Vail snowboard cross racer Senna Leith gets first World Cup podium
Vail local Senna Leith, joined by teammate Jake Vedder, nabbed the first World Cup podium of his career on Sunday, March 11.
It was also the first podium for the U.S. in a snowboard cross team event this season.
Team event racing is a two-person snowboard cross relay, with the second racer’s starting gate opening as soon as a the first racer crosses the finish line. Team event racing has been undertaken at the World Cup level since the 2012-13 season and was proposed for, but not included in, the 2018 Olympics. In 2017, it became contested at the World Championship level.
Leith, 20, is enjoying his first year on the World Cup, after winning the North America Cup overall title last season. He capped off 2016-17 by winning the team event at the FIS Snowboard Junior World Championships in Klinovec, Czech Republic. He was also partnered with Vedder in that event.
“We haven’t really done team event racing that much,” Leith said from France on Monday, March 12. “But Jake and I have raced really well when we have done it, so if we were able to get more practice and more repetition, I think we could have a good future in it.”
Vedder and Leith — who are members of the U.S. Snowboarding’s SBX development team — had to beat fellow Americans Alex Deibold and Jonathan Cheever to make the podium in the head-to-head contest. Deibold is a member of the SBX A team and the Olympic bronze medalist from 2014, and Cheever is a member of the SBX B team and has a number of World Cup podiums to his credit. They finished fourth.
“It was really competitive,” Leith said.
In the final round of competition, Leith was first to take to the course, racing alongside Deibold, Lueftnerof and Perathoner. Leith and Deibold were neck-and-neck at the finish of their leg of the race, a full board length or more in front of Lueftnerof and Perathoner.
“It was really cool to finish in second in my portion of the big final,” Leith said. “I did everything I could to set my teammate up.”
The race was held on a 350 meter course in Lata Park, located just west of downtown Moscow in Russia. Leith said traveling to venues like that one have been the highlight of his season. Snowboard cross is often held in venues were other forms of ski and snowboard racing would not be possible; this season Leith competed in Argentina, Turkey and Bulgaria in addition to traditional alpine countries like Italy, Austria and France.
“We’ve been to all kinds of crazy places I never thought I’d go to snowboard,” he said.
Emanuel Perathoner and Omar Visintin, of Italy, took down Alessandro Haemmerle and Julian Lueftner, of Italy, for the win. They too were neck-and-neck at the finish, and when Haemmerle celebrated too early, he allowed Visintin to push past him.
“He came from my blind spot; I didn’t see him nor did I hear him,” Haemmerle said. “He was just right behind my back. I guess it was a bad habit of mine celebrating too early. It just felt good for the moment, but noticing to end up second was like a punch in the face.”
The win pushed the Italian team into the top seat of the team event World Cup rankings with only one more race to come.
“I was in second and never thought to be able to pass him,” Visintin said. “When there were still a few meters to go I saw him celebrating and kept on pushing. We were lucky to come out victorious.”
The snowboard cross World Cup tour will continue next weekend in Switzerland, where the Veysonnaz resort is set to host the season’s finals with an individual and a team event race from March 16-18.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.