Around 50 athletes will take to the slopes at Rosa Khutor Alpine Centre on Friday (14 March) when snowboard makes its Paralympic Winter Games debut. … 

Two medal events will be contested – one men’s and one women’s event for athletes with a lower-limb impairment – with riders each taking three runs.

The sport features some of the most outgoing and adventurous athletes, including the USA’s Evan Strong and the Netherlands’ Bibian Mentel-Spee, who are expected to be the ones to beat.

Strong, who won the Test Event and 2012 World Championships, grew up in Hawaii where the only ice is shaved and served in cones or pina coladas. The X-Games gold medallist will receive the stiffest competition in Sochi from fellow Americans Mike Shea and Keith Gabel, along with New Zealand’s Carl Murphy, Canada’s Tyler Mosher and Finland’s Matti Suur-Hamari.

Shea could prove his toughest opponent, as he just won the 2013-14 IPCAS Snowboard World Cup overall title last month. Suur-Hamari finished third overall.

The women’s competition is Mentel-Spee’s to lose after winning the Test Event in a time that would have earned her a silver medal in the men’s race. The 41-year-old was actually a six-time Dutch champion in half-pipe and snowboard cross and on her way to qualifying for the 2002 Olympics before losing her lower right leg to cancer.

Already this season she has won all seven events on the IPCAS Snowboard World Cup circuit.

The USA’s Amy Purdy – a former Amazing Race contestant and future Dancing with the Stars contestant – and Heidi Jo Duce will challenge the Dutch favourite for the top spot on the podium. The Netherlands’ Lisa Bunschoten will also be one to look out for.