Over the years the sport of women's freeskiing has been pushed hard by a core group of athletes, but none have pushed harder than Sarah Burke.
Burke is the first female skier to land a 720, then a 900 and a 1080. She was the first to land several inverted and corked tricks and switch tricks of all descriptions. In last year's X Games, she was close to landing the first 1260 as well.
Burke has been a notable absentee this year, but as she explained by phone last week it's all about the future - a future that may include the 2014 Olympic Games, if the IOC, as expected, approves the addition of freeskiing events in the spring.
"I had surgery on my shoulder in July, and it's a six-month recovery," she said. She initially dislocated the shoulder while jumping on a trampoline, and "it kept coming out after that. It got to the point where I would pull myself up and it would come out, but now that's fixed up and it's as good as new now."
The recovery meant she couldn't join her teammates on the ski halfpipe World Cup tour this year. The only events she's planning on competing in are the X Games and the FIS World Championships.
Now residing in Squamish, Burke has been back on snow for a few weeks. She's skied some powder and the terrain park a few times and she's building up for the X Games at the end of the month.
But the real goal is 2014. While she's disappointed that the IOC deferred making a decision on whether to add ski halfpipe to the Olympics until after the 2011 World Championship events, she expects that the sport will make it through the final vote in April.
"It's very motivating," she said. "It's definitely what I'm setting up for the next three years. It's been a dream for a long time and we are getting so close now."
There's no question that the athletes are putting in the time. With next to no funding in place, the team members have relied on their own sponsors to pay their way to World Cup events, as well as raising money so they could hire their own coach in Trennon Paynter. The team currently includes Burke, Justin Dorey, Roz Groenewoud, Mike Riddle and Matt Margetts.
If the sport is included in the Olympics things will get official pretty quickly.
"We already have an unofficial official Canadian team that we developed with Trennon Paynter as our coach and we've been training and getting donations and that kind of thing, but we're not quite able yet to cover all the costs," said Burke. "But we've been making it work the last few years, and we've been killing it. At the first Grand Prix event this season we were first and second for the men (Justin Dorey and Mike Riddle respectively) and first for the women (Roz Groenewoud).
"We already have a really strong team, but we're ready to get some help from Canada."
Burke wasn't part of the discussions but she has been told that the Canadian Halfpipe Ski Team has already been in discussions with Own The Podium so they can hit the ground running.
Personally, Burke will continue to work on the 1260 spins but is also looking at more variations. "I was working on flat 540s in the summertime (before surgery) and bringing it into the runs, and getting my spins more inverted and cleaner grabs - just cleaning it up. Back-to-back flares... all kinds of different combos."
Burke also competes in slopestyle events, but says she would most likely focus on halfpipe if the sport gets the nod - at least, that's what she planned.
"I'm focused on halfpipe, that's what I feel the strongest and most passionate about I guess," she said. "I'm really happy to hit jumps and having tons of fun, but when it comes down to it I would have to focus on one event and it would be halfpipe. It was a surprise to see in the fall that they were considering slopestyle as well because we were told that there was no possible way - then all of a sudden it appeared on the list. I hadn't really given (the possibility of competing in both events) much thought until then, and I'm not going to worry about it until it happens."
Burke says she's been lucky that her core sponsors have stuck with her for years now, including through several injuries. She's been a Roxy athlete for five years, and was skiing for Smith Optics and Monster Energy Drink for longer than that. She also represents Whistler Blackcomb.
"Everybody's been really good to me and stood by me, it's been great," she said. "It's just one less thing to worry about, and it helps me to really focus on getting healthy, skiing and doing the best I can."