Unlike many in the sport, Roz Groenewoud didn’t really start skiing until she was 13. And after a traumatic head injury in 2009, it took this superstar two years to gain enough confidence to get back out there and win gold. (Did we mention she just had double knee surgery in December?) We talked with skier Roz Groenewoud about fitness, fitting in school, and how it feels to be competing in the halfpipe as the discipline makes its Olympic debut.
When did you start skiing?
I was quite young when I was first on the slopes— three years old. My dad is a passionate skier and wanted to have a ski family. We would spend the day together on the slopes. And then when I was seven, we moved to Ecuador and there was about a year or so with no skiing. I had to relearn how to do it when I was 13 years old, during the winter. When we eventually moved to Canada, I enrolled in recreational ski style school. So I tell people I learned to ski when I was 13.
How did you become interested in the halfpipe? That isn’t generally where skiers end up.
I remember watching the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics mogul skiing competition. I loved how fast and dangerous it looked; it was exciting. When I moved back to Canada I was in this weekend and afterschool program that was freestyle skiing at Olympic Park in Calgary. Most of the hill is used to teach people to ski and the other is to train park and halfpipe. I loved the park and transitioned into the halfpipe. I realized moguls weren’t actually for me.
The one I’m the most proud of is 2011 in Park City, Utah. I hadn’t competed since the World Cup in 2009 because I had a head injury. I came out of a trick wrong and hit my head pretty hard. I couldn’t see straight for three weeks. It took two years to regain my confidence. So doing halfpipe in the 2011 World Championships really challenged me. It was a complete blizzard outside to the point where it looked like tornados were going down the pipe. I knew the IOC would be watching and deciding whether or not to make our sport an Olympic event. It was a big deal for us. I knew I needed to ski well for the future of the sport.
Did that affect your nerves even more?
I was really nervous and hadn’t done a whole training run in the pipe, including the trick I hurt myself doing two years prior. That morning my coach said ‘You’re gonna go for it — you’re going to do that trick.’ The first competition run came and I landed it. It was a huge accomplishment. Getting over my fears and having that confidence from my coach, that he said I could do it. I went on to win my competition. Not only was it incredible to be a world champion but also to have an experience with so much personal growth was amazing.
Are you excited that the halfpipe is now an official Olympic event?
Definitely! When we first got the note in April 2012 when it was announced, it was no longer a dream. It was now something I could achieve. I felt a responsibility to myself to do it. It took me a little bit to shake myself off and remember that I love what I do and I love skiing. This is what I do.
You’re a front-runner for the gold. Is that a lot of pressure to have on your shoulders?
It’s definitely flattering, but a front-runner can blow it just as often as anyone else. There’s no resting at all. I’m competing against incredible skiers who are going to bring their all. I need to work hard, but I know that I am capable of it. But I’ve needed to prepare myself — a lot!
You’re also in school studying math and physics! Have numbers always been your thing?
I want to balance my education with my career, though this season has probably been my lowest school enrollment to date because I’ve been preparing for the Games. I’m trying to keep my brain alive. And yes, I have always been a numbers person. But I love skiing for its intuition and creativity and enjoy being in a sport that is judged on that.
Tell us a little about your fitness regimen when you’re not on the slopes.
I get most of my motivation when I’m outside and being around other athletes that push me. I love being on my mountain bike. You can work so hard going uphill. Then you have the joy of riding through the woods. It balances a hard activity with a fun activity. I also weight lift, do Pilates and trampoline. I’m always trying things. I just heard about SoulCycle. It hasn’t hit my city yet, but I’m going to try a class here in New York.
Any advice for someone looking to excel as a skier?
The amount that you enjoy skiing is so much about how prepared you are. Even basic things like base layers. I love C9 base layers. They come in great colors and aren’t made of cotton. If you wear a cotton base layer, you’ll have a miserable time on the slope. And wearing a helmet and waterproof pants is important as well. The better prepared you are for the hill, the more time you’ll spend out there. And the more time you spend on the hill, the better.