Conversations with Roz

Canadian, freeskier, scholar, X Games gold medalist, world champion, Olympian, and inspiration to skiers, females, and Canadians across the globe.

This April, Roz Groenewoud will become the first Canadian freestyle skier to graduate from University while still being a part of the national team. Over the next two years, Roz will not only write the MCATs plus look at grad school programs in neuroscience, but will do so while working hard to earn her ticket to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

Roz is supported by MEC, Bern, BMW Canada, and Coalition Snow. She is also an active athlete ambassador for Right to Play and Protect Our Winters.


Hey Roz, Happy International Women’s Day! What did you do to celebrate?

Happy International Women’s Day to you too!

As I had knee surgery (ACL & MCL reconstruction) a month ago, I spend a lot of time on the couch. So to celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD), I did some shoutouts, retweets, etc. on social media… and called-out the freeski media for not mentioning #IWD2016 at all. On a positive note, I saw that many major snowsports brands, organizations, sports media, and events did posts on social media to celebrate women on IWD.

Also, I am writing my undergrad thesis so I can graduate in April. Yes, that is part of the celebration of IWD as I live in a country where I’m able to get as much education as I want. I feel fortunate and hope one day that all women everywhere will be allowed to participate in sports and receive an education.

Happy #internationalwomensday!! I am so proud to surround myself regularly with a group of badass women that push and support each other; take hits and get back up; wear their scars proudly; relentlessly pursue their dreams on and off the hill; never see their gender as a limitation; and know how to stand up for themselves. I am so proud to be a female freeskier!  All of my social media feeds are filled with posts celebrating women, including some from major snowsports companies!  But, I’m disappointed that the freeskiing media is so far sadly absent from this celebration of the women in our community. I hope our big publications, eg. @freeskiermagazine, @powdermagazine, @forecastski & @sbcskier, have something great planned for later in the day!

A photo posted by Roz G (@rozgroenewoud) on

We appreciate the callout, as we didn’t even know it was #IWD2016. Is simply sending out a few messages and images to your fans enough?

IWD is the same day every year but I don’t have it marked in my calendar either. It is one of the things I like about social media–it reminds me of things.

You fixed it right away by posting a bunch articles about women from your archives!

You are right that it shouldn’t just be about a few messages and photos. However, it is good to occasionally have the opportunity to start the conversation, just like Bell’s “Let’s Talk” campaign about mental health doesn’t fix the problems, but it does get people talking about them. My comment today started our conversation, didn’t it? [It certainly did!]

Is this your first knee surgery?

I’m 26 and this is my first ACL surgery. Unusual for a female freeskier. (I had double knee surgery–meniscus repair on both knees–just seven weeks before the Olympics.)

And to make it a full “splosion”, I blew my MCL as well. I also sprained some other ligaments and had some bone bruising. (No meniscus damage this time!)  My surgeon, Dr. Mark Heard, does at least 600 ACL surgeries a year, many on elite skiers. He emphasized that this was a very major knee surgery. I guess I “won” at blowing my knee…

But I think I signed up for this. While I train in the gym and with physios to prevent knee injuries, I knew it could happen with a little bad luck. The ski community understands knee surgeries and I’ve received so many messages of support. My best friends in the ski community have been regularly texting and phoning with support, funny stories, and what to expect each week.

I have a different perspective on it because of my season-ending concussion: last year I didn’t know when/if I would get better and it was way more lonely and scary. It sucks to have any injury that takes you away from your sport and impedes an active life. For me, on a very personal level, this one really sucks because I was in the middle of a comeback from my concussion and my skiing was progressing well. Plus my love for skiing pipe and competing had come back.

Well, damn. I managed to avoid the most classic injury for female skiers–a blown ACL–until my 11th year on tour (I went big and tore my MCL right off too🙄). I’m so so bummed to end my season short as I was making progress every day, feeling so great on my skis, and hadn’t quite finished my previous comeback. But, I’m also so so thankful that I didn’t hit my head again. Compared to brains, injuring knees feels like a luxury because a doctor can actually fix them, tell you exactly how to get better, and when you’ll be able to get back to sport. It’s all about perspective. Thank you to everyone for your support and to Dr. Heard for being the best surgeon/human being out there! This is going to be a long road back but I know that I have the best people in the world to help me do it! ❄️🎿💜@canfreestyleski @mec @coalitionsnow @bernunlimited @bmwcanada #yesplease

A photo posted by Roz G (@rozgroenewoud) on

Do you care to expand on your experience with concussions?

I really should because there are so many issues and misconceptions about concussions.

The focus of my studies has been neuroscience so I know more about the brain than the average person (though there is so so so much more to learn). I thought I knew a lot about concussions but I learned a lot more. There are still more questions than answers about them. And people hold onto old “truths” even though they have been disproven (or never were accurate). We’ve learned more in the last five years about concussions than was known in total previously.

There are lots of misconceptions and I heard a lot of them. A few of the things which were said to me:

“You didn’t pass out so your concussion can’t be that bad.” Passing out or throwing up or whatever immediate symptoms you have isn’t an indication of “how bad” your concussion or brain injury might be. There are many papers written to explain this. One thing to know is that whiplash can cause brain trauma including all the concussion symptoms even if you didn’t hit your head.

“Where you hit your head determines what symptoms you’ll have”. The brain moves inside the skull when there is impact and/or violent swinging of the head (i.e. whiplash). This means that the location where you hit your head does not determine your symptoms.

“You are too emotional with this concussion.” That can be so true. The brain creates our emotions so damaging it can cause emotional disturbances. The incidence of suicide for people with successive brain trauma is very high. Mental health support should often be part of the rehab.

“Got a quick fix for a concussion?” Nope. Sometimes the brain just suddenly fixes itself. And we all know someone who was knocked out cold, came to in the ambulance, and never had another symptom. However, after three weeks of symptoms, it is anyone’s guess when a person will get better and there are so many questions with few answers. I pursued a lot of things, but three different medical professionals were the key to my recovery. But that was my concussion and that combination of rehab might not work for yours…but it might be worth trying if your symptoms are the same. It took me almost eight months to get provisional clearance to ski.

Are concussions an overlooked issue in skiing?

There is still a bit of an attitude that a skier is “badass” if they continue skiing/competing after cracking their helmet. Many years ago, a physio told me there are two injuries in which an athlete should never push through: concussions and torn quad muscles.

Attitudes are changing. For example, the X Games rules and protocol after hitting your head has changed a lot, even since last year. Another example: NSOs like Canada Freestyle have been refining their concussion policies, “back to sport” protocols, and providing education for the past few years.

One thing that could be a concern: with much stricter protocols, some athletes might lie about their symptoms (if they can–it’s not always possible) in order to avoid being benched for so long. It always sucks to miss competitions or opportunities…. It can feel like “it isn’t that bad” but the post-trauma brain most often gets worse before it gets better.

Last time we chatted, you were working on a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Science at Quest University in Squamish. How’s that going?

I graduate in April!! Finally! Eight years is too long to be doing a Bachelor’s degree but the winter sports schedules don’t work well with academic schedules. In action sports, there isn’t really an appreciation of academic pursuits. There is a smattering of other male and female freeskiers who are also getting (or have) university degrees. That is so cool because it isn’t easy to juggle the two, especially if getting both high grades and high results are important to you. Quest University made it possible because it is on the block plan (one course at a time for 3.5 weeks).

I plan on more time in university after this degree because I like learning stuff and I have post-ski career goals. Over the next two years, I’ll write the MCATs plus look at grad school programmes in neuroscience. Other ideas might occur to me along the way. I’ll wait until I retire to begin the next phase–grad school or med school really wouldn’t work with the training/competing schedule of a skier. It will be nice to have a lot more free time over the next few years–to travel, to try new things–though I might miss taking courses so I might find myself back in class.

You mentioned retirement. What factors will be involved in making that decision? When do you foresee that happening?

It is my hope that I’ll come back strong next season and my goal over the next 1.5 seasons will be to qualify for the Canadian Olympic Halfpipe Team for 2018. *fingerscrossed* As that is a huge goal to pursue (especially as I’m just re-learning to walk right now), I’m not thinking about timing for retirement just yet. I do have other goals/dreams I’m looking forward to pursuing but it will be tough to retire from something I love and have done for so long.

Does freeski media need to do a better job of covering women and their stories? Why is it important?

Yes! Because it is 2016! (to paraphrase Canada’s Prime Minister) There are lots of reasons—inclusion, diversity, financial implications to the industry, etc. Most importantly, we all need and deserve heroes that that we can relate to, that don’t make us wish we were something different.

I believe that when a girl sees a strong female athlete, she gets a glimpse of the bravery that lies within her. I know that happened (and still happens) to me.

What advice would you give an editor trying to create more women specific content?

Don’t just write about people who are like you, your own heroes, and your own favourites. They are all great choices but they aren’t the only choices.

#askhermore: don’t ask a female skier anything you wouldn’t ask a male skier unless it is specific to her and/or a female-specific skiing issue.

There are a lot of interesting people, issues, funny things, and even ideas in the freeski community. I think you should always be looking for diverse content that is reflective of the entire freeski community and also the world we live in. At the end of the year, the editor should be able to look at his (maybe her, one day) publication content each year and be able to proudly say that it was inclusive and diverse, covered the events, educated people about safety and key issues, and made a wide range of people more stoked on skiing.

Did you read our latest Q&A with Anna Wilcox?

Of course! Anna is a friend of mine so I wanted to read what she had to say! I enjoyed it! She is a perfect choice for “honourary Canadian”!

None of the questions would offend the #askhermore movement (i.e. they are all questions you might ask a guy) so kudos for that.

What question should we be asking female freeskiers?

What is the biggest deterrent for young girls in becoming freeskiers? And continuing in the sport as they grow up? What can be done about that?

I wonder if it is a question for guys too? I don’t know the current stats on boys who are freeskiing but it seems like fewer are becoming pipe skiers, at least in Canada…

What is the biggest deterrent for young girls in becoming freeskiers? And continuing in the sport as they grow up? What can be done about that?

I suggested this question for other females, not because I have a good answer, but because I am curious what answers they have. It is a dilemma in our ski community and the sports world generally. I’ve read a lot of pieces about this but wonder what is accurate.

I do think that seeing more females freeskiing will attract more females to freeski. I was attracted to freestyle because I watched female moguls and aerials in the SLC Olympics on TV in Quito, Ecuador so my mom found a freestyle club when we moved back to Canada. In Canada, female hockey has exploded with young participants whereas the number of boys playing hockey has diminished. All the media about our successful female hockey team and its players makes it very appealing… I’ve read that this has helped our hockey industry plus created new small businesses making female-specific hockey gear. It is something for the ski industry to remember–they likely aren’t getting their share of the purchasing power of the female population.

Who are three Canadian females we should be writing about?

Kaya.  She is legend status and always has interesting things to say.

Tatum:  everyone is writing about her and her accomplishments but that isn’t a reason not to write about her.

Yuki and Cassie: they’ve had some awesome success this year.

And Maude, Kim, and Dara because they are important in the freeski community. I need to suggest Anna Segal. She is living in Whistler, making the transition from competing to filming–she is another “honourary Canadian”. It would be interesting to know how that is working for a female skier as so few have made that transition.  Really, there aren’t just three. I’m sure I’m forgetting at least one…

What kind of content do you consume?

I follow the ski and snowsports and outdoor media publications all the time through social media. I follow a lot of science, news, puppies and pets, my peers and friends, my heroes, my inspirations. I read and watch what catches my interest. I also try not to always be on my phone scrolling…

I am a reader. I decided to read all the Pulitzer Prize winning novels from the last decade in the fall…I read six and then went back to reading neuroscience for my thesis. Little fact about me is that I love to read to people–fiction, science, anything.

If you had the power to change something about our community, what would it be?

You’re saying I’m to pretend I have real power? Here are a couple of things I’d do:

I’d get the right people talking to each other about the judging for female pipe events. I think female pipe is more difficult to judge because the runs are so different and the strengths and weaknesses of the female skiers are so varied. (It is interesting to watch and analyze events when I’m injured because I’m not as emotionally involved, except as an avid fan.) I know that there will never be full agreement with the judging decisions in any sport–and freeski judges often get it right–but I think that if a few conversations were to be had between the judges and a small group of thoughtful, knowledgeable people, it could be more understandable for everyone and possibly contribute to female progression in pipe skiing.

I’d like to see the ski community and the snowsports industry as a whole become more reflective of our population, in all its diversity, and more tolerant of differences.

If I was to dream of having significant power… I’d also find a group of scientists who’d figure out a way to significantly reduce the number of knee injuries in female skiers. And create a way to prevent a large percentage of concussions in sports.

Of course, if I had magical power, I’d make sure we always had snow at the right times and in the right places.

What is the biggest misconception about the ski industry?

I don’t know what misconceptions there are about the ski industry… misconceptions by whom? I think there are all sorts of misconceptions about sponsorships for skiers–how much they pay, who is getting paid, etc.

Why don’t more skiers openly discuss salaries or contracts?

I don’t think professionals in any field generally discuss their salaries or their contracts. The only compensation packages that are required to be public are those of the executives of publicly-held companies. I realize that high profile athletes often have their team salary made public but not all their endorsements and other income-generating sources.

Do you think that’s an issue?

If you have an agent, they have knowledge of what is reasonable, what to expect, and what some others are making. Pro skiers talk among themselves, share information. I’ve been asked by female freeskiers about what to expect, what is reasonable, and advice.

If you don’t have an agent or anyone to talk to who is knowledgeable, it is important to know that there are a lot of misconceptions about it all. Sponsorship can mean just one pair of skis or a little money plus a bunch of gear or, in rare cases these days, a lot of money plus a lot of gear plus other opportunities.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/07/sports/snowboarding-once-a-high-flying-sport-crashes-to-earth.html

Do you think there are any overcompensated athletes in our industry?

I think that there are inequities in compensation but not that anyone is being overcompensated.

What would you say to those who believe female competition skiers are overpaid?

Hahahahahaha.  So few are paid anything/much at all that it is a ridiculous thing to say. Anyone who says this is either trolling or is clueless. But I’m curious, what kind of people actually think this?

You’d be surprised.

Like people who firmly know how much the women are making, or just people that are guessing?

People that are guessing assuming.

I think it’s easy to overestimate how much people are making–I’ve heard of Redbull deals that are around $2,000/yr. There is a huge range of sponsorships out there.

I did well with Canadian Olympic sponsors. (And “those people” have probably assumed they were worth way more than they were.) I think it was a surprise for some of the male skiers that Olympic sponsors chose to go with me over them, as that would never happen in the ski industry. However, most Olympic “sponsor teams” only wanted one halfpipe skier or even just one freestyle athlete or just one skier.

So, of course, “people making assumptions” could argue that a Canadian freeski guy should have gotten these sponsorships instead of me. I think it comes from a confusion about why people are sponsored, especially with non-endemic companies. Obviously, a big part of it was that I had been on a lot of podiums for a lot of years so had the potential to do well at the Games. But some guys were in that position too. So I think I did well with Canadian Olympic sponsors because I happened to have a good story and I was good at telling it. I also think the reason that I did well was that I’m a nerd and proud of it. :)  It made me different in that stereotype-busting positive way. So I think it is often the whole story that is important because that is how they determine an athlete’s marketability for their company.

How much money, over a career, do you think it takes to become a professional?

A family friend said (a long time ago) that it isn’t the best athletes who win Olympic gold medals but the best athletes who can afford to get there.

I’m sure that is true of becoming a professional freeskier as well. In the early days, I had jobs such as being a hostess in a restaurant, filing clerk, and coaching trampoline. Podium money helped me continue. I have known very talented skiers not able to continue because of finances. My home club (Wild West Freestyle) was at Castle Mountain Resort. Many of the best skiers couldn’t continue because they had to get full-time jobs. When I return there, I see my former teammates ripping around and they still impress me. It is likely even tougher now as there are way fewer ski sponsorship opportunities. Certainly early success can make it easier financially.  

Do you have any advice for those scared to stand up for themselves and speak their mind?

I think everyone has at least one place in their life where they are confident to stand up for themselves and speak their mind. For example, maybe it is with your mom or your sibling or in a class. I think if you use and build on whatever you do in that successful situation, little by little, you’ll find your voice more often.

It is also important to figure out when/where it has any value to stand up for yourself or speak your mind. I am most comfortable one-on-one or addressing issues that affect more than just me. I also like a good email discussion (even with its pitfalls) as it gives me time to form my thoughts. One thing a close friend always asks when I’m struggling with what to say: “what do you want the end result to be?” It helps me focus on what is important. Sometimes I choose to keep quiet when I realize that “speaking my mind” won’t have any positive results.

I speak up easily at university in class, public forums, group meetings, etc. Questioning everything and knowledge-based discussion and debate is encouraged in academic life. I was at a POW seminar recently and some of my ski heroes were there. However, I felt completely at ease publicly asking the speakers/scientists about their data, charts, and conclusions. It felt like a university seminar so I was in my comfort zone.

What personally scares you about speaking up? What do you think others, and women in particular, fear about it?

We all want to be heard. I am comfortable debating an issue or challenging information but it upsets me to be discounted or silenced or criticised on a personal level rather than discussing the issue at hand. In some situations, we can feel that no one is listening. Women, especially, are often “run over” in a group conversation.

Talk to us about skiing versus skiing professionally

We all start out skiing just to ski, don’t we?

My dad wanted my brother and me to ski so he’d always have someone fun to ski with. I know there are parents who want competitors in the family but I don’t think that is common in my generation of freeskiers. My dad was sad that I competed so much as it meant he could rarely ski with me anymore. After the Olympics, we planned a big ski trip–a heli-assisted ski touring trip in Bella Coola. It was with my dad, my godfather, some of my friends and some of his friends. It reminded me of how truly awesome skiing really is. I made a firm decision to make more time to ski for fun, with my brother, dad, and friends, even if I decided to pursue another Olympics. And I’ve done that a lot–living in Squamish makes it so easy!

Any final words of advice?

Not advice, just this:  Freeskiing really is a wonderful sport for girls and women! I often miss those times when I did slopestyle and big air along with halfpipe. They are all so fun! I know reading about all the injuries can make you worried…actually, you can blow your ACL or get a concussion in so many boring ways in daily life… I also thinks it’s super important to encourage girls to spend a little more time getting stronger to help reduce the potential of injuries.  

And what would you like to say to all of those who read this interview?

Wow, you read to the end of it! Gold star! Thanks, Jason, for reaching out on #IWD2016!

A photo posted by Roz G (@rozgroenewoud) on


Other Media:

Teen Vogue: “Professional Ski Roz Groenewoud Opens Up about her Olympic Dreams”
http://www.teenvogue.com/my-life/profiles/2012-11/skier-roz-groenewoud-olympics

Globe and Mail- “Why Heaven Is a Halfpipe for Rosalind Groenewoud”
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/more-sports/above-and-beyond-why-heaven-is-a-halfpipe-for-rosalind-groenewoud/article6971141/?page=all

“The Way Up” presented by Target:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-GveyRSIlW0

Vancouver Sun- “Canada’s Roz Groenewoud Fierce and Fashionable on Superpipe”
http://www.vancouversun.com/sports/Canada+Groenewoud+fierce+fashionable+superpipe/7777377/story.html

Paper Magazine: “Meet Top Female Skier Roz Groenewoud”
http://www.papermag.com/2012/11/skier_roz_groenewoud.php

Fitness Magazine: “Professional Freeskier Roz Groenewoud Teams up with Target and chats about 2014 Winter Olympics”
http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/blogs/fitstop/2012/11/05/fitness/professional-freeskier-roz-groenewoud-teams-up-with-target-and-chats-about-the-2014-winter-olympics/

Stack- “Femme Fearless- Pro Skier Roz G”
http://www.stack.com/2013/08/08/roz-g/

Awards

• 2nd, X Games, Ski Halfpipe, 2014
• 2nd, X Games, Ski Halfpipe 2013
• 2nd, World Cup, Sochi, Russia 2013
• 1st, World Cup finals, Sierra Nevada, Spain 2013

• 1st X Games, Ski Halfpipe, 2012
• 1st Euro X Games, Ski Halfpipe, 2012
• 1st AFP Half PIpe, Overall Ranking, 2012

• 1st FIS World Championships Halfpipe 2011
• 1st Austria World Cup Halfpipe 2011
• 3rd X- Games Halfpipe 2011

• 1st Inaugural Grand Prix Ski Halfpipe, 2010
• Overall AFP World Champion 2010
• 2nd AFP Halfpipe World ranking
• 2nd European X-Games Halfpipe, 2010
• 3rd X-Games Halfpipe, 2010
• 3rd Snow Basin Dew Tour, 2010

• Overall AFP World Champion 2009
• 3rd AFP Halfpipe World ranking
• 1st Whistler Ski Invitational Big Air, 2009
• 2nd Northstar Dew Tour Halfpipe, 2009