The U.S. Amateur Snowboard Association national championships are possibly the largest snowboard event in the world, with more than 1,300 athletes heading to North Lake Tahoe to compete in every discipline and category out there.
For Whistler’s Tyler Mosher, a local snowboarder who was partially paralyzed below the waist after falling onto some rocks in 2000, this was his second trip to the USASA nationals.
The main draw for Mosher is the existence of a small adaptive category, where he hopes to drum up grass roots support to make adaptive snowboard racing a Paralympic event. Mosher is currently the ambassador for adaptive snowboard racing for the Canadian Snowboard Federation.
He also enjoys competing, although the nature of his injury can make it difficult to hold an edge.
Still, he’s adjusted his style with some help from adaptive ski coach Phil Chew of the B.C. Disabled Ski Team, and modified his bindings by adding a third strap to the top of the highback to compensate for paralysis in the backs of his legs. Now he can rip almost as well as anybody – you’d have to get Mosher into some pretty bumpy terrain before you’d even realize he had a disability.
There is some interest on behalf of the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) and the Canadian Paralympic Committee to add either a demonstration or full medal snowboard race to the 2010 Paralympic Games, and the International Paralympic Committee will make a decision at its annual congress in June.
In the meantime, Mosher is motivated to get recognition for adaptive snowboarding from Sport Canada, which will in turn free up the Canadian Snowboard Federation and others to begin hosting events and training athletes. Once that approval is in place, and especially with the Paralympics on board, Mosher is confident that riders will start to come out of the woodwork.
In the meantime, like Mosher, most adaptive snowboarders are tough to spot. Two athletes with below the knee amputations in the U.S. are even competing in the able-bodied categories in freestyle events.
There were seven participants in the men’s adaptive category and three women – not many, but Mosher believes it’s a start. Some adaptive riders haven’t been introduced to competition, while others have yet to be identified.
South of the border, adaptive sports organizations in Colorado are also assisting a large number of new amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are mostly young, and many have expressed an interest in getting back into snowboarding.
Mosher took a gold medal in the standing men’s snowboardcross, in the men’s giant slalom and in the slalom to place first overall in the adaptive men’s division. His times placed him ahead of several able bodied athletes.
"The field is so small, but I was killing it on the course," said Mosher.
"It’s just such an awesome event. You ride with all the able-bodied people, and when they find out you’re disabled they can’t believe it. People with prosthetics kind of hold them up at the awards, and the crowd goes nuts."
Mosher says his time at the USASA, and the reception from the crowd only reinforced his desire to get snowboarding into the Paralympics.
"I don’t think that the IPC or other organizations really understand the dynamics of someone snowboarding with paralysis or a missing limb or whatever. It’s totally different than other sports because it’s a lifestyle," he said.
"Not everybody can relate to what’s required, but most people can relate to someone getting back into a lifestyle."
Mosher, 33, is also planning to represent Canada in 2010 in cross-country and biathlon events, where he has spent the last two years competing. He just missed the cut for the national team this year, but will be back again next year. If possible he’d like to represent Canada in snowboarding, cross-country and biathlon, if there are no scheduling conflicts and Paralympic snowboarding makes the cut.
"I just think that would be something great to look back on in 25 years," he said. "I don’t know if it’s possible, but that’s my goal. One (sport) would be cool, but if I can make it in all three that would be awesome."