Sarah Burke: Freestyle skiier and pioneer for her sport


Although she had been in a coma for nine days after a fall in training, the death of 29-year-old daredevil Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke on Thursday sent shock waves not only through the global skiing community but among extreme sportsmen and women of every kind. Burke, a role model to women skiers and to the youngsters she trained, was considered one of the world's best female freestyle skiers and was favourite for superpipe gold at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

She, more than anyone else, was the driving force behind getting superpipe skiing – featuring jumps, twists, turns and multiple body revolutions on skateboard-style ramps carved out of snow – accepted as an Olympic sport for 2014. It was, she said, "the fulfilment of a lifelong dream" and she had made the Sochi Games the focus of her training until then.

Adding to the shock of her death was the fact that Burke was a gregarious, blue-eyed blonde beauty with a radiant smile which brought her into much demand as a model for sports clothing and other fashion. Photographed in lingerie for the men's magazine FHM, she was voted by its readers one of the 100 sexiest women in the world in 2006.

She was practising on 10 January for a more immediate event, the Winter X Games which start in Aspen, Colorado, next week, when she landed badly after performing what pipe skiers call a Flat Spin 540 – a 540-degree rotation of the body off the top of the vertical peak of a 22ft-high snow wall at Eagle Superpipe in Park City, Utah.

Although the fall did not look too bad at the time she ruptured a vertebral artery, went into cardiac arrest and lost oxygen to the brain. She was flown to hospital in Salt Lake City, where doctors put her into therapeutic hypothermia to cool the body and brain, but she never regained consciousness. According to a friend of the family yesterday, "according to Sarah's wishes, her organs and tissues were donated to save the lives of others."

She was the defending women's superpipe champion at the Winter X Games, winning gold for the fifth time last year. She was also the first woman to complete a 1,080-degree rotation (three full body twists) in competition.

Sarah Burke was born in Barrie, Ontario in 1982, but raised in a smaller Ontarian town, Midland, where she started skiing while still at school and got her first sponsor when she was racing down moguls at the age of 17. "I was often the only girl at the comps and competed against the boys for the first few years," she said. "Before I knew it I was travelling and competing all over the world. I've taken countless crashes and broken many bones but I love skiing ... and plan to do it as long as I'm enjoying it."

She became one of the first – men or women – to introduce skis into "the pipe," which had developed out of pipe skateboarding and become more famous for its snowboarders. Impressed by how pipe snowboarding had turned people like the American Shaun White from the fringes into the mainstream as extreme sports superstars, she began her campaign to get superpipe skiing into the Olympics. She pointed out that it would require no new infrastructure since the pipe would already be in place for the snowboarding events. The International Olympic Committee finally agreed last year.

Burke married her fellow Canadian freestyle skier Rory Bushfield, from Alberta, in September 2010.

"She was the first woman to try to compete in this sport and did so against the guys," according to her friend, the American freestyle skier Jen Hudak. "Sarah was certainly a pioneer and a large part of why our sport is now in the Olympic Games."

In 2009, Burke broke a vertebra after landing awkwardly while competing at the Winter X Games but she was back to the highest level, and to podiums, within a year. "I plan to stick around for the 2014 Olympics so don't be thinkin' I am going anywhere!" she wrote on her website recently. "I am really looking forward [to] skiing pow [powder] with my friends and pushing my boundaries. I would never have imagined that a girl from little ol' Midland, Ontario, would be where I am today. So always dream big ... you can make it happen."

Sarah Burke, freestyle skier: born Barrie, Ontario 3 September 1982; married 2010 Rory Bushfield; died Salt Lake City, Utah 19 January 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballLatest score and Twitter updates
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'