Women of Winter X
Women's skiing and snowboarding has come a long way since the events were first added to the Winter X Games program (in 1997 for snowboarding, '99 for skiing).
Just take a look at the level of tricks. While 540s used to win women's halfpipe contests, in 2011, Kelly Clark landed the first 1080 in a women's contest at Winter X Aspen to secure the gold in Snowboard SuperPipe. This year, Clark and skier Brita Sigourney stuck 10s in the pipe, while skier Kaya Turski won her third Slopestyle gold at WX Aspen with the first switch 1080 landed in the history of women at Winter X.
"Winter X Games continuously has one of the best half pipes in the world, so it makes sense that most of the athletes ride and feel their best while at X Games," says snowboarder Maddy Schaffrick. "The women's snowboarding field is becoming progressively more talented in the pipe. Women are throwing 900s and 1080s now. It's going to be exciting to watch it continue."
Then look at the depth of talent. Once just a small handful of competitors, today's field is stacked with dozens of elite-level athletes, any of whom could grab gold. "I definitely feel like the sport's on a fast track," said Kaya Turski after winning in Aspen. "I think everyone's getting really serious about it. I've never seen the level so high."
Says Kristi Leskinen, a pioneer in women's freeskiing who was among the first women to compete in park-and-pipe contests, "Women's skiing has progressed a lot in the 12 to 13 years I've been a part of it. Not just the level of riding, but the numbers of participants. One needs the other, and it's been really fun watching the sport evolve."
As for who's going to win at the upcoming Winter X Tignes, taking place March 14-16 in Tignes, France? "I have no predictions for who will win in Europe," says slopestyle skier Anna Segal. "All the girls are doing so well that I think the podium could be anyone's for the taking."
All of this progression can be attributed to the many women who've pushed freeskiing and snowboarding to where they are today, but there's one person in particular who's left a profound mark on the sports, and of course, that's Sarah Burke, who started competing in freeski contests in 1999, helped advocate for freeskiing's addition to the Olympics and was the first woman to land many of today's now-customary tricks. The freeskiing pioneer passed away Jan. 19, just a week before Winter X Games Aspen, where she was planning to defend her Ski SuperPipe gold. "[Sarah] pushed the sport in many ways, paved the way for women's freestyle skiing," says skier Mirjam Jaeger.
Burke will in the hearts of all of the competitors as they head to Tignes, France, but especially with the women, for many of them wouldn't be where they are today if it weren't for Burke.
"Sarah deserves a massive amount of credit for getting the sport to where it is now," says Leskinen. "Every girl in the field at major contests today was inspired by her somewhere along the way. She made young girls aspire to be her, and that is a huge part of why we have such a depth of talent today."