Freeskiing Ruby’s big bold Olympic dreams

Up-and-coming teenage freeskiier Ruby Andrews has shown she has the boldness and the bravery to become one of the world's top women in not one, but three, different events. 

There’s no questioning Ruby Andrews’ grit and determination.

While most 15-year-olds are spending this summer hanging with friends on the beach, Andrews is on the other side of the world, spending long hours outdoors, working in sub-zero degree temperatures.

Her sights are set on one simple goal: the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. 

The daring freeskiing teenager has already proven she has the resilience to make it.

At the Youth Winter Olympics in Lausanne last month, Andrews crashed in her slopestyle training, severely injuring her heel.

But two days later, still on crutches and dosed up on painkillers, the Wakatipu High School student pulled on her ski boots and put together one run for the qualification round in the halfpipe.

A true testimony to her talent, she qualified for a spot in the finals against the best teenagers from around the world. 

Set on redemption and riding the wave of adrenaline, excitement - and more painkillers - Andrews pulled together two runs in the finals and placed a gutsy fifth overall.

It was an experience she says she will never forget. 

Ruby Andrews' courageous performance in the Youth Winter Olympics halfpipe final. Photo: Olympic.org.nz

Andrews trains and competes in three completely different Olympic freestyle disciplines: halfpipe, big air and slopestyle.

Slopestyle made its Olympic debut at the 2014 Sochi Games, while ski halfpipe was included for the first time at the Pyeongchang four years later. Now ski big air will join the freestyle Olympic disciplines in Beijing 2022 - and Andrews has her sights set to compete in all three. 

Over the past year Andrews’ sacrifices and work ethic have begun to pay off, says Snow Sport New Zealand's high performance development coach, Hamish McDougall. He’s thrilled with the teen’s progression and eagerness. 

“She’s charging towards the hardest and scariest level in the female arena with bravery and determination. It seems her competitiveness has led her to benchmark herself to the top female skiers and keep working until she’s there,” he says.

Not afraid to take risks, Andrews surprised herself when she won bronze in the halfpipe at the 2019 FIS junior world championships in Leysin, Switzerland. One of the youngest competitors, she pulled off a new trick (a 720) she had never landed before. 

Right now, she's based in Salt Lake City, Utah, training at Woodward Park City with the New Zealand development team. From there, she can easily access competitions and training camps around North America.

Home is still Queenstown, although she will only make a fleeting visit there next month before heading to spring training camps in the Northern Hemisphere with the New Zealand snow sport team.

At just three years old, Andrews began skiing the slopes of Mt Hutt in Canterbury. It’s been hard to keep her away ever since. 

She utilised her low centre of gravity as a youngster by ripping around the slopes, hitting any little jump or bump. Her family moved to Queenstown when Andrews was five, where she was more than happy to be surrounded by mountains. 

 She began a more structured training programme at 12 - drawn to the innovation of freeskiing, and the adrenaline that goes hand-in-hand with the sport. 

 “Yeah I do love adrenaline,” Andrews says.  “It can be pretty scary at times but I like being nervous and scared.” 

Freestyle skiing is completely different to traditional styles of Olympic skiing, and it lacks restrictions and rules – part of the reason Andrews is so drawn to the sport. 

“I love how you can make it your own. There’s not really a wrong way to do something,” she says.

Although she's overseas in summer, Year 11 Wakatipu High student Ruby Andrews says it doesn't affect her schoolwork . Photo: Black Peak Photo

Andrews is at a stage in her skiing career where the main focus is on trick progression, time on snow and perfecting her freestyle fundamentals.

As she nears the 2022 Beijing Games, Andrews’ focus will eventually shift to competing on the international circuit. But for now, she’s content competing in smaller sanctioned events in the Northern Hemisphere.

At last year’s USA snowboard and freeski national championships, the then 14-year-old won both the women’s slopestyle and halfpipe titles. 

Though Andrews is finally old enough to enter World Cup events, she won’t be adding them to her schedule until the next northern winter.

She will spend another month in Park City, before taking a two-week break back at home in Queenstown - a chance, she says, to see the last of the purple foxgloves and reconnect with friends.

She then heads to two spring training camps with the New Zealand snow sports team in Calgary, Canada and Mammoth, California. 

Her schedule would probably give most people heart palpitations, but for Andrews, this is simply what it’s going to take to fulfill her dream of competing in three different disciplines at Beijing.

Training and competing in all three is proving to be a huge asset for the teenager. Even though the majority of competitors specialise in one discipline, Andrews is only broadening her skiing potential.

Slopestyle courses and halfpipes are evolving as the sport progresses. We’re beginning to see halfpipe-style features within the slopestyle courses, such as hips and transitions, which gives Andrews an edge over her competitors. 

It’s Andrews’ dream to become one of the top freeskiers in the world – and it’s no small dream.

Ruby Andrews gets airborne at the 2019 SSNZ junior freestyle nationals in Cardrona. Photo: Stash Media Worx

The level of women’s freeskiing has progressed dramatically since the sport was introduced to the 2014 Olympics. Around that time, the average spin was a 540 degree rotation; now spin averages are around the 900 degree rotation.

We’re also seeing regular double corks in slopestyle and big air - where your body flips twice in the rotation.

But Andrews’ progress in training has her moving hard and fast towards the level of best women in the world. 

Even though she spends three months of the school year skiing overseas, Andrews claims it doesn’t interrupt her Year 11 studies at Wakatipu High. 

“It hasn’t affected me too much. My teachers are really supportive while I’m away and we do most of our assignments online, so it’s easy for me to communicate with them,” she says. 

Her friends back home keep her grounded and make her feel supported, she says, even from the other side of the world. 

“They want to know how I’m doing, what competitions I’m competing in, and they even tune in to watch me compete on YouTube livestreams,” she says.  “When I get back home I always slot right back in.”

Because even when you aim to be one of the best skiers in the world, you still want to be a 15-year-old girl hanging out with your friends.

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