With the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games happening in its backyard, Canada currently has its fair share of the international spotlight. But before the opening ceremonies took place, two native Canucks boosted their way into the international spotlight at this yearâ€™s X-Games.
This past January, 17-year-old Megan Gunning and 20-year-old Rosalind Groenewoud took second and third respectively in the X-Games womenâ€™s halfpipe event. Roz G, as she is known by both friends and the media, has a few X-Games performances under her belt. She landed on the podium with the highest recorded air for a female at any X-Games on her first hit. But it was rookie Megan Gunning who took the crowd and the industry by surprise with her massive run that included a cork 900, 540 and stomped 720. Both of these Kombi-sponsored athletes are pushing womenâ€™s skiing a little further and a little higher than where it was before they began. I caught up with the two medalists the other day in their home city of Calgary for a conversation about skiing, womenâ€™s skiing and where both are headed. â€“ Nicole Birkhold
Nicole: Roz, let’s start with you. How did you get into skiing and which athletes did you look up to?
Roz: Well, I started skiing when I was three because my dad was a big skier and heâ€™d take me out. I started skiing in the Nancy Greene race program but as soon as I started getting into that my family moved to Quito, Ecuador. Yeah, so I didn’t ski for four years. But then I watched the 2002 Olympics and I was moving back to Canada the next year and I thought, “I’m going to become a mogul skier.” And I moved back and my parents put me right into a freestyle program. But it was a huge challenge relearning how to ski at 13â€¦when people ask me I usually say I started skiing when I was 13. So I started the freestyle program. And one of the first ski heroes I met at one of the first ski events I went to. A girl named Chelsea Henitiuk, who is still on the Canadian mogul team. She is from Alberta, and she wasn’t competing â€“ she just came for fun. She was the first person I ever saw do a backflip on skis and I was totally blown away because I had never seen a backflip and she was a girl. So at that point I was like, â€œokay, this is what is possible. This is what I want to do. This is what I want to start pushing myself in.â€
And then as I grew up in the club and then the Alberta team ranks. Maybe my second year skiing, I saw Dania [Assaly] do a 720 off this big jump and I was totally blown away again.
Nicole: Nice, yeah, D!
Roz: Yeah D! I know. So I guess my ski heroes have always been people like Chelsea and Dania, who I have watched and been impressed by. I used to go to Water Ramps in Grand Prairie and Jenn Heil was there a lot because she had an Albertan coach. I watched her for an entire summer do perfect back crosses. And at the time I was kind of confused why she would do so many perfect tricks, but it also gave me the understanding of how much dedication you need, for any sport really. I continue to be impressed by Sarah [Burke]. She is always learning new tricks and learning them so fast â€“ like flairs both ways.
Nicole: So fast! She learned those out of nowhere.
Roz: Nowhere. Girls like Ashley Battersby [are] doing that huge switch 270 onto the gap box at X-Games and then Kaya Turski’s stomp switch 900. So it’s those things that I continue to be inspired by.
Nicole: The progression that each girl is able to bring to the table?
Nicole: Megan, let’s run through your background and see where you came from.
Megan: I started skiing when I was about nine or ten. My mom was a big skier when she was younger but I was born in Atlanta. So I lived there until I was five. and when we moved to Ontario, I started riding around, just ripping. And when I was nine my mom put me in this Jumps and Bumps group at Horseshoe Resort. You would just go around and hit jumps and in Ontario it’s pretty small but it was fun. And then we moved to Calgary and I got into this freestyle program out of COP. My brother was in it as well and I really got into it when I started riding with my brother’s group. And they pushed me because they were like, “you have to do it now, we all did it.”
Nicole: Yup, the typical girl following the boys around, eh? There’s just not as many of us women in this industry.
Megan: Exactly. And they just were like, “You have toâ€”come on!” Ripping around with my brother inspired me. I started out in the Rocky Mountain Freeriders program which is a big-mountain groupâ€”the discipline I started in. I was a big-mountain skier for a long time until I started doing more pipe and slope. And then I got into my first Junior Nationals and I really wanted to push myself in the park areas, because I used to be a figure skater. But it’s so hard to be good at figure skating… kind of, at the same level… and I really think skiing is more fun.
Nicole: I think there’s more room in skiing right now. It’s harder to make a name for yourself in skating. It’s much more competitive at the higher levels, I think.
Megan: Yeah, exactly. There’s more opportunity in women’s skiing I think. It’s hard to get noticed in skating. But in skiing there’s more room. Of course my hero â€” one of the people I admire â€” is Sarah Burke. Obviously she’s the face of women’s skiing. I think I’ve looked up to her since I started skiing. It’s always been Sarah Burke and she always amazes me… doing 12s off the big jump at X, both way flairs, and, like Roz said, she learns so easilyâ€”It’s crazy. Kaya as well. She skis like a guy and that makes me so pumped. I just want to ski like a guy.
Nicole: Or like a girl who skis as well as the guys.
Roz: Yeah, why not be proud to ski like a girl?
Nicole: Yeah, a girl who is as good as the guys. But I understand what you’re saying Megan. It’s the way success is determined, particularly in our heavily male-dominated industry and sport. Skiing like a guy is a compliment, but at the same time, we should be working to make skiing â€œlike a girlâ€ the compliment in its own right.
Roz: It’s an insult that it’s a compliment in our sport.
Nicole: Exactly, we should be working towards retiring that comparison. But you know, it’s the way it is right now and I understand. Megan, tell me a little bit about what it was like to be at the X Games and have the results that you had this year.
Megan: Wow. Yeah, I’ve never been to a contest like it. It was crazy but in a good way. I had a lot of fun skiing that pipe because it was just amazing and I was taking it all in. I have wanted to go to the X-Games since I was 13 or 14 watching all those girls in it. It was such a good experience.
I didn’t do very well in the Dew Tour and so I really wanted to prove myself this year in X-Games since I got invited and I didn’t think that would happen. But I don’t know, it was just the best experience and I had so much fun. All the older girls who had been there before were so supportive of me.
Nicole: Roz, how about you? You have been to a few X-Games before, but with women’s skiing being stepped up significantly in the past couple years and the addition of equal prize money for womenâ€”you’ve been around to see all that happen. What has that meant for you and for women’s skiing in general?
Roz: I think as females become included in bigger competitions and it’s more equal like the X-Gamesâ€”I mean, we have been forgotten about a lot of the competitions over the years like the Dew Tour this year and in previous years the World Superpipe Championships, the Ski Tour, etc.â€”but as we see ourselves in bigger competitions girls are pushing themselves more and pushing each other more. I think that’s really important. My first year in X-Games, Sarah and I were the only ones doing nines and Mirjam Jaeger and I were the only ones spinning unnatural fives. This year, five out of six girls tried nines. And I think two-thirds of the field were doing unnatural spins on their uncomfortable wall. So just watching that over the past couple years and how many girls are stepping it up to be trying those nines and the unnatural fives is awesome to see and I just hope it will continue to move that way in the future.
Nicole: What do you guys think about the Dew Tour? There was a stop for you on that and a full field. Did it measure up?
Roz: Well, almost. There wasn’t equal prize money.
Nicole: That’s true. And there wasn’t a slopestyle event. Letâ€™s talk about the pros and cons of how the Dew Tour handled it.
Roz: Well, I was really disappointed at firstâ€”definitely. I felt that the women had proven ourselves last year, especially in slope. The girls threw down. And so I was really disappointed at first, but you can’t get too caught up in that. I don’t ski for myself. I ski because I love being in the air. By the end of December I was over it and just super excited to ski in the one event they did have for us and all the other events we do get to be a part of this year. And I obviously hope for next year they will look at how that went. I heard it was really well received by NBC and so I hope to look at it next year and they’ll say, “Yes, these girls were awesome. Let’s have more for them.”
Nicole: Megan, having not been a part of the Tour the year before, what did you take away from the Dew Tour and the contest season in general?
Megan: I think the womenâ€™s competitions this year were crazy. Girls are getting gnarlyâ€”gnarlier than before. I was kind of upset with only one stop at the Dew Tour because I really wanted to prove myself and since I didn’t do that well, there wasn’t another opportunity to do better. It kind of sucks they didn’t have slope and it was invite-only because I know how frustrating it is to not get into contests and show yourself. I know so many girls who absolutely kill it but they don’t have a chance to show it, you know? But the one they had this year was awesome. The organization was good and I was happy we got to do at least one Dew Tour.
Nicole: I think it was frustrating to go from a disappointing exhibition series to only one stop without slopestyle. Looking back to five years ago, women’s skiing has obviously progressed. Aside from the contests, talk to me a little bit about tricks and the progression there and how you have progressed personally over the past five years?
Megan: Well, five years ago I was 12.
Nicole: [Laughter] That’s true. How about over the past couple years? What has helped you learn new tricks and what’s next for you?
Megan: Obviously, watching the guys do tricks pushes me a lot. I look at them and say that’s how I want to do my trick next time. For slope, Iâ€™d really like to compete in that more. And maybe making some videos of cork sevens and stuff because I’m doing more corked and inverted stuff this year.
Nicole: I would love to see more andâ€”Roz correct me if you think I’m off-base hereâ€”but I feel like guys are constantly putting together edits and dropping them wherever they can and I think girls aren’t as involved in that. So for me, I would love to see more edits dropping on girlâ€™s individual blogs or Freeskier.com or Newschoolers or whatever. What do you think about that?
Roz: I’m definitely into that. But it’s really intimidating posting a video on Newschoolers or another site because you know there’s going to be at least one person hating on it, even if it’s just because you’re a female, even if it has nothing to do with your skiing. So I think it’s tough because we have definitely built a pretty intimidating community for women within the industry. I think it’s extraordinarily hard to change. And so if people wonder why there are not more women in our industry, I think the intimidation factor is one thing we could definitely point a finger at.
Megan: I definitely agree with the second part. But I always put my edits on Newschoolers. I try to make a lot of edits, usually with Kelti.
Nicole: What do you guys think about the opportunities for women in magazines, film-, media- and sponsor-wise?
Roz: I think it’s awesome that Freeskier will do that kind of stuff with the Women’s Issue, etc. But I think one of the areas where the attitude toward female skiers has digressed is in film. Five years ago, almost every movie had a female partâ€”had a part with Sarah or Kristi [Leskinen]â€”and then these past few years there has been an Ingrid Backstrom part and this year I think she was the only female to have a part in any of the major movies. I mean, Marie Martinod used to have a part in the Level 1 movie and since she stopped, Level 1 hasn’t had a female skier. Hopefully, Kaya will be in there this year. And it sounded like Michelle was going to have an awesome part two years ago with MSP and then not a single one of her shots made the movie and so in that way it seems like five years ago there were more opportunities for girls to have their shots in the movies.
Megan: I agree. It sucks that there are no girls in movies. It seems like they won’t put a girl in unless the shot was as good as a guys.
Nicole: It definitely feels like the standards are higher as far as what makes the movie.
Roz: It could come from the fact that now there are more guys competing for spots without even considering the women’s shots so there is even less space for it.
Nicole: Definitely. How do you guys feel about the space for women in the industry as far as sponsorships go?
Roz: The reason athletes are sponsored is to sell product. And women are really good at selling product. Marketing research has been done and women like buying product from women. And so I think a lot of sponsors realize that having campaigns and product with and for women is super important to their overall success. Because women buy productâ€”even for men.
Nicole: It is a weird and schizophrenic industry when it comes to women. The fact that there are not a lot of women in film, but the contests seem to be stepping up. And not a lot of support in the media, but on a sponsorship level, it seems to be there.
Roz: It’s very wavy and inconsistent
Nicole: Let’s talk a little more about contests and the Olympics. Theyâ€™re going on in your home country!
Roz: Oh man, the Olympics are so important to me personally. I don’t even know where to begin with it. I mean, no matter what the naysayers or the FIS-haters say, having your sport in the Olympics brings such an incredible amount of support and funding and, therefore, progressionâ€”especially for women’s skiing. From international organizations to grassroots organizations there will be more resources and more funding and more young girls will be encouraged to become halfpipe skiers. I think there would be an outburst of young female halfpipe skiers. But even for men with the resources and funding it allows the organizations to put more research into sports science and find out just what is possible for a person with skis in a halfpipe. From increased funding and facilitiesâ€”like more perfect 22s across the world and foam pits and airbagsâ€”there would be a huge progression in halfpipe skiing. And it would be so incredible to compete there, stomp your best run and stand on the podium for Canada.
Nicole: Megan, 2014 isn’t that far away. You’ll definitely be at the top of your game then. Is that something that you think about?
Megan: Yeah, I think I’ll be the perfect age for it and competing for Canada would be great. I agree with Roz totally on everything she said, especially the increase in girls skiing. Girls will want to be involved in halfpipe skiing if they see girls doing it. More than ever.
Nicole: I always struggle with thatâ€”the chicken or the egg scenario. If the girlsâ€™ contests are there, then will more girls come? Or does there need to be more girls before the contests are offered. And I really think one thing to spur it would be the Olympics taking a stand. Once that happens there would be no more excuses for women’s halfpipe to not be included in contests and so the IOC could make a really big statement and a really big impact on the industry that we’ve all chosen to make careers out of!
Roz: Definitely. It would change skiing but I really think it could be for the better.
Nicole: I think you’re right and I think it could change the way the world looks at skiing. There are so many people that don’t get to see the X-Games and Dew Tour and don’t know about what we do. It could really help move things forward and make it a true international entity.
Roz: I’m tired of people saying, when I tell them I’m a halfpipe skier, “Oh, so you’re a snowboarder.” â€œNo, I wouldn’t have told you I was a skier if I was a snowboarder!â€
Nicole: It’s funny how many people interchange the two terms like they are the same thing.
Megan: It’s always, “Oh! You snowboard.” Like always!
Roz: And I love when people say, “Does that even work with the physics?” I just laugh! â€œYou obviously aren’t a physicist!â€
Nicole: It’s great to hear from you girls both how important the Olympics is to you and how our sport has been given the cold shoulder for so long. Hopefully, 2014 works out.
Roz: I hope one thing the IOC and FIS realize is, Shawn White was the first Olympic athlete to be on the cover of Rolling Stone and part of that is because halfpipe skiing is so exciting to watch whether youâ€™re on skis or a snowboard. And how halfpipe skiing would probably have the success snowboarding has had in being a sold out event and exciting for the spectators.
Nicole: Megan, where do you see yourself in the next few years as far as contests or filmingâ€”what’s on the Megan Gunning five-year plan?
Megan: Hopefully, more X-Games. Getting my run solid. Being a girl but skiing like a guy. And just progressing women’s skiing. More inverted tricks and grabbing and, of course, I’d love to film and work towards filming with someone. I’d love to ski more big-mountain because that’s what I started out doing. And just having lots of fun.
Nicole: Sounds good, and good luck! What about you Roz, what’s on the Roz G five-year plan?
Roz: I can’t release that to the public, Nicole! [Laughter] I’m just kidding. I think for me just being in the air as much as possible. That’s why I ski. That’s why I always have such a hard time with rails. If I’m not in the air, what’s the point? [Laughter] But definitely I always have the goal to do more slope events because I love jumping. It comes so much more naturally to me than half pipe skiing. I didn’t have that good base of big mountain or alpine skiing so sometimes my actual skiing is actually the weakest. But I’ve been able to figure it out a little bit more and I’m able to go big but just being in the air from having a gymnastics background. It’s hard fitting everything in, but we’ll just have fun!
Nicole: Thanks so much ladies, for your time. It was great to talk with you both. Good luck!