There were times of celebration and deep sorrow during the 2020-21 Para snowboard season as riders said goodbye to the legendary Bibian Mentel-Spee, promising to continue her legacy and strengthen the sport for future generations. A new venue was added to the calendar, newcomers climbed on the podium while sport veterans were tested on their ability to overcame obstacles.
Here we take a look back at the Top 6 moments that defined the season.
1. Send-off for a legend
A sombre mood set over the World Cup in Colere, Italy as teams learned about the passing of a Para snowboard pioneer Bibian Mentel-Spee on March 29 after a long battle with cancer. In addition to helping the sport make its Paralympic debut in 2014, the three-time Paralympic champion has mentored many of the athletes who were in Colere to compete.
On the final training day, athletes and team staff from 16 countries lined up along the snowboard-cross course to give a moving tribute to the late rider. The personal tributes to Mentel-Spee continued as the races began.
“To me it almost felt like she was waiting for us all to be together to finally let go and some ways having everyone together made it a little easier,” said US rider Keith Gabel, who won double gold in the men’s SB-LL2 snowboard-cross and dedicated his victories to the late Dutch rider. “My goal is to continue that legacy and advocate for the athletes and the sport as a whole.”
2. Sky show
Competing on the World Cup circuit is filled with perks like access to top-notch courses, but the participants of February’s World Cup opener in Pyha got a little more when they arrived at the Finnish ski resort a few days before the first races.
The Northern Lights lit up the sky and athletes hastened to take photos of the astronomical phenomena. This was a first glimpse at the lights for many of the riders even though Pyha is a regular host of Para snowboard competitions.
3. Quarantine to podium
Not all athletes were able to enjoy the beauties of Pyha. Shortly after their arrival, the entire French team - including medal favourites Cecile Hernandez and Maxime Montaggioni - was put in a 14-day quarantine due to a possible COVID contact case.
Thus, instead of racing in the snowboard-cross events, the athletes watched the action from their hotel windows.
A month and a half later, Hernandez made the most of her shortened season and won gold medals in both boardercross races at the World Cup Finals in Colere. Since the women’s SB-LL1 and SB-LL2 classes were combined in Colere, Hernandez enjoyed the added sensation of outracing the world’s other top riders, double world champion Lisa Bunschoten of the Netherlands and USA’s double Paralympic champion Brenna Huckaby.
4. New venue
Due to COVID restrictions, World Para Snowboard did not host any competitions after the mid-February race weekend in Pyha. But then a new venue, Colere, stepped up as host to give the riders another opportunity to compete ahead of the World Championships and Paralympic Games year.
Colere hosted the closing World Cup of the 2020-21 season from 31 March to 2 April. The competition consisted of two snowboard-cross races, and the Italian ski resort was praised as a solid host for future Para snowboard events.
5. Brenna’s back
Aside from two exiting races, Colere also featured the much-anticipated comeback of double Paralympic champion Brenna Huckaby. These were the first major races for Huckaby since giving birth to her second daughter in early 2020. She finished the races with a silver and bronze.
“I have missed it so much,” Huckaby said. “This race is for me to see where I am as a rider so I can train and make improvements for next season. I have a lot that I want to work on but I’m proud of where I am.”
6. Injury switch
Injuries and other setbacks seemed to plague the top contenders in the men’s SB-UL class last season. While three-time world champion Maxime Montaggioni was put in quarantine in Pyha, his top rivals James Barnes-Miller and Jacopo Luchini also faced obstacles of their own.
Great Britain’s Barnes-Miller stretched all the ligaments near his shoulder after a bad fall during training in late December. The injury did not require surgery but continued to bother him and he ultimately finished second to Luchini in both races in Pyha.
The tables turned in Colere as it was now Luchini overcoming an injury. The Italian rider was leading the rankings by 400 points ahead of the home World Cup, but injured his knee in early March and was off the snow for 20 days. He made it on the podium with one silver while Barnes-Miller and Montaggioni split the gold. Barnes-Miller also topped the snowboard-cross rankings.