Remembering Sarah Burke — Dave Smidt
I knew about Sarah somewhere in the early 2000s through the X Games. I met her at Summer X Games 2007, right when I started working for Monster. In my mind, if you were a winter athlete at the Summer X Games, you were a big deal. That’s a cool time because it’s one of the few times the winter athletes are completely stress and pressure free. She’s in her sandals, lying at the pool, enjoying what Summer X has to offer.
I always helped and was around the ski team, but after about a year and a half in with Monster, I became the ski team manager, and that’s where our relationship really started to grow. Sarah was always held in such high regard. There were Monster athletes, then there was Sarah. She represented something different for us.
The majority of the time I was around her was at contests. And she won pretty much every contest I attended. For the most part, I was sitting at the bottom of a halfpipe and cheering her on. I’m not checking her skis. I don’t have to change lenses in her goggles. I’m just there cheering, supporting, and handing her a water bottle when she wins.
Whenever she won, she would always be so thankful. First thing she would do was call her dad. Then she would constantly thank people for the support. She always took the attention off herself. It was really humbling to have her come back to me and thank me for the support. Not that we’re helping her win, but she knew that we were down there cheering for her and believed in her.
It was always so much fun having her around at the photoshoots. A lot of our other athletes didn’t get to hang out with her outside of the contests. She just made the vibe that much better because everyone loved her presence. She was very helpful. She would help me do all the grocery shopping. She loved tea, so she would always make me tea. When we did the session at Park City, Justin Dorey, Peter Olenick, Sarah and I were at the grocery store, and I told everyone to just fill up a cart. Everyone got random stuff, but we all got bananas without knowing. We ended up at the house with like 40 bananas. So it was just a joke, “Hey, anyone want a banana?” If anyone was hungry, they got a banana.
I remember one time during a night out at our photoshoot in Mammoth in 2011, I came out of the club, and I saw her looking like she was going to fight this cop—to the point the cop was threatened and made her sit on the curb. The cop said, “You need to calm down your pit bull friend over there.” Sarah didn’t take shit from anyone, especially when it came to her friends. It was all because she felt like the cop was mistreating Colby West, but five minutes before, she was inside dancing like she always did. Somehow I convinced the cop I was in charge and some sort of chaperone and we all got out of the situation with a laugh.
Another thing that you don’t realize is not only did everybody know her, but also, she knew everyone, from the little girl Kelly [Sildaru] all the way up to the pioneers of skiing. Glen Plake knows Sarah Burke well; Torin Yater-Wallace knows Sarah Burke well.
We see these people as professional skiers and professional athletes and these larger than life heroes, but they’re just people. When you meet Sarah’s sister, who has nothing to do with skiing, you see that outside of skiing, Sarah’s a normal family girl. Skiing comes and goes. At the end of the day, it’s your family and your friends that are most important.
Everyone knew about her: my grandma, family friends, my parents’ friends. The general public who have never skied and don’t know anything about action sports knew about her. She transcended skiing. She is a female icon.
I’ll never forget slopestyle at the 2009 X Games when she broke her back, man. She could have won with a five off the small lip, but she threw a nine off the big lip. We were more stoked on her doing that than if she had done a safety run and got another gold. It was really unfortunate that she was injured. Don’t get me wrong. But you could see that she wasn’t scared, and she’s a competitor. She knew she could win the competition, but she wanted to win for herself. And that’s what stood out and was so impressive.