ASPEN, Colo. — The news, for Kevin Pearce, was all too familiar and horrifying.
A star in the halfpipe goes down hard during a training accident in Utah and is airlifted to the hospital with life-threatening injuries.
But the stories diverge from there: Pearce’s had a good ending. Sarah Burke’s did not.
Two years removed from an amazing recovery after a training accident in Park City, Pearce is hanging out and doing some TV work at the Winter X Games this week – games being played in honor of Burke, the freestyle skier whose accident in the same halfpipe led to her death last week.
Despite the loss of one of their stars and the injury- forced retirement of another, Winter X athletes all around Aspen are insisting the games must go on.
Pearce agrees that pressing on is the right thing to do. He does not think the sport has become too dangerous.
“These guys are up there doing it for themselves,” Pearce said. “They’re up there pushing the sport and pushing the limits because it’s what they want to do. If it was pressure being put on by fans or sponsors or family, then I might say, ‘OK, we need to cool this and calm this.’ But it’s because they love it so much and they have so much fun with it that they’re taking it to that level.”
Nor does Pearce, the 24-year-old former champion, think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with the halfpipe in Park City.
“It’s just bad luck, a coincidence,” he said. “The halfpipe this happened in was good. … It’s just where we’re pushing the sport. These things are going to happen. But Sarah’s wasn’t even a hard trick.”
Burke was performing a 540-degree flat spin when she landed awkwardly and sustained the injuries that caused her death. The trick is considered routine for an elite athlete. Viewing the Burke tragedy as a fluke has blunted some of the argument that the sport has become too dangerous.
“It’s a very challenging and difficult situation to assess because I think it’s the nature of all sports,” said snowboarding’s founding father, Jake Burton. “All sports are getting pushed to a point where people are risking life and limb. And I think when you talk about it, it’s hard not to sort of sound overly conservative or old-fashioned or hung up on safety. But I think we’ve got to let the athletes do what they want to do and let the kids progress the sport where they want it to go.”