They descend onto Horstman Glacier every July. A pack of more than 40 girls hell-bent on hucking flips and throwing tricks: Cork 7s, Switch 3s, 1080s, Misty Flip 5s.
words: Claire Piech
They hail from all corners of North America and further afield, most holding the distinction of top female freeskier at their local mountain.
But when they gather at the top of Blackcomb in the summer-snow glistening, sky blazing-the bar is raised, the competition is heightened, the inspiration is fierce, and together the girls support each other to push their limits.
Burke, a halfpipe specialist who tragically passed away five years ago in a training accident, developed Girls Week with John Smart in 2010 as part of Momentum Ski Camps. With the singular goal of getting more women hooked on freeskiing, her idea was that teenage girls would perform better in an all-girl environment-less intimidation, more support and more female-specific competition.
“Sarah wanted more people to compete against,” says her mother, Janice Phelan, on the genesis of Girls Week.
“She had this fire in her belly, so to speak. When she started out there were no other females, so you could not have a women’s competition, and she wasn’t permitted to compete against the boys. She started teaching girls, training them, and would then go on to compete against them.”
The result of Burke’s vision is a one-week camp where girls take over, with some of the best female freeskiers as coaches: Kim Lamarre, Dara Howell, Roz Groenewoud, Dania Assaly, Anna Segal, Yuki Tsubota and World Cup mogul skiers Tami Bradley, Kristi Richards and Chelsea Henitiuk. Most coaches were inspired or coached by Burke before catapulting into stardom and competing against her.
“It’s a really good, friendly, healthy environment for girls to learn new tricks and push their limits,” said Olympic bronze medallist and coach, Lamarre, who had Burke as a mentor in her teens.
“Even though there are more girls in the Olympics these days, at your home mountain there might be only three to five girls in the park,” Lamarre explains. “At Girls Week, there are suddenly a ton of girls, and it makes you want to push yourself to a whole different level.”
Anna Segal, a coach and marketer for Girls Week, adds that self-esteem is a big barrier for teenage girls. Rather than worrying if they look stupid or crash, the 11- to 15-year-old athletes can focus on their abilities and compete against their peers.
“During my own teenage years, I remember seeing my best friend learn a back flip, and it lit a fire in me,” Segal says. “I thought if she could do it, I could do it. It made it less scary and pushed me to start throwing tricks. I see that same competitive spirit in the girls at camp.”
Coaches embrace Burke’s kind, positive and supportive nature. There is also a “Spirit of Sarah” scholarship through Momentum for a female skier who best embodies Burke’s strengths and characteristics.
“Sarah would be super happy to see how many girls are interested in competing, learning, doing better and having fun,” says Lamarre, adding that “the camp embodies Burke’s friendly competitiveness but also her humour, stoke and spirit. It’s called Girls Week, but it’s really Sarah’s Week.”
Momentum offers a “Spirit of Sarah” scholarship for Girls Week each year. momentumskicamps.com/programs/girls-week
The Sarah Burke Foundation also offers annual scholarships for young winter sports athletes. sarahburkefoundation.com