I recently had the chance to speak with Sarah Burke about her skiing history, hopes for the upcoming Winter X Games and skiing's potential inclusion in the 2014 Winter Olympics, among other things.
Burke was the first competitive female freestyle skier and has been a true pioneer in the sport. She was the first skier to ever win an ESPY and has been nominated for Female Action Sports Athlete of the Year twice.
The high-flyer has also three-peated at the X Games, winning gold in the half pipe from 2007-2009. She is also the first woman to have landed a 720, 900 and 1080 on skis.
Below is the full transcript of the interview with this wonderful person. If you're curious, I know she's a wonderful person because she skipped the ESPY ceremony last year to participate in the Goodwill Tour in the Middle East.
Adam Fromal: I wanted to start off talking a bit about the upcoming Winter X Games. They're going to be held Jan. 27-30 in Aspen, so they're pretty close.
Sarah Burke: I'm really excited to get competing again. The X Games is always the biggest and best event of the season, so I can't wait to get back into the swing of things. I had some surgery on my shoulder back in the fall, and I had to take some time off, but I'm up on the hill right now trying to get it done.
AF: How's the shoulder feeling?
SB: It's feeling awesome! It's feeling really great. I was really good and patient with it and waited almost until six months, so I don't have any worries or concerns about it right now.
AF: So what are your expectations this year for the events?
SB: Well, I guess I try to go in with low expectations, because then you're not disappointed, right? But personally, I just want to ski my best. I want to land a clean run and do something different, something new that I haven't done in previous years. So hopefully I can get some new tricks going and have a great run.
AF: Are we going to see another 1260 attempt?
SB: Well this year I'm actually not going to do slopestyle, going to take a step back from that and just focus on half pipe. I just found that it was a little busy for me, so I'm just going to do half pipe. And I don't know if we'll see a 1260 in the pipe, but hopefully a 10.
AF: Now I've always really enjoyed watching the X Games on TV and I'm sure part of the fun for you has to be just being there and getting to watch all the events. Are there any particular favorites?
SB: I love watching the girls snowboarding. It's always good to get up there and support the female athletes, so that will be fun. Girls slopestyle for skiing, I'm pretty excited to watch it. And the guys too!
Everything is fun there; you can't just pick one thing that you like to watch. It's the X Games. It's all a blast.
AF: What about other competitors, both on the male and the female side. Are there any favorites?
SB: Well, I do like the Canadian team, not to be biased. They've been really strong so far this year; they've pretty much swept the podium. So I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that they do really well too.
AF: Now I hear you're also going to be working as a reporter during the ESPN telecast. What do you expect that to be like? Have you done something like that before?
SB: Yeah, I did it last year and it was really interesting. I'm used to always being on that athlete side where you're really focused and that's it. This was something that was a little out of my realm. It was pretty cool. It was a little bit more pressure, but I enjoyed it and I definitely want to do more of it.
AF: On a slightly different subject, I just wanted to talk with you about the IOC's decision (whether or not to add freestyle skiing as an event) for the upcoming Olympics. Any inside information on what that decision could be?
SB: I wish! Actually, it's looking really good. I think the last time they had a vote was back in June, and it was 118 votes yes to three no...I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Hopefully we find out in April.
AF: Is there anything you can do to try to influence that even more in your favor?
SB: Well we have World Championships coming up right after X Games, and that will be in Utah. So we're just all going to ski our best and put on a good show, and hopefully they'll see that and recognize it and want to get us in there.
AF: Looking back, it's pretty incredible how popular the sport has become so quickly. Just a while back you were the first and only female competitor, and now you might be watching it become an Olympic event. What's it been like to be part of that development?
SB: It's been really special and I'm very thankful that I've been able to have this experience for sure. I mean, yeah, there were a lot of frustrating times back in the beginning when it was just me, and that's part of it. But to see how many girls are out there competing now and learning the sport, it's something pretty awesome. It's been really cool and I'm happy to see the progression of it. It couldn't be better.
AF: When did you know for sure that this was what you wanted to do with your life?
SB: Well, I mean, it's hard to say. I always loved skiing from the time I was little, and I guess when I was skiing moguls and parks started popping up here and there I started skiing them right away, and it was my favorite thing to do, to be in the air and jump.
Maybe around 17 or 18. It was a dream and it was kind of starting to come true. Still, I can't believe where I am today and everything I'm getting to do. It's been a wild, wild ride.
AF: Was there any trick along the way that when you first tried it, you were like, "I can't believe I just did this!?"
SB: Well, I guess even my first 360 was like that. I remember spending a night with my friend from school doing 360s off a mogul over and over and over and over and then finally getting it. Every trick is like that. You always dream it up in your head, and you have to know you can do it before you actually try. But the feeling of actually landing it never gets old.
AF: You were the first one to land a 720, a 900 and a 1080. Are those some of your proudest accomplishments on the slopes?
SB: Yeah, definitely. I like pushing myself and taking things to a new level, so hopefully, we'll just keep that going.
AF: And when you've been off the skis, what've been some of your favorite parts of this incredible journey?
SB: Well the travel has been amazing. Of course it's tiring sometimes, but it's such an adventure and I've gotten to go to so many different countries through skiing. And now I'm at a point where I'm trying to take a couple days on either end of the trip and enjoy it a little bit more, see the country. But the people you get to meet are amazing and the events you get to go to. It's pretty incredible.
AF: Any one particular place in the world that is just truly special to you from a skiing perspective?
SB: Well, home is always my favorite place because it is home. I know the terrain at Whistler really well, and when I go on those powder days, I'm lucky enough to be able to call it home now. But there's a lot of crazy places out there. Japan is incredible; very different than anywhere I've ever been. I'm always on the lookout for new places.
AF: Any idea what you would have done if skiing wasn't an option?
SB: It's a good question because I've been doing it for so long that I don't know. I decided to take a year off after I graduated high school to ski, and then I never really went back. I don't know where I would be. I hope somewhere really great. I think my choice now, where I could see myself going, is a lot different than what I would have done right out of high school.
AF: I've always really enjoyed watching, but I've never actually had a chance to get on skis myself. I might get to go soon with some friends, so any tips for a beginner from an expert?
SB: Well first, yeah, you've definitely got to get out there! It's so much fun!
Start slow, don't think that you're a champ right away because that'll get you in trouble. You'll probably pick it up pretty easily. Just be nice and forward on your boots, never sitting back. And just make sure you have fun. It's totally cool to crash. I crash all the time. If you're crashing, you're learning, I like to say.
AF: Anything else you'd like to say about the upcoming X Games or the Olympic decision?
SB: For the X Games, tune in; it's going to be so much fun. This year is going to be the best year yet. So tune in, come out to Aspen, whatever you can do. And everyone keep their fingers crossed for the votes to come through with a yes for us.
AF: For sure. Thanks so much for your time Sarah, it was good to talk to you.
SB: Yeah, nice to talk to you too. Have a good one.