Hamel, Leslie, Minard lead Canada’s Para snowboard team this winter

Canadians begin World Cup season this month

WHISTLER – Sandrine Hamel of St-Sauveur, Que., and John Leslie of Arnprior, Ont., are two of Canada’s national team entries for the World Cup season in Para snowboard with their first races set for next week (November 14-15) in the Netherlands.

The big change in 2018-19 is that the Para snowboard team has a new head coach in Greg Picard of Bromont, Que. Picard was formerly a member of the Quebec snowboardcross team as an athlete. He transitioned to coaching in 2011, and he founded Élite Snowboard in Bromont, Que., in December 2012. He has over eight years of direct snowboard coaching experience. 

‘’The focus this year is going to be on development and working together at training camps,’’ said Picard, before he left last week for a training camp in Austria. ‘’We want to improve the technique of our riders not only for this season but for the seasons beyond as well.’’

Hamel is definitely a rising star in the Para snowboard world. She showed her potential with fifth-place finishes in the snowboard cross and banked slalom at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.

‘’There are a lot of little details that I want to improve this season,’’ said Hamel, 21, born with a double major scoliosis. ‘’In a Paralympic year you tend to focus more on your strengths so now I can look at bettering my jumps and my passing tactics in particular.’’

Hamel says she’ll be a much more confident rider in 2018-19.

‘’The Paralympic Games are the biggest competition for us and to know I can manage a stressful event like that has really helped me. That should be a benefit for me at worlds. But I feel I’m still too new in the sport to set a results goal right now.’’

Leslie, a 26-year-old below-knee amputee, is an established veteran having competed at the last two Paralympics.

‘’John is a great role model and he will continue to also work as a mentor for our younger athletes,’’ said Picard. ‘’Not only with Sandrine but with the prospects who’ll be with us at development camps. John knows what type of effort is needed to have success at the high performance level.’’

Rounding out the national team this year is Curtis Minard of Vernon, B.C. The 38-year-old made his Paralympic debut at the PyeongChang Games in March. Paralympian Alex Massie of Barrie, Ont., will also race this season.

The World Cup Para snowboard season actually opens with two stops at indoor venues. The first is this Wednesday and Thursday in Dubai at which no Canadians are officially entered and the second one November 14-15 at Landgraaf, Netherlands, where Hamel and Leslie are scheduled to make their season debuts. Minard will hit the slopes for his first official event later this season. 

The other stops on the circuit are all outdoors: November 30 to December 2 in Pyha, Finland, February 4-7 at Big White, B.C., March 4-9 in La Molina, Spain, and April 2-10 in Klovsjo, Sweden.

The world championships are March 25 to April 1 in Pyha.