Freestyle ski champ dies week after injury
January 19th, 2012
04:00 PM ET

Freestyle ski champ dies week after injury

[Updated at 4:44 p.m. ET] A Canadian freestyle skier who was seriously injured during practice in Utah last week has died, her family said Thursday in a statement released by her publicist.

Sarah Burke, 29, died Thursday morning at the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City, where she had been treated for injuries she suffered during a training run at Park City Mountain Resort's superpipe.

Burke reportedly fell while trying a trick and "whiplashed" onto her side at Park City Mountain Resort's superpipe on January 10, officials have said. She ruptured a vertebral artery in the fall, leading to an intracranial hemorrhage that caused her to go into cardiac arrest at the accident site, according to a statement released by her publicist, Nicole Wool.

Emergency workers gave her CPR at the site, during which time she remained without a pulse or voluntary breathing. She was taken to a hospital, where she was put on life support and underwent successful surgery to repair the artery - one of four major arteries supplying blood to the brain - the next day, according to the statement.

But after the surgery, tests determined she suffered "irreversible damage to her brain due to lack of oxygen and blood after cardiac arrest," the statement reads.

"Sarah passed away peacefully surrounded by those she loved," according to the statement.

Burke, a native of Ontario who lived in British Columbia, was 11th in the Association of Freeskiing Professionals overall rankings last year. She won four gold medals in the Winter X Games, the event she was training for at the time of last week's accident. She also won gold at the 2005 world championships in Finland and in 2007 received ESPN’s Best Female Action Sports Athlete award.

Burke is considered a pioneer of freestyle skiing and was a major force in getting the ski halfpipe event added to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Peter Judge, CEO of the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association, said last week.

The Canadian Freestyle Ski Association said on its Facebook page Thursday that it "sends its heartfelt condolences to the family of Sarah Burke."

Last week, Judge told reporters in a conference call that he didn't think the incident would damage the reputation of a sport that had just been added to the Olympic lineup.

"I think the sport in general is extremely safe. Obviously, there are inherent risks in any sport," he said. "Safety and athlete safety is one of the things that is paramount within our sport."

He added that often, because of the perceived dangers of the sport, those involved with it go above and beyond to ensure safety. He said there hadn't been a major freestyle incident in nearly 35 years. Still, Judge said, they would be looking at what happened to cause the accident to see whether anything needed to be reexamined.

"When there's an injury," Judge said last week, "you always do a full audit to understand what the root cause is and whether you can make anything safer."

People flooded Burke's Facebook page with messages of support after her fall. Her family, which thanked her friends and doctors for their care, said it "was moved by the sincere and heartfelt sympathy expressed by people inspired by Sarah from all around the world," and that a public celebration of her life would be held in the coming weeks.

The family, noting that it has received many inquiries from people who wanted to make a contribution in Burke's memory, said people could go to for more information.

soundoff (387 Responses)
  1. Bill

    What a sad story. Condolences to the family. It is an extreme sport however and tragic accidents do happen. Look at big wave surfing for example. Many people have died doing that. But they pave the way for future innovation to prevent this kind of thing.

    Everything comes with a risk. Sad day for the sport.

    January 19, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Kristal

    my heart aches 4 her and the family who loved her- Rest in Peace- Canada Has lost a Great Champion

    January 19, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Alex

    If she had survived, it sounded as if she'd have had major brain damage, so it was a no-win for her. Very sad news and I hope there's some way to ban that troll (allegedly from Texas) who posted that tasteless comment earlier from ever posting here again.

    January 19, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • playfair

      They probably waited a few days to see if there would be any chance at all. Every day the chances get slimmer to even wake up. My father had a similar damaged brain from lack of oxygen.....we waited several days before making the heartbreaking decision to turn off the machines. If he had woke up there was a good chance that he would not recognize us or even be able to dress himself. Sounds like this family did the same thing and then did what they had to do. Terrible. I was hoping she would come through.

      January 19, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. regis123

    Very sad commentary regarding this beautiful woman. Terrible accidents occur in extreme sports, unfortunately. Good thoughts to husband and family.

    January 19, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ____________________-

    Heatbreaking. God bless her.

    January 19, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
  6. marv

    So sad. I thought she would get better. Was not expecting to see this story. RIP

    January 19, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  7. coronabeach

    Rest In Peace. A young talent that will be missed.

    January 19, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
  8. CaliMom

    So sad to hear this news. RIP. My prayers go out to her family.

    January 19, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Crystal

    Skiing IS wonderful, but her life ended too quickly. My best to her family and friends. She was supercool and well loved. Be proud. A lot of parents never have the chance to see their child be so happy with their own accomplishments. A lot of parents could care less. Peace to all.

    January 19, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bur

    So talanted, so young. Rest in peace.

    January 19, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Easy E

    Sad, but not too surprising. Traumatic brain injuries are far more frequent and fatal than commonly believed. While this woman died doing what she loved, it is still sad that so many young people are literally giving their lives to participate in sport.

    January 19, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Dr Perry Fisher

    Her entire brainstem infarcted, her interests would have been better served had the surgeon not, attemptred a vascular repair as was done

    January 19, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
  13. SuZieCoyote

    This is very sad. I'm a skier, but I don't do tricks; but I lost a friend last year to a freak accident in a glade and he wasn't an olympian. Life isn't safe. Nobody gets out alive. She went out doing what she loved and that is one of the greatest blessings one can have. My heart goes out to the family who must be struggling to have lost such a bright star.

    January 19, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  14. victor

    Sorry. Terrible. Heart rendering. Lots of tears

    January 19, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  15. eg


    January 19, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
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