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Air Ladies

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Contributed by: Jen Hudak

March 6, 2014, Tignes, FR:

Last month, 10 Women took part in an event that served as a fundraiser for the Sarah Burke Foundation.  Tucked into the Alps on the eastern most boarder of France, a 24-foot tall quarterpipe sits at the foot of towering mountain peaks of Tignes.  7,000 rowdy fans came out to watch the inaugural “Air Ladies” quarterpipe competition in which every centimeter aired earned money for the Sarah Burke Foundation.  Over the last two years everyone has skied with Sarah Burke in his or her hearts.  Sarah stickers have covered helmets and skis, purple ribbons have been donned, tributes were made for X-Games and for the Olympics, but this was the first time that anyone has literally been able to ski for Sarah.  “This was one of the best night’s of my life, to be here with [these] girls, to be thinking of Sarah, it’s beyond anything I could have ever imagined, ever,” said Gord Burke, Sarah’s father who was in attendance all week.

After Marie Martinod made her return to halfpipe competition last year after a 5-year retirement, a new sponsorship with Tignes Ski Resort, was contingent upon their assistance in creating an event to honor the late Sarah Burke. Marie recalled that, “after X-Games last year I started to write exactly which kind of contest I would see. And I really wanted to be able to refund the money to Sarah Burke foundation, so I started to think about how we could jump to get money. “ The quarterpipe seemed like the natural fit because every hit could be measured and tracked by centimeters, earning Euros with each pass.  And so the “Air Ladies” event was born.

The few days prior to competition were packed with moments that exemplified Sarah’s values and ideals.  Marie Martinod recently made her return home from Sochi with and Olympic Silver Medal that she dedicated to Sarah at the opening ceremony event of Air Ladies.  It was Sarah who ultimately prompted Marie’s return to this sport after freeskiing was added to the roster for 2014.  When Sarah passed away, Marie knew that it was her mission to finish what Sarah had started, and there is no doubt that she has succeeded.  During the opening ceremony, Gord Burke recounts a memory of a phone call that he received from Sarah when she was last in Tignes for Euro X-Games, just before winning gold. “She called and said, ‘Dad, this place is amazing, the crowd is incredible and it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I can’t wait to bring you here.’” And with Air Ladies, Sarah has finally brought her dad to Tignes, to take in the beauty for himself.

The morning of the event, all the girls, along with Gord Burke, Becky Fitzpatrick, writer Jeff Schmuck and his girlfriend Chelsea, free of the media madness that was documenting the event all week, summitted Tignes Mountain.  Each girl shared words of what they love and appreciate about Sarah and it was clear that Sarah would live on forever through these women.  As some of Sarah’s ashes were spread to forever live in the French Alps, she has passed her wings on to each and every one of the women here to ski, and now it was time to fly.

The concept of the event was relatively simple: go BIG, or go BIGGER!  In the qualification round, 9 women each took 2 hits on the quarterpipe: maximum amplitude the goal.  The hit needed to be landed cleanly in order to count, so tricks performed were just an added bonus.

In the qualification round, every centimeter aired, earned 1 Euro for the Sarah Burke Foundation, totaling 4,560 € after the 18 jumps.  The women with the 4 highest jumps moved on to the ½ final, in which each of the qualified ladies faced off in a head-to-head duel: 1st versus 4th and 2nd versus 3rd.  This meant that French skier Anais Caradeux faced Japanese sensation and Olympic silver medalist, Ayana Onozuka, while Grete Eliassen battled French snowboarder, Clemence Grimal.  Anais had super clean skiing and great looking mute grabs, but Ayana’s amplitude topped her.  And when Grete Eliassen realized that she didn’t have the air to top Clemence’s massive method, she laid out her signature hand plant.

Ayana and Clemence took to the Big Final where each jump earned 5 € per centimeter of air, while Anais and Grete went to the small final, jumping for 3 € per centimeter.  In the end, the lone snowboarder in the field caught the most air, Ayana took second, Grete third and Anais was fourth!  Clemence ended up with the biggest hit of the night, but the real victor was Sarah Burke.  Her ideals and values were lived out and it was truly a group effort to raise money for the Foundation.

This event was more of a show than a competition. Without the initiative of Marie Martinod and the presence of each one of these women, the event would not have been possible.  Clemence said that she has “never competed in front of a crowd this big in France, you could feel the energy from everyone, it was incredible.”  Together, the women earned 11,870 € but Tignes decided to kick in a bit more cash, bringing the total donated to the Sarah Burke Foundation 15,000 € ($22,500).

Marie is hopeful that this event will happen again, but if not in Tignes, perhaps somewhere else- in the spirit of Sarah and in the hopes of continuing to spread the ultimate message, do what you love and love what you do.


Qualifications, 1cm = 1€:

1.       Grete Elliassen : 2.20m/ 1.80m

2.       Marie Martinod : 2.0m / 1.60m

3.       Anais Caradeux : 3.0m / 2.20m

4.       Virginie Faivre : 1.20m / 1.40m

5.       Keltie Hansen : 0m / 0.6m

6.       Angeli Vanlaanen : DNF / 1.80m

7.       Emilie Cruz : 1m / 0.40m

8.       Ayana Onosuka : 3m / 2.6m

9.       Clémence Grimal : 3.20m / 2.80m


½ finals, 1cm = 2€ :

3. Anais Caradeux : 2.40m / 2.40m

8. Ayana Onosuka : 2.60m / 2.80m


1. Grete Elliassen : 1.80m / 0m

9. Clémence Grimal : 2.40m / 0.20m


Little final, 1cm = 3€

3. Anais Caradeux : 2.10m / 2.30m

1. Grete Elliassen : 2.40m / 0m


Final, 1cm = 5€ :

8. Ayana Onosuka : 1.80m / 2.60m

9. Clémence Grimal : 2.70m / 0.60m