Birk Ruud: Freestyle skiing’s triple threat even fear can’t stop 

The face of freesking's next evolutionary phase, the 21-year-old Norwegian is already known for his effortless blend of natural talent and technical skill. As he continues his battle with fear and adversity, meet skiing’s freshest entertainer. 

By Chloe Merrell
Picture by 2019 Getty Images

When it comes to freestyle skiing, Norway’s Birk Ruud is the complete package.

The 21-year-old is one of a handful of male freeskiers that competes in all three of the sport’s Olympic disciplines: Big Air, slopestyle, and halfpipe, making him a ‘triple threat.’

In the off-season, when shredding up the slopes isn’t an option, the Scandinavian can be seen uploading streams of videos on his social media flashing his aptitude for negotiating the extreme.

Skateboarding, snowboarding, cliff diving, bouncing off the walls in trampoline parks – there’s nothing Ruud won’t try.

While it may look as if the skier doesn’t take life too seriously, Ruud is as fierce as he is fun, and has the silverware to show it.

The first signs of his athletic promise were on display at the Winter Youth Olympic Games 2016 in Lillehammer when he took gold in the freeski slopestyle competition.

When the Norwegian went on to bank consecutive X-Games gold medals in Big Air (2018, 2019) - something only Henrik Harlaut had ever achieved - it became clear to the freestyle skiing world that the star of the next generation was here to stay.

A crystal globe and a world championship slopestyle podium, two further X-Games medals, and several World Cup victories decisively underlined Ruud no longer just as a competitor, but a pacesetter and symbol of freeskiing's progress.

The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in February will be Ruud’s debut Games, and the skier is as hungry and motivated as ever.

Birk Ruud of Norway wins the Men's Ski Big Air final at 2019 Winter X Games
Picture by 2019 Getty Images

Birk Ruud: skiing, stereotypes & the value of fear

When you see videos of Ruud deceptively dressed as an elderly man riding a skateboard and tricking members of the public it’s hard to imagine that one so engaging on social media is also a competitive athlete keen to excel in everything he touches.

Yet that is precisely the skier the man from Bærum is.

Committed to being both a masterful entertainer and pushing the boundaries of possibility, Ruud is aware of those that would label what he does as “crazy” or “reckless.”

However, the young prodigy is keen to emphasise that such thinking comes from a place of misunderstanding because, in reality, everything he does is very considered:

“There are many who think that one can have no fear or barriers to do all that,” Ruud explains to TV2. “I certainly have barriers, but I am very good at dividing up what is scary and difficult.”

“When I put it in perspective, I think it’s good that I’m scared. It just means I’m sharpened and staying focused.”

Not only does Ruud emphasise the mental discipline needed to face his fears before a big competition, but he also stresses the importance of the journey he has been on to be able to compete in the first place:

“People may want to do the same as me,” the skier continued, “it is important to have control over what you do. I’ve been doing all these things since I was four years old. I have spent at least 10,000 hours on a trampoline, and that is what it takes to become a professional.”

If Ruud’s dedication to his sport needed further proof his ambition reveals just that.

“The dream is to win a medal in slopestyle, halfpipe, and Big Air in the Olympics,” the Norwegian told TV2.

And it’s not just on the world’s greatest sporting stage he hopes to achieve that, Ruud has the same intentions for the X-Games, with the additional challenge of pulling it off in the same weekend.

Birk Ruud: life without his father

The year 2021 was a particularly tough time for Ruud.

The summer before, the young skier’s world was turned upside down when his father Øivind shared the news that he was suffering from cancer.

Often on the side of the slopes cheering his son on, the months that followed his father's diagnosis were turbulent for Ruud, who was urged by his father to still compete despite wanting to be by his side everyday:

“Last season was very difficult. I was definitely not too focused on the skiing,” the Norwegian shared with FIS reflecting on how the year came to pass.

“My mind was of course on my family, and I had to take one day at a time. When my father was sick the only thing I wanted to do was to go and see him. My father always wanted me to continue doing what I do and what I love so it was very natural for me to keep skiing.”

Before his father passed away in April 2021, Øivind made sure his son was ready for the newest challenge he was about to undertake.

The freestyle skier had signed up to appear on ’71 Degrees North’ a television show that pushes contestants to their limits as they are tested by nature's extremes. Ruud did not know how to use a compass, so his father taught him how:

“Dad was sitting in the bed in the living room, and I was sitting next to him on the couch,” Ruud explained to VG. “Then we sat there with the card. He set up routes and then I would find a compass course.”

Adjusting to life without his father has been challenging for Ruud, who admits there is also a sense of relief in knowing he is no longer suffering.

Now his focus is on himself and rediscovering his love for what he does best:

"Right now I'm working on myself," Ruud continued to FIS. "I feel like it's always important to make sure you're in a healthy position to be happy doing what you do so that's my main focus at the moment. Just try to be happy and enjoy skiing."

The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic freestyle skiing events will take place from February 3 to February 19. For a breakdown of the schedule featuring all the disciplines see here.

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