At STACK, we work with the best of the best—top athletes, top trainers, top coaches, and top nutritionists. So we’re used to the pressure that comes with asking tough questions to big names in sports. Every now and then, though, we interview an athlete who makes our pulse quicken and heart race more than usual—like calling up a girl you have a crush on.
But I’m a professional, so when I spoke with freestyle skier Sarah Burke, I was as cool as the snow. After a moment of introductions to break the ice, I could tell she wasn’t one of those too-cool-for-school rock-star athletes. Sure, her list of accomplishments reads like a wish list for most pros in her sport; but she comes across as a humble beginner, just thankful to be doing what she loves. Just in case you were wondering, her exploits include three X Game titles, four gold medals at the World Ski Invitational, and a 2007 Espy for Best Female Action Sports Athlete—the first skier to win the award.
STACK: How did you get involved with freestyle skiing?
Sarah Burke: I grew up skiing. Both of my parents are skiers, and I was skiing at the local resort after school and on weekends, and started to really get into moguls. Once the new-school [tricks] started to happen—jumps, halfpipes and all that—it was a natural transition for me, with the jumps being my favorite part in moguls.
STACK: Do you think cross training with other sports helps with skiing?
SB: All of it helps. In surfing, you have to be balanced, and you have to give it all you’ve got to catch that wave. For skiing, it’s a short halfpipe, and it’s a short run where you’ve got to give it all you’ve got. Everything kind of translates into it. The more balanced you are in all the other sports, the more it’s going to help you in skiing.
STACK: What training advice would you give to athletes who are starting out?
SB: Start slow and make sure you’re comfortable with the basics of the trick. You can practice them on a trampoline or even a water ramp. For me, I like to visualize it, picture it in my head, go through it in my head, and then just go out and kill it. Just think of your wildest dreams and know that you can make them come true. Don’t take no for an answer. Just work as hard as you can. If you really want it, you can make it happen.
STACK: Are you working on anything new?
SB: Right now, I am working on just resting. I broke my back [in February], so I haven’t been skiing since. But I am starting to get back on snow, and I’m going to work on getting back up to pace as fast as possible. I’ll be working on some 900s and Ally-Oop Flat Spins in the halfpipe.
STACK: After suffering a severe injury like the one you experienced, what motivates you to come back even stronger?
SB: Well, I love it. I miss it and I want to be back out there, keeping up with the girls and learning more tricks and pushing myself. I think it’s the passion I have for the sport. I went to a contest for the first time this last week, and it was so hard to be there and not to be skiing, and not out there playing and laughing with my friends. I love it and I just want to keep challenging myself.
STACK: How does training for an event differ from just hitting the slopes with your friends?
SB: In a competition, I like to get up to pace as fast as possible. Starting out jumps and maybe one or two straight runs, then I just like to get right into my tricks. Whereas, if I’m just skiing for fun, I’ll kind of take my time a little bit more and warm up, and then gradually I’ll move into the tricks.
STACK: In action sports, you compete against your friends. How does that affect your approach?
SB: I don’t think it ever divides between the competition and friendship. Those are my good friends out there, and they are the people I spend most of my time with. I don’t really think I feel competitive with them as much as I do with myself. I want to do better than I did last time. It’s a nice thing about our sport—you can hang out with the girls you compete with, and you can cheer each other on. I find that I cheer for every single person when they drop in, and it’s important to me to be doing that. I don’t think it switches gears to where I’m like, “OK, I’ve got to beat this girl.” It is more like, “Sarah, you had a bad run last time and you have to do better this time. You’ve got this.”
STACK: Do you find that women have to prove themselves to the men in your sport?
SB: The guys are pretty supportive of us. They will help us out with anything we need. If we are trying to learn tricks, they give us tips. They have all been really great. If there is a type of competition between the sexes, it is the younger kids that really don’t know too much. You’ll hear them saying, “Oh, the girls suck, and they can’t do the tricks that the guys can.” And it’s true to some extent, because we aren’t doing the tricks that the guys are doing. I can’t think of one sport where women are completely equal to the guys. But we are out there working just as hard, taking the crashes just like they are, and it’s tough when we aren’t getting the same amount of respect. All in all, though, most of the guys you ski with are all really supportive and stoked to see a girl out there ripping.
STACK: What are some highlights of your career so far?
SB: What I’ve enjoyed most this year is winning at the X Games. It was something that I was really happy with and felt really good about. It was my last of three runs, so I was really happy coming out on top. Another highlight for me was the first time I won at the X Games a couple years ago. I was trying for so long to get there, and then to finally win was something special. Lastly, it would have to be winning an ESPY. Just because I was up there winning with my heroes, and to be acknowledged as someone special enough to get one of those was really nice.
STACK: You’re sponsored by Roxy. What is your involvement with your sponsors?
SB: I have been with them for three years. When they first started to come into skiing apparel, everyone was skeptical. But I liked what they had going on, and I have always been a big supporter for female sports. With Roxy being a company that is devoted to women’s sports, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. The people at Roxy are amazing, it is such a great brand, and everyone is so nice. You hear about it being a family, and it really is. It’s a company that you feel comfortable with, and I made some of my great friends there. It’s also a company where you know if you are going to retire or something happens [to my career], they are going to take you into the company and make sure you are taken care of. Whether it’s working as a team manager or designing, they make it clear that once you are there, you become a part of Roxy for life.
STACK: Your schedule probably gets hectic with travel and competitions, but when you have time off, what do you do to relax?
SB: I really like making things. I like cooking. I like sewing. I love other sports like surfing, too. And I’m getting into skateboarding, even though I am not so great at it. I like being outside and hanging out, whether it’s hiking or mountain biking. I just like being active.
Check out the Action Channel at STACK TV.