Crowned snowboarding’s first Olympic champion at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Karine Ruby enjoyed a massively successful career, but was tragically killed while working as a mountain guide on Mont Blanc in May 2009.
A champion’s destinyBorn and brought up in Argentiere, Chamonix, just a stone’s throw from the Grand Montets cable car, which sits in the shadow of the Aiguille Verte and runs to one of the world’s most beautiful high-mountain and ski areas, Karine Ruby was always destined to be a good snowboarder. That she became a great one was down to hard work, passion and dedication. Her childhood dream was to be a mountain guide, one she pursued while taking up the new discipline of snowboarding on the gently undulating Les Chosalets run situated right behind her family home.
She started competing at the age of 14, undaunted by the fact that her opponents were all boys. Drawing on her technical ability, mental strength and an extraordinary desire to push herself to the limit, the girl from Chamonix enjoyed a phenomenal run of success between 1996 and 2005, scoring a record 67 Snowboard World Cup victories in all disciplines, and also winning two Olympic medals, six world titles, six crystal globes for topping the overall World Cup standings, and 13 other snowboard trophies. A historic firstWhen snowboarding made its Olympic debut at Nagano 1998 the first event at the Kanbayashi Snowboard Park, on 12 February, was the women’s giant slalom. Riding in heavy snowfall, 20-year-old Ruby opened out a big lead on the first run. Adopting a more cautious approach on her second run, she saw fellow Frenchwoman Isabelle Blanc notch a faster time at the split only to miss the 36th and final gate, allowing Ruby to win by 1.83 seconds, ahead of Germany’s Heidi Renoth, and become her sport’s first Olympic champion.
Silver in Utah Ruby continued her global domination of snowboarding by winning golds in the parallel slalom, giant slalom and snowboard cross at the 2001 World Championships in Madonna Di Campliglio (Italy). At the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City she made it to the final of the parallel giant slalom but lost out on gold to her compatriot Blanc.
No luck in Turin Following the 2002 Games, Ruby turned her hand to snowboard cross, a discipline in which she enjoyed yet more success and which was included on the Olympic programme at Turin 2006. In what was to be her final appearance at the Games, however, the French snowboarder was eliminated in the quarter-finals.
Tragedy in the mountainsDeciding to call time on her competitive career, Ruby threw herself into the profession she had dreamed of pursuing as a young girl, becoming a mountain guide with a leading tour company in the Chamonix region. On 29 May 2009, while descending the Glacier du Géant at an altitude of 3,300 metres, Ruby fell 20 metres into a crevasse and was killed. She was 31. The whole of French sport, and particularly its mountain sports community, mourned the loss of one of their great champions. Paying tribute to her daughter, Ruby’s mother Claude said: “You were at one with the mountain. And like all burning passions, it consumed you whole.”