To fully understand the significance of Sarah Burke’s freestyle skiing career and the reverence in which she is held within the sport, one needed only to witness half-pipe events at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. Her name seemed to be on everyone’s lips, hanging in the air like the competitors brushing the sky.

Half-pipe skiing events were included for the first time on the Olympic docket in 2014 after Burke, a superstar in her beloved sport, successfully lobbied the International Olympic Committee to have them added. It had been her dream.

But sadly Burke wasn’t there to witness this historic moment. In 2012, she tragically succumbed to injuries suffered in a training accident in Utah at the age of 29.

In Sochi, teammates, competitors, and friends honoured Burke’s memory in a multitude of ways. Burke’s ashes were spread high on a mountain above the Olympic half-pipe course and near the Olympic rings. Athletes dedicated their performances to her. Tearful Canadian teammates were asked how Burke would have done in Sochi had she been given the opportunity to compete.

“She would have won,” said Roz Groenewoud.

Most memorably, a crew of two dozen course workers grooming the half-pipe after the final run glided into a giant heart formation on the snow in tribute to her. There was barely a dry eye anywhere.

Raised in Midland, Ontario, as a child, Burke first gravitated towards figure skating. It soon became obvious to all that young Sarah had an uncanny ability to jump and maintain complete control while in the air. That ability soon translated over to her skiing, which Burke learned with her family when just five years old.

She became interested in moguls skiing and competed for Team Ontario before switching to freestyle. She became a founding member of the Canadian national half-pipe team in 1997. In 2001, she won the half-pipe competition at the US Freeskiing Open, was awarded ESPN’s Female Skier of the Year, and began looking for bigger opportunities. There weren’t many available then.

So she competed against men in big air competitions when there was no category for women and then became the political force behind getting women’s events into the X-Games for the first time in 2005 and, of course, later the Olympics. For much of the latter part of her career, Burke resided in Squamish with her husband and fellow skier Rory Bushfield.

In 2005, Burke won the first-ever FIS freestyle world championship in half-pipe. She amassed a remarkable four superpipe gold medals and one silver at five Winter X Games between 2005-11. In 2011, she also took gold in the event at Winter X Games Europe.

Her accomplishments went beyond medals too. Always pushing back limits, Burke 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.

After her death, the Sarah Burke Foundation was formed to help fund opportunities for girls skiing to ensure her legacy and memory lives on.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.