Fighting for the Top

Face Shots

Two years ago, sarah burke was an anomaly: a woman freeskier traveling the world to compete against men, a pioneer lamenting the skimpy opportunities for female jibbers. “I love competing with guys,” Burke told a packed press conference after the Core Games in Naeba, Japan. “The lone girl always gets the most attention. But it’s frustrating when you can’t get into a competition because you’re female. I want to try to get some girls’ categories happening.”

Flash forward to 2003: Because the high-flying Canadian has sparked other women to go big, events like the X Games and the U.S. Freeskiing Open now have women’s categories-and, at age 21, Burke is the global face of women’s progressive freestyle. Mission accomplished.

Burke got her start night skiing at Horseshoe Valley, a tiny resort in the heart of Ontario’s corn country, but truly found her calling at 14 when she attended Blackcomb’s SMS Camp on the Horstman Glacier. There, her aggressive style caught the eyes of Canadian freestyle innovators J.P. Auclair, J.F. Cusson, and Mike Douglas. “We always knew she had a natural talent for air that you see in very few women,” says Douglas, who became her mentor. Soon, Burke’s smiles and exploits were appearing in magazines, movies, and ads worldwide.

But the demands of staying in the new school limelight left her bruised and battered. In 2001-2002, she had an up-and-down campaign, losing her absolute supremacy over rising stars like Kristi Leskinen. “When I started competing, every opportunity seemed exciting,” Burke says. “But after a solid year of traveling, I realized how important it was to have more than two nights a month at home.” She moved to Mammoth, California, to recuperate and refocus.

The dedication paid off. Last season, Burke swept virtually every contest she entered and was the odds-on favorite for the finale: the premiere X Games Global Championships Women’s Superpipe. On her first run, she hit trademark grabs, a smooth 540, and an alley-oop 3, but was still a few points shy of France’s Marie Martinod going into the second run. When Martinod slid out, Burke attacked, nailing the only 720 by a woman in the comp-and winning the very event she inspired.

The Burke Bio
Born: September 3, 1982
First Mountain: Horseshoe Valley, Ontario.
Vertical drop: 308 feet.
Latest Mountain: Mammoth, California.
Vertical drop: 3,100 feet.
Hardware: 1st in slopestyle and 2nd in halfpipe at the 2003 U.S. Freeskiing Open; 1st at the 2003 World Skiing Invitational Women’s Superpipe; 1st at the 2003 Orage Masters of Freeskiing; 1st at the inaugural X Games Global Championships Women’s Ski Superpipe; 2001 ESPN Female Skier of the Year.
Suicidal Tendencies: “What struck me most about her was the fact that she would not give up until she had something dialed,” says mentor Mike Douglas. “Sometimes we’d have to make her stop so she wouldn’t kill herself.”
Dumbest thing in skiing? “Ratio of males to females.”
Coolest thing in skiing? “Ratio of males to females.”