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Board bags are zipped up, skis packed away, and red tail lights line the road leading out of Aspen as another Winter X Games comes to a close and the world’s best freeskiers and snowboarders disperse to their next mountain adventures. And while they may all go their separate ways this week, whether to the next contest, photoshoot, or distant backcountry terrain, they all leave with a renewed sense of love for the snow community they are so lucky to be a part of. This is one of many valuable reminders that the passing of freesking legend Sarah Burke has inspired.
X Games practice began mere days after the snow community was faced with the loss of one of its brightest stars. This devastating news left a gaping hole in the hearts of all in attendance. But as the practice days turned into competition days, signs of Sarah began to pop up. At first it was the purple ribbons with “Sarah” hand written on them. Then red “Sarah” stickers and blue “Celebrate Sarah” stickers appeared on helmets, boards, skis and goggle lenses. Next came the white armbands embroidered with her name and a snowflake (a nod to one of her many nicknames). By the evening of the beautiful tribute that ESPN organized in honor of Sarah, reminders of Sarah were everywhere, and it was clear that she was with us and would never be forgotten.
The athletes did not let their grief hold them back, but filled with love for Sarah, they rode strong and surely made her proud. By the weekend finals, white Sarah armbands emblazoned almost every shoulder– from Sarah’s fellow skiers to boardercross racers, and even Shaun White himself– it seems that everyone found strength in Sarah.
In fitting tribute, her close friends and fellow Canadian Olympic freeski teammates won gold in both women’s freeski events with performances that are sure to help further Sarah’s efforts towards getting recognition for women in freeskiing (see Kaya Turski’s mind blowing slopestyle run and Roz Groenewoud’s 14 foot superpipe airs). Fellow Roxy teammate Kjersti Buaas wore a Sarah sticker and armband as she rode her way to a bronze medal in women’s snowboard slopestyle. And snowboarders Kelly Clark, Marc McMorris, Jamie Anderson, and Shaun White all wore the arm band to gold medal victory.
By the end of X Games 16, the armbands, stickers, and ribbons came to symbolize more than just the memory of Sarah, they are a symbol of the bond tying the snow community together. In wearing them we recognize that we are a family until the end. Sarah symbolizes all that draws us to the mountains and to each other: a shared love of snow and the endless possibilities it presents, the exhilaration of learning something new and pushing ourselves, and the ultimate joy of playing in the mountains with those you love.