Q&A: Sarah Burke
December 1, 2011
Freestyle skiing looks dangerous as hell. Ever injured yourself? Broken hands, ribs, nose. Torn-up knees. I’ve knocked myself out a few times. And my shoulder kept popping out, so I had to have surgery. The worst was at the X Games in Aspen. It was a snowy day, really slow. I didn’t get up enough speed and landed short on a 75-foot jump. I broke my L3 on impact. So, yeah, I’ve had my share.
Do you train hard year-round? I skied in Chile this summer, the glacier at Whistler till July, Chile again, New Zealand in October, trampoline camp in Toronto.
Do you make your livelihood mainly through prize money? Sponsors pay you a retainer and a travel budget—the contest money is a bonus. You get $25,000 for a first at the X Games, and sponsors chip in with victory incentives. It’s nothing like golf or tennis, but you can do well at the sport now.
Do you still get butterflies? Always—you’ve got to be nervous. I usually screw up the first runs and then have to nail it on the last one. That really gets the butterflies going. I’m not sure why I have that pattern—maybe I just like stressing my parents out.
Were they the ones who turned you on to skiing? They were both ski racers through college. I grew up in Midland, Ontario, and I liked flipping and jumping as a kid. Then I saw boys in the freestyle club doing moguls and 360s and knew that’s what I wanted to do. I first came out to summer camp at Whistler when I was 14.
Did you set out to crack what was then a boys’ club? Well, yeah, I didn’t like it that I wasn’t allowed to compete. I’d watch the guys and say to myself, “Why can’t I enter this?” I knew I could beat half the guys out there.
Which of your accomplishments are you proudest of? With X Games, I was forerunning for years, always fighting, never taking no for an answer, until we finally got to the point where both sports—slopestyle and half-pipe—get the same prize money as the men. I’m proud of that. Winning my first X Games, then coming back and winning again last year—that was really important to me.
Do you think about life after skiing? I’ve done some commentating for ESPN, and I work with Roxy, my major sponsor, helping with design. We were aiming to get into the Olympics here, in 2010, but it’s now set for Sochi. Our sport will be part of the next Winter Games.
Is the plan to win gold in Russia? Definitely.