Hall of Famer
One of the greatest pioneers in the history of Canadian snowsports, Sarah Burke’s popularity and influence transcends winter sports, both defining and elevating the role of women in snowsports.
Sarah’s big dreams in skiing started in Ontario’s Escarpment. From her hometown of Midland, Sarah’s family had her on the slopes by age five, first at Horseshoe Valley, where she would wait until the end of the ski day to jump into the halfpipe (at the time, only snowboarder’s were allowed to ride the resort’s halfpipe). From an early age Sarah had an uncanny ability to jump and maintain complete control while in the air and that ability soon translated over to her skiing.
She earned a spot on the Ontario mogul’s team before becoming a founding member of the national halfpipe team in 1997. Sarah left Midland Secondary school halfway through her senior year and moved to Mammoth, California to pursue a potential career as a pro skier.
In 2001, she won a halfpipe competition at the US Freeskiing Open, and was awarded ESPN’s Female Skier of the Year, and began looking for bigger opportunities. Halfpipe was a relatively new sport and very few women were competing at the time so she would enter men’s competitions (her score would not count officially). Not long after, while still a teenager, she lobbied to have women’s halfpipe included in the Winter X Games. Her persistence paid off and she won her first X Games gold medal in 2003.
From that moment, Sarah was the face of women’s halfpipe skiing, landing sponsorship deals and capturing fans with her incredible skiing skills, charisma, and good looks. This spurred on a generation of hard-charging, talented women in the sport, many of whom look to Sarah as “the one who started it all.”
In 2005, Burke won the first-ever FIS freestyle world championship in women’s halfpipe. She won an impressive four superpipe gold medals and one silver medal at five Winter X Games between 2005 and 2011. Sarah Burke was a giant in the world of skiing; some have said she was to freeskiing what Wayne Gretzky was to hockey, or Michael Jordan was to basketball. She was in a constant pursuit of conquering limits, both on the hill and off it.
Sarah would always push limits and pursue the next opportunity to advance the sport. She was the first woman to land a 720, a 900, and ultimately a 1080-degree full three-revolution spin in competition. In 2007, she won the ESPY award for Best Female Action Sports Athlete. Filmmakers sought her out to appear in countless skiing films. Sarah was in high demand.
But on January 19th 2012 Sarah’s world stopped spinning, when she tragically succumbed to injuries suffered in a training accident in Park City, Utah at the age of 29.
Her accident, and subsequent death, sparked a massive outpouring of grief, one that reverberated far beyond the closely knit snowsports community. Sarah was well known within this community but only in death did one of Canada’s great athletes become a household name in the country.
Sarah Burke was not just a world-class skier and pioneer. She was an entrepreneur, a philanthropist, an activist, and her accomplishments went beyond medals and the halfpipe. She was an inspiration to the country and her legacy lives on through a generation of skiers.
“Sarah, in many ways, defines the sport,” Peter Judge, Freestyle Canada CEO said before her accident. “She’s been involved since the very, very early days as one of the first people to bring skis into the pipe. She’s also been very dedicated in trying to define her sport but not define herself by winning. For her, it’s been about making herself the best she can be rather than comparing herself to other people.”
- First female to land a 720, 900 and 1080 (three full turns) in competition.
- 2001: Named ESPY Female Skier of the Year.
- 2004: Successfully lobbied for the inclusion of women skiers in the ESPN X-Games.
- 2005: Winner – Halfpipe FIS Freestyle World Ski Championships, Ruka, Finland.
- 2005: Halfpipe World Champion
- 2006: Inducted into the Midland Sports Hall of Fame
- Four-time Winter X Games gold medalist
- 2007 ESPY for Best Female Action Sports Athlete
- 2011: Named one of the most influential skiers of the past 35 years (Powder Magazine)
- 2012: Inducted to the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame
- 2014: Awarded the Meritorious Service Cross by Governor General of Canada, David Johnston
- 2014: Inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame
- 2014: Inducted to the BC Sports Hall of Fame
- 2012: Sarah Burke Foundation is founded, to support young winter athletes with financial scholarships.
- 2014: Canada Post releases a commemorative stamp featuring Sarah and others for being “pioneers in winter sports.”
- 2014: Ontario Government renames Highway 93 (which reaches Barrie, Ont., her birthplace) as the Sarah Burke Memorial Highway.
- 2016: Inducted to the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame.
- 2022: Inducted to the Springwater Sports Hall of Fame.
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