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Thursday, December 17, 2009
Updated: January 21, 12:22 PM ET
Burke's Back


Even WX gold medalists have time for manicures. Golden in '09.
Perhaps the most recognized woman in freeskiing, 27-year-old Sarah Burke has hardware from every women's Ski SuperPipe that has run at Winter X: gold from 2007-09 and silver in '05 and '06. At WX14, by the grace of scheduling, she'll have the first crack at the first-ever four-peat in skiing. Skier X competitor Ophelie David will attempt one as well, but Burke's SuperPipe event is held first.

Outside of Winter X, Burke has won halfpipe titles at every major contest, including the U.S. Open, European Open, World Skiing Invitational and the FIS World Championships. She's the first skier to win an ESPY, taking home "Female Action Sports Athlete of the Year" in '07. The first woman to throw a 720, 900 and 1080 in competition, Burke is also one of the only females to appear regularly on film for companies like Warren Miller and Matchstick Productions, where she applies her park skills to backcountry kickers.

Burke returns to Winter X 2010 after suffering a serious back injury in a horrific slopestyle crash at WX13. But in addition to her well-deserved reputation as one of freeskiing's elite women, she's also known for an ability to rally back from crashes that make her peers -- male and female -- wince. I caught up with Burke for a quick one-on-one heading into the winter competition season.

In WX13 Slopestyle, you tried the biggest trick of the comp (a 900 off the 80-foot Money Booter) but came up short and went down hard. What happened?

It had been a tough morning because it was snowing so hard; we had all been having trouble making the landings. When it came to my run, my adrenalin kind of took over and just said, "Go for it." It all happened so fast that I didn't have too much time to think about it, and because I was spinning I didn't see how short I was coming up on the landing until the very last second. At that point I knew things weren't going to end well.

What was your exact injury and what was the recovery like?

I broke the top corner off of my L3 and cracked it down the center. I thought it would heal up fast and that I would be competing a month and a half later, but it took much longer. By the time I was good to go, the season was over. I started skiing again in the summer and it felt great.

What are some of the mental ramifications of taking a big spill like that? Has it been harder physically or emotionally to recover?

It hasn't been too bad. It's all part of the job; everyone gets hurt eventually, and I've been very lucky over the years. It was frustrating not being able to do the things I was used to doing. I had to start in the pool kicking on a flutter board, which was a little boring. Emotionally I am fine, but at the time it was a little harder. I'm not scared to ski or jump at all now, and I look forward to some redemption on that Money Booter at this year's Winter X Games!

When did you get back on skis? How are you feeling right now?

I had a couple days in April, a couple more in July and a few in New Zealand in September. I have all my tricks back and have learned a few new ones. I'm feeling great skiing these days. I still get a sore back from jumping too much or sleeping on my stomach, but nothing I can't live with or work through.

Sarah Burke boosting smoothly with style for days. No wonder she has five WX medals.
You're going for a record four-peat gold. What will it take to win again? Where's the level of women's SuperPipe entering this season?

It has definitely been raised. These girls have been working hard, and I'm looking forward to seeing it at the event. I think we will see a lot more 900s and a few inverts. Back-to-back tricks will be key.

How does the level of women's Ski SuperPipe compare to women's Snowboard Pipe? Who is pushing more?

I think the women snowboarders are killing it right now. Those girls are ridiculous, and I can't wait until our fields are at that level. Torah [Bright], Kelly [Clark], Gretchen [Bleiler] … so impressive! I do however feel that we are stronger in slopestyle. Female slope skiers have not had as many opportunities to showcase their stuff so I think they have had to work harder to get recognized.

What are your goals for the upcoming season? Five years down the road?

I plan to do big events like Winter X Games, the European X Games and Homecoming this year, but I would also like to get in some more filming and shooting. I feel like I have let that be put on the back burner for the past couple years, and I really want to get back into it. Five years down the road? Hopefully I will have an Olympic gold medal and a few more Winter X Games gold in my pocket.