Instead of just aiming for gold, snowboard champ Enni Rukajärvi has her mind set on enjoying snowboarding and continuing to improve along the way – and savouring the experience of getting to travel the world. [Editor’s note: After this article was published, Rukajärvi won the silver medal in the Slopestyle event at the Sochi Olympics, on February 9, 2014.]
Snowboarding today forms one of Finland’s most popular winter sports. Many ski resorts offer a long training season and great facilities for snowboarders. Successful athletes are also doing their part to boost the snowboarding craze. Finland is home to many snowboarding world champions, and recent Olympics have seen Finnish medalists in the men’s half-pipe event (Markku Koski took bronze in 2006 and Peetu Piiroinen won silver in 2010).
However, top-class snowboarding in Finland is not dominated by men. One of the brightest stars of the current team is Enni Rukajärvi, a 23-year-old from the northeastern Finnish town of Kuusamo. She won gold medals in the slopestyle event in both the world championships and the X Games in 2011 and also placed first in the final results of the World Snowboard Tour in 2010.
Finland has room for snowboarders
Rukajärvi has lots of good things to say about her home country as a snowboarding location: “Although the number of venues is not so large, in Finland it’s nice to have a lot of space to yourself on the hills and not have to wait so long for your turn.” Her home resort, Ruka, is also her favourite location in Finland.
Regarding the Finnish summer, Rukajärvi says that there are several ways to practise after the snow melts: “There is actually a ski tunnel with a half-pipe that is open all year round at Vuokatti Sports Centre in Sotkamo. It’s also possible to practise jumping from water ramps, although that’s more useful for skiers and not as practical for snowboarders.”
She adds that a lot of preparation can be done in the gym during the off-season so that every muscle is ready for the strain of the competition season.
When she’s not on the hill, Rukajärvi says that she spends “too much time” on her computer, watching videos and keeping in touch with friends. Luckily, she also has time to do other sports besides snowboarding. “And every time I go to a new location, it’s nice to go around and see the sights.”
Women’s snowboarding needs more attention
Despite great expectations for the current season, her eyes are primarily set on other things than medals: “The main things for me are to be able to ride as much as possible and improve my versatility as a snowboarder.”
She says that triumph on a personal level is more important than the competition as a whole. She is not entirely happy with women’s position in snowboarding: “There is a growing interest in women’s snowboarding, but it’s still men who grab most of the attention.”
Since snowboarding is often considered an extreme sport, you might think that all snowboarders are completely fearless. However, this is not the case for Rukajärvi. “Going for a big jump for the first time or performing in bad weather conditions is sometimes a bit scary,” she says.
Asked if she has any routines when preparing for a descent, she responds, “At the top of the hill, I always tighten the straps just before hitting the slope.”
By Kasperi Teittinen, December 2013