February 2015 saw the first IPC Snowboard World Championships take place in La Molina, Spain, following from the sport’s debut at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.
The Championships – featuring the debut of banked slalom, snowboard-cross head-to-head and the separation of the lower-limb impairment classifications – make it to No.15 in the International Paralympic Committee’s Top 50 Moments of 2015.
One of the stars of the show was the Netherlands’ Chris Vos. Just 16- years- old at the time, he swept both men’s SB-LL1 events in snowboard-cross head-to-head and banked slalom.
In the months before La Molina 2015, the lower-limb impairment classification went from one group to two: SB-LL1 for athletes with a significant impairment in one leg or a combined significant impairment in two legs, and SB-LL2 for athletes with an impairment in one or two legs with less activity limitation.
The head-to-head format for snowboard-cross was also added to the programme, changing the original format of one rider on the course at a time. Banked slalom was introduced as a way of increasing the spectacle of the sport, as well as making it more accessible for less experienced athletes.
Vos secured his historic world titles in La Molina after a season in which he also won the overall World Cup.
Reflecting on why he was so successful, Vos, now 17, has a simple explanation: “I have been training for six years now and I'm always having fun at the slopes and the competitions. I'm really fit and was faster than the others.”
But Vos was not the only Dutch rider to win all events. His Paralympic champion mentor Bibian Mentel-Spee also reached the top of the podium twice in the women’s SB-LL2.
It was Mentel-Spee that spotted Vos’ potential through her Mentelity Foundation, which provides opportunities for youngsters to try para-sport.
“I got into the sport at the age of 12,” Vos said. “Bibian showed me the sport and trained me for two years with her husband [Edwin]. That was the beginning for me. After this I trained really hard to get the best out of myself.”
Vos trains 10 times a week at the national Olympic Training Centre in Papendal and is on snow for five months a year.
He believes that even though the sport is growing in popularity and the numbers of athletes are increasing, it still retains its roots.
“I think that the level of riders is super good and that everyone trains like a true top athlete,” he said. “I love that we are still snowboarders and that we are able to have fun after the race, and that we can freeride and inspire other people to join our sport or encourage them to do something good with their lives.”
Other gold medallists in La Molina were Finland’s Matti Suur-Hamari in the snowboard-cross and the USA’s Mike Shea in the banked slalom men’s SB-LL2. Italy’s Manuel Pozzerle and Austria’s Patrick Mayrhofer won the men’s snowboard-cross and banked slalom upper-limb impaired, respectively.
The USA’s Brenna Huckaby and France’s Cecile Hernandez-Cervellon dominated the women’s SB-LL1, winning snowboard-cross and banked slalom.
To find out more about the IPC’s Top 50 Moments of 2015, visit the dedicated page on the IPC’s website.