I was sad to read about the passing of freestyle skier Sarah Burke, easily the best known female freestyle skier out there who was highly respected for both her skiing as well as her tireless advocacy for her sport. She helped push superpipe skiing into the Olympics and was a four-time Winter X Games gold medalist. On Jan. 10, Burke fell on a superpipe training run and suffered cardiac arrest soon after. She was rushed to the hospital where she hung on for 10 days before ultimately succumbing to her injuries.
Burke's accident brings up an important issue that the snowboarding community is going to need to deal with: how big is too big? The snowboarding blog Agnarchy has a good piece looking at the issue of halfpipes getting steadily bigger. The current generation superpipe is 22-feet high; the first halfpipe grooming machine cut walls that were 10 feet back in the early '90s. From they have only gotten bigger and steeper — in 2001 the wall was raised from 15 feet to 18 feet for the U.S. Open, while today's biggest pipes have 22-foot walls set at a 18-degree downhill pitch.
Why not 24 feet? And then 26 feet? Things could get scary big.
Professional snowboarders get paid to put life and limb at risk and are driven to push the boundaries of the sport but they should be doing so within a framework that doesn't unnecessarily set them up for serious injury and death. I hope the snowboarding community keeps this in mind the next time there's an urge to make the superpipe even more super.
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