Going up and down is the essence of Para alpine skiing, the season was truly a rollercoaster unlike any other. Despite travel restrictions and last-minute changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, athletes achieved many milestones in the 2020-21 season and set the stakes high for the big Paralympic and World Championships year to come.
Here we look back at the Top 6 moments from the past season.
1. The Aigner saga
When Austria’s vision impaired skier Veronika Aigner tore cruciate ligaments in both knees during training ahead of February’s World Cup it looked like the host nation had said goodbye to its best medal hope. But the heroics of her 15-year-old twin siblings, who made their World Cup debut last season, made sure Austria - and their family - were well represented on the podium.
Except for the speed races in Saalbach, Austria and the Europa Cup finals in Malbun, Liechtenstein in which the younger Aigners did not take part, the Aigner family was represented on the podium at every Europa Cup and World Cup race this season.
Veronika and twins Johannes and Barbara Aigner won 16 gold medals in the women’s and men’s vision impaired races at the Europa Cup, along with three silver and a bronze.
They were also successful at the World Cup. Veronika Aigner won all four races in Veysonnaz. When she got injured, Barbara made her debut at the World Cup and represented the family name in the women’s races, taking two gold and two silver in Leogang, Austria. Her brother Johannes also clinched a victory in his World Cup debut, taking gold and two silver in Leogang.
2. Forster undefeated
Anna-Lena Forster left no doubt who is the queen of the women’s sitting class as she finished the Europa Cup season undefeated and won all but one race at the World Cup.
The German skier breezed through the 13 Europa Cup races, taking gold unchallenged or with large margins over her rivals. Her worst finish last season was a silver in giant slalom at the World Cup in Leogang. She bounced back quickly: Her next giant slalom effort and the four races after that were all golden.
Forster finished the season with overall titles in both the World Cup and the Europa Cup.
3. Forza, Rene!
It was also a winning season for Italian sit skier Rene de Silvestro. Skiing in the shadows of Paralympic champions Jeroen Kampschreur and Jesper Pedersen during the previous seasons, 2020-21 saw de Silvestro break out in both technical and speed disciplines.
His season’s tally was a gold, two silver and three bronze medals at the World Cup and six gold, two silver and one bronze at the Europa Cup. These results included his career’s first speed victory, in Saalbach, where he outraced the triple overall Crystal Globe holder Pedersen by 1.13 seconds. De Silvestro also won his career’s first Europa Cup title in 2021.
“It has been a season that has given me a lot of confidence,” de Silvestro said. “The most important thing that I’ve learned is that next year I can be a really tough competitor and that there is hope of beating Jeroen and Jesper.”
4. Super hosts
When COVID forced closures or reduced service at ski resorts across the world, eight Austrian resorts stepped up to help the Para alpine skiing season take off.
Between them, Resterhohe, Kaunertal, Saalbach, Leogang, Hopfgarten, Axamer Lizum, Gerlitzen and Kuhtai hosted two World Cup, three Europa Cup and five WPAS stages as well as three national championships.
Extensive public health measures were in place at the Austrian resorts to prevent the spread of coronavirus. These included COVID testing prior to arrival and on site for all athletes and team staff, social distancing in public areas and within the competition bubble, and mandatory masks, among other measures.
5. A son’s tribute
It was with mixed emotions that Jesper Pedersen celebrated his victory in the slalom races at the World Cup in Veysonnaz, Switzerland in January.
The Norwegian sit skier had just avenged his long-time rival Jeroen Kampschreur of the Netherlands for defeats in the earlier giant slalom races, but his first thoughts were those of his father, who passed away two months before.
“It has been some hard months lately because my father sadly passed away in November. But I’m going to ski fast for him,” the Paralympic champion said at the start of the season.
6. Freeski pioneers
Mac Marcoux’s plans to compete in Saalbach fell through at the last minute because of coronavirus, but even without any World Cup racing, the double Paralympic champion from Canada still managed to leave his mark on the 2020-21 season.
January 2021 saw the release of a short documentary called Blind Faith about Marcoux’s successful campaign to become the first legally blind person to complete three iconic freeski lines at Canada’s Whistler Blackcomb resort. Marcoux and his guide Tristan Rodgers tackled the steep backcountry slopes in spring 2020, improvising new skiing methods in the process.
“The fun part is the unknown,” Marcoux said. “I want to show people that even though it hasn’t really been done before, if it’s something you’re passionate about, there’s always a way to get it done.”