for me: it allows me to snowboard as fluidly as I possibly can.”

Adaptive Action Sports co-founder Amy Purdy, the Sochi 2014 bronze medalist and the most widely known name in adaptive snowboarding, finished second behind Huckaby but said she was happy with a strong finish in Banked Slalom – she prefers Snowboardcross racing – and considered it a win just to bring a Paralympic qualifier to Breckenridge, where she now lives.

“It’s so amazing that Dew Tour has welcomed us with open arms, and also that Toyota — my longtime partner – wants to elevate the Paraylmpics and the Paralymipans to the same level as the Olympics and the Olympians as it should be, by presenting major events like this,” Purdy said. “I know there are people out there sitting in hospitals right now with new prosthetic legs, thinking, ‘oh I’ll never be able to do this or that again.’ I’m proud that those people are now able to watch an event like this and change that up. For me it’s all about showcasing ability and possibility. I couldn’t be more grateful to have this opportunity to be here.”