SALT LAKE CITY — Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke was in critical condition Wednesday, a day after she was airlifted from the mountains of Utah to a Salt Lake City hospital with injuries after a training accident in the superpipe.
The nature of Burke’s injuries has not been disclosed.
In a statement released by Burke’s publicist, a doctor at University of Utah hospital says Burke “sustained serious injuries and remains intubated and sedated in critical condition.”
Chris Nelson, assistant vice president for public affairs at the hospital, said Burke had surgery Wednesday afternoon.
Robert Foxford, doctor for the Canadian freestyle team, said it was his understanding Burke had been placed in an induced coma.
“That would be the standard procedure for someone with a significant brain injury,” Foxford said.
The 29-year-old Burke is widely considered the foremost pioneer for her main sport of freestyle halfpipe. She lobbied aggressively to have it included in the Olympics, where it will debut in 2014.
“She not only gave the sport legitimacy but opened the door into a much broader spectrum,” said Peter Judge, the CEO of Canada’s freestyle skiing program.
She is a four-time Winter X Games champion and had been scheduled to defend her 2011 title later this month in Aspen, Colo.
Before the accident, Burke was on a path that would have made her an odds-on favorite to win more X Games gold and possibly even the big prize in Sochi.
Not that she needs any more hardware to confirm her status.
“She’s always been seen as the No. 1 representative of her sport in terms of ensuring people have an understanding of what it is, what it will take” to push it to higher levels, Judge said. “She has always been exemplary in that role.”
Burke fell while training at a personal sponsor event at the Park City Mountain resort, an accident that witnesses said didn’t look as bad as it turned out to be, Judge said. She was on the same halfpipe where snowboarder Kevin Pearce suffered a traumatic brain injury after a near-fatal fall on Dec. 31, 2009.
Burke’s husband, freestyle skier Rory Bushfield, was with other family members at the hospital.
“Sarah is a very strong young woman, and she will most certainly fight to recover,” Bushfield said in a statement.
Burke’s accident once again brings up longstanding questions about the safety of her sport, and superpipes in general, which now soar as high as 22 feet and have grown by more than 25 percent since the middle of the last decade.
Experts within the sport believe improved pipe-building technology, along with air bags and mandatory helmets have made the sport safer, not more dangerous.
“There are always injuries at some level,” Judge said. “But it’s quite rare that injuries of large nature like this happen. Everything is possible in any realm. No sport is immune from the kind of injuries that can happen.”