Thousands of people gathered at the base of Canada’s Whistler Mountain Tuesday night to celebrate the life of freeskiing pioneer Sarah Burke, who passed away on Jan. 19. In Sarah’s honor, they wore SJB buttons and purple ribbons, held candles and were welcomed by a beautiful photograph of Burke giving a ski lesson to a young female skier. Next to the photo were these words:
A light will never go out if it lights a million more.
Tuesday’s celebration began with a day time ceremony for friends and family at the Whistler halfpipe. Decorated with banners and spray painted with purple hearts and snowflakes, hundreds of skiers and snowboarders lined the walls of the pipe. Each person was handed a purple ribbon and a small piece of wood where they were asked to write a note to Sarah. They too each held a candle lit from a single flame.
Sarah’s dad Gord began the ceremony by skiing down the center of the pipe carrying two torches, a lit wooden torch and an unlit Olympic torch from the 2010 Vancouver Games. He met Sarah’s mom at the base and together they lit a fire that burned throughout the entire ceremony.
At the end of the celebration, everyone gathered and tossed their wooden notes into the fire so their messages could be carried away with the smoke.
Sarah’s dad also opened Tuesday night’s ceremony. He was wearing a green Whistler t-shirt, standing next to a photograph of Sarah signed by hundreds of athletes at this January’s Winter X Games. He explained that Sarah had bought him this t-shirt 15 years ago on one of their first trips to the resort. At the end of the trip, he said he’d given her $15 and told her to buy something for herself, so she would remember how much fun they had. After returning, he talks about how Sarah spent all of her money on a green Whistler t-shirt she’d bought for him, instead.
Elsa Hamel-Robert, one of Sarah’s best friends, asked the crowd to memorialize Sarah by remembering to live, love, laugh and most importantly, to remember to dance. “Wherever you are tonight, whether it’s in your hotel room or out celebrating with us,” she said, “Tear up a dance floor.” Grete Eliassen, one of Sarah’s dear friends and a pro skier known for her penchant for rap music, eulogized Sarah with a funny, touching rhyme.
Canadian freeskiing pioneer Mike Douglas, who was there to help Burke land her first sponsorship as a teenager, talked about his own 4 year old daughter and shared the lessons he believes Sarah would have taught her someday. “Laugh a lot. Always say thank you. Give more than you take. Do one thing every day that scares you,” he said. “And if you can’t, then scare someone else.”
Sarah’s husband, Rory, was the final speaker of the night. Earlier in the day, he’d read a poem he wrote for his wife. Tuesday evening, he spoke about the outpouring of love and support he has felt from Sarah’s friends and family and the snow sports community. Hundreds of professional athletes, team managers, coaches and sponsors from around the world flew to Whistler to celebrate Sarah’s life. “I can feel her spirit tonight,” said Rory, whose speech was followed by a performance of “I was here” by Sarah’s mom and older sister, Anna.
The celebration closed with not a moment of silence, but a moment of noise.