Keith Johnson, Deseret News
Jen Hudak

SALT LAKE CITY — It might be difficult for some to understand why a woman would devote her life to pursuing a place in a sport that didn't officially exist.

But Salt Lake City's Jen Hudak understands.

She understands why a woman would want to shred a superpipe on skis. She understands why a woman would fight for her place in that male-dominated universe. And she understands that halfpipe skiing might not be an Olympic sport were it not for the relentless efforts of Candadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke.

"She was the first woman to try to compete in this sport and did so against the guys," said Hudak, who is a member of the U.S. Freestyle Team with hopes of competing in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia.

Burke was critically injured in an accident during a training session in the superpipe at Park City Mountain Resort on Tuesday. She underwent brain surgery on Wednesday and remains in critical condition at the University of Utah Hospital.

"Sarah remains in critical condition in the Neuro Critical Care Unit", said neurointensivist Safdar Ansari, M.D., who is overseeing her care. "With traumatic brain injury, our care is focused on addressing the primary injury and preventing secondary brain damage, as well as managing other injuries sustained at the time of the accident; all of which requires close monitoring and intensive care. At this moment, Sarah needs more time before any prognosis can be determined."

Halfpipe skiing was accepted into the Olympic family last spring, along with women's ski jumping. Hudak said Burke's efforts — on and off the snow — were instrumental in the sport's acceptance into the games.

"Sarah was certainly a pioneer and a large part of why our sport is now in the Olympic Games," Hudak said.

Like Burke, Hudak said women have struggled for acceptance within the sport, including working for the same number and types of competitions that men enjoy.

"This sport is male-dominated and I think that has made the women's free-ski community a bit closer," said Hudak. "Together we felt that we could prove to everyone that we were talented and fun to watch. That's what this sport is about — performing and loving what you do. Actions speak louder than words. Sarah embodied all of that and was our leader in doing so."

Hudak has known Burke personally for the last eight years, and both women have won just about every competition there is, with Burke being the reigning Winter X Games champion.

"We have always had an extremely healthy rivalry and have pushed each other hard over the years," said Hudak. "Sarah is one of the sweetest people that I know, softly spoken, kind-hearted and always smiling."

Hudak said Burke's accident reminds skiers that risk is part of the equation in the sport they love.

"Top freeskiing athletes take calculated risks everyday," Hudak said. "We know what we are dealing with and are highly trained in doing so, but accidents happen. I wasn't at the scene when Sarah fell, but from the sounds of it, hers was a fall that happens everyday in our sport. Maybe that's scarier than getting hurt on a double-cork."

email: [email protected] twitter: adonsports