LINCOLN -- From an early age, Annalisa Drew dreamed of competing in the Olympics ... as a figure skater.
Then came the weekend her cousins introduced her to freestyle skiing on the halfpipe at Loon Mountain, and Drew was hooked. Good-bye, ice skates; hello, twin-tip skis.
By the age of 13, the Andover, Mass., resident was a member of the Loon Freestyle Team, and by the 2011-12 season, she was a regular on podiums at national freeskiing competitions.
Now 20, Drew is set to compete in the first women's freeskiing halfpipe event in Olympic history Thursday at the Sochi Winter Games.
And it all began with Loon Mountain and the switch from skating to skiing.
"The coolest thing about the ski team was that I was still able to ski with my cousins, wear what I wanted and use the run I wanted. I never spent days memorizing a run like you would a skating performance," Drew said.
"Although I love skating, figure skating does not fit my personality. I wasn't a fan of wearing glitz and glitter or skating to music that didn't have words. This is what led to my complete transfer over from glitz to 'steezy' freeskiing. Freeskiing is a better way for me to express my style and personality."
Driven to succeed
"Steezy" is X-Games slang combining the words "stylish" and "easy." It describes the way Drew appears on the slopes but belies the hard work that led to her success after her relatively late introduction to the Loon Freestyle Program.
"I've coached hundreds of kids, but one thing that stuck out about Annalisa is, I remember all she wanted to do was spin and learn a 360, and she would go out there and would just 'huck' herself all day long," recalled Mike Conn, the program's director. "It was not pretty, and it was a steep learning curve, but she would go out and try and try and try and hammer herself, and she just kept getting up and doing it again.
"Looking back, and seeing where she is today, I've seen kids with a lot more ability and more gifted athletes, but it goes to show you that what matters is determination to get up from those falls and stick it through. And look where she is now."
More NH training
Drew entered the New Hampton School for her sophomore year and was able to ski every day as a member of Waterville Valley's Black and Blue Trail Smashers team. As a senior in 2011, she won her first NorAm title and received an invitation to a World Cup event in La Plange, France.
"Going to that World Cup was amazing," Drew said. "It was inspiring to compete with athletes that I had looked up to and idolized. I wanted even more to be a better skier after that World Cup."
The following season, she placed fourth in her first Dew Tour, and she's remained one of the country's top freeskiers — in slopestyle as well as halfpipe — ever since. She entered the Olympics ranked eighth in the world in the halfpipe.
Drew, who now trains in Vail, Colo., will have a large cheering section at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, the venue outside Sochi where freeskiing and snowboarding competitions take place. Her parents, grandparents and three siblings all are in Russia to see her Olympic debut.
"I'm so lucky to have family and extended family that is so supportive and excited for me," Drew said. "Without my family, I would never have been able to accomplish my goal of making Team USA."
Back at where it all started, Loon Mountain will hold a viewing party in the resort's Paul Bunyan Room Friday at 8 p.m., when NBC is scheduled to show a recorded broadcast of that morning's competition. As she prepared for the biggest moment of her athletic career, Drew was confident her performance would be worthy of prime time.
"All of my work over the last seven years has led me to this moment," she said.