She was born in Ontario, lived in California, moved to Whistler and then settled in Squamish with her husband, but Whistler was truly Sarah Burke's home.
And on April 10 she's coming home — in spirit. Family and friends have organized a Celebration of Life for Burke, to take place at 8 p.m. in Village Square with slides, video and memories shared by friends who knew her the longest.
She was just 14-years-old when she attended her first Momentum Ski Camps as a mogul skier. And as the years passed she changed from being a "camper" to a coach. It's where she met her husband Rory Bushfield, and where she learned all the tricks that made her legend even before the sport of freeskiing included categories for women.
"It's awesome — people don't want to forget her, I think," said John Smart, a founder and owner of Momentum, who had known Burke for over 15 years. The level of respect and attention that Burke continues to receive around the world has gratified him.
"I was just at the B.C. Freestyle Championships at Mt. Washington and they had a moment of silence for Sarah that was just really, really special. All the kids and everyone were silent, and the woman in front of me was in tears — she knew Sarah a little, but couldn't understand it herself. She was in tears when she heard the news, and is in tears every time she hears about it. It's really impacted people in a big way.
"We don't want to forget her — she's too good."
At Momentum, there are also tributes in the works. Starting this year the camp is planning to offer a "Spirit of Sarah" sponsorship, which will go to a girl that they feel best reflects "the strengths and characteristics of Sarah," said Smart.
As well, organizers are going to rename their Happy Camper award, handed out each week to a different camper, the Spirit of Sarah Award. They're even planning on bringing back a wall ride that Burke liked, and looking to planning to cover it with a picture of Sarah riding the same wall.
"Her story is such a good story that it's important to tell it and keep telling it as an inspiration to everyone," said Smart.
Burke, 29, passed away on Jan. 17, a week after a crash at an event in Utah left her in a coma. A funeral was held afterwards for family and close friends, but a public Celebration of Life was delayed until near the end of the ski season so freeskiers around the world could attend and pay their respects — the World Skiing Invitational/Association of Freeskiing Professionals (AFP) World Championships take place April 19 to 22, marking the official end of the season.
The story of her death received global attention, and a fund set up to help cover her hospital bills raised well over $300,000 — more than enough money — within days of going live on the Internet. "Remember Sarah" and "Believe In Sarah" stickers contributed over $15,000 to the total, and have been seen on athletes' gear at every major ski event this year.
Already famous in the skiing world, Burke has been celebrated as one of the most influential athletes in her sport — as well she is credited with helping to bring ski halfpipe to the Olympics. She was also one of the winningest athletes in the sport of freeskiing, and as recently as 2011 won the superpipe title at X Games despite missing out on training and competitions that season due to a shoulder injury.
As competitive as the athletes may be on the snow, Burke's passing showed the rest of the world how close the skiers on the pro tour really are. No matter where in the world they travelled, they said, it always felt like home because their family travelled with them — and losing Burke was like losing a family member.
In that context it's fitting that the biggest trophy in pro skiing will now be named for Burke, to be presented for the first time at the World Skiing Invitational/AFP World Championships. The AFP confirmed this week that the top awards for overall champion will now be known as the Sarah Burke Trophy, recognizing the singular impact she's had on her sport.
The AFP sanctions over 100 events, ranging from X Games to the Dew Tour to the World Skiing Invitational. Titles are awarded in slopestyle, superpipe and big air, as well as an overall title as many of the athletes competed in two or more events.
"The world lost an incredible human being in Sarah Burke," said Chris Schuster, co-founder and president of the AFP. "She was more than a pioneer in freeskiing, she was an inspiration and motivation for following your dreams and believing in what you can accomplish.
"Sarah was such a huge part of the AFP, and in freeskiing in general, and we would not be where we are today without her contributions. Naming the World Champion trophy after her seemed like a very small way to honour her and secure her legacy within our sport forever."
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