One year after death, skier Sarah Burke hardly forgotten at Winter X Games

By Pat Graham

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Jan. 25 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

FILE - In a Jan. 28, 2010, file photo, Sarah Burke, of Canada, reacts after failing to place in the top-three finishers in the slopestyle skiing women's final at the Winter X Games at Buttermilk Mountain outside Aspen, Colo. It's been just over a year since the Canadian freestyle icon's death following a training accident on a halfpipe in Utah. Her friends still half expect her name to be called at Winter X Games and for her to drop in for an amazing run.

David Zalubowski, File, Associated Press

ASPEN, Colo. — For a brief moment, freestyle skier Sammy Carlson thought he caught a glimpse of her in the Winter X Games crowd.

There, standing near the halfpipe she typically dominated, was someone who looked just like the late Sarah Burke. His heart raced — and then quickly sank.

Carlson misses her. They all miss her.

It's been just over a year since the Canadian freestyle icon's death on Jan. 19, 2012, following a training accident nine days earlier on a halfpipe in Utah. Burke's friends still half expect her name to be called at this event and for her to drop in for another amazing run.

After all, this used to be her stage and her time to shine.

Last year at Winter X, her friends skied down a darkened halfpipe with glow sticks above their heads as a tribute to her.

Now, Burke's action-sports family honors her by holding nothing back on the hill and, above all else, living each day to the fullest.

That was the essence of Burke, a pioneer whose passion helped slopestyle and halfpipe skiing become Olympic sports in Sochi next winter.

"Real legends never die," said Carlson, his eyes staring toward the top of the halfpipe. "Her spirit will live on forever."

These days, the itinerary for Rory Bushfield is as simple as this: Do whatever he feels like doing. That's one of the lessons he learned from his late wife.

In the mood to fly his plane? Hop on board.

Feel like hanging out with friends? Call them up.

Want to squeeze in some skiing? Difficult, but hit the slopes, because Bushfield can't imagine giving up skiing — a fondness he and Burke shared.

This is a difficult time of year for Bushfield, because Burke was such a rock star at Winter X, winning four titles in the pipe. At the same time, it's uplifting because he sees the effect Burke had on all the athletes, not just skiers.

"There are so many awesome people at X-Games, and it's incredible how much closer they all are because of Sarah," Bushfield said in an email. "It feels really good to know that because of her, the action sports community is tighter than ever before.

"I want Sarah's legacy to be about inspiration and love; about more people getting outside, challenging themselves, and being kind to others — like Sarah."

The one thing he doesn't want is for competitors to hold back because of her accident.

"The sport has risks, just like every sport in the world does," Bushfield said. "But the industry is doing a great job of keeping things safe."

At Winter X, officials constantly seek out feedback on the condition of the halfpipe from the competitors. If there are bumps in the middle of the run, it's smoothed out. If there's too much invert on the third hit, the problem is fixed.

"That way, when they go up the wall, they know precisely what they're going to have in store for them," said Chris Stiepock, the vice president of X Games events. "So all they need to do is concentrate on the tricks they've learned."

Those tricks, though, are progressing at a rapid rate. More air and more speed just may mean more danger.

Only, the athletes don't see it that way. The sport simply comes with risks.

"We get it and we're passionate about it," snowboarder Kelly Clark said. "We know that it requires risk to do what we do and to do it well."

But that doesn't mean they're reckless.

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