Inspirational skiers and boarders, past and present

4th March 2015 | Monica Adorno

Freeskier Sarah Burke

Freeskier Sarah Burke

Copyright: Taylor and Africa

The stories and achievements of the following athletes are both overwhelming and inspirational. But that should come as no surprise when one considers just how progressive winter sports has become. OnTheSnow has nothing but admiration and respect for these guys who continue to push boundaries – not just their own physical and mental limits – but also the political and social ones.  

World-class sit-skier Josh Dueck, Canada

It’s difficult to write succinctly about Josh Dueck because his story inspires a wealth of emotion. Dueck first started skiing aged 13 on a school field trip; he had lived his whole life in a ski community but skiing was a luxury his family couldn’t afford. From his first encounter with the mountains he knew he wanted to spend his life skiing. He got a part-time job, bought his first pair of skis, and a few years later became good enough to be an Olympic hopeful. Financial considerations put that dream on hold and he began coaching the next generation of aspiring Olympic skiers. That was when his life changed.

On March 8, 2004, Josh misjudged the speed on a jump. He fell more than 100 vertical feet - the equivalent of falling off of the top of a 10-storey building. Josh severed his spinal cord and was left paralysed from the waist down. He says that in the emergency room, following the accident, one of the doctors whose children he coached looked him in the eye and said, “You’re gonna rock the world in a wheelchair.” This gave him hope. Within a year he was back on the mountain. Josh went on to win the Canadian Championships in 2007 and the World Championships in 2009.

In 2012, Josh became the first person ever to land a backflip on a sit-ski. National Geographic called the act, “Bold, humbly defiant, and deeply human.”

OnTheSnow asked Josh what his mantra was. He said, The only difference between the impossible and the possible, is one's attitude.”

Find out more about Josh Dueck here 

Sit-skier Josh Dueck

Copyright: Tyler Ingram

Freeskier and women’s activist Sarah Burke, Canada

"It was never my goal to be recognised. I love the sport, I love doing it and I want as many girls as possible to do it too. That has always been my goal." Sarah Burke

On January 19, 2012, the action-sports world lost an icon. Sarah Burke, freeskiing pioneer, died from injuries suffered during a superpipe training run. Sarah was a woman of firsts; the first woman to land a 720, a 900, and then a 1080-degree spin (three full rotations) in a competition. She won every major title in freeskiing including four Winter X gold medals, demanded equal pay for all women in her sport, and would often donate her contest winnings to pro-female freeskiing organisations. She campaigned for the inclusion of female freeski events at the Winter X Games and was a force behind the campaign to include halfpipe at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. She succeeded.

So loved was Sarah by the ski community that in the year following her death pro skiers everywhere sported ‘Remember Sarah’ stickers on their kit to ensure that she was there, riding with them. Josh Dueck achieved his incredible backflip feat with Sarah stickers adorning his sit-ski.

In an open letter to Sarah after her death, pro skier Cody Townsend wrote, “You never cared as much about yourself as you cared for others.” And in honour of Sarah’s life, a non-profit organisation was established to support the causes that were most important to her. The Sarah Burke Foundation, made up of Sarah’s friends and family, backs the Women’s Sports Foundation and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and aims to preserve Sarah’s goodwill, of which there was plenty.

Freeskier Sarah Burke

Copyright: Rsaski

Alaskan guide Tom Burt, USA

“I want to fly down mountains like Tom Burt” - Jeremy Jones

Insanely knowledgeable about big mountain terrain, Tom Burt is calculated, low-key, humble, and one of the fastest and best snowboarders of all time.

Gigi Ruf has called him his idol and credits him with improving his riding; Travis Rice has felt peer pressured to ride Tom-approved lines; Nicholas Muller has called him amazing, and Terje Haakonsen has said, “You take one run with Tom Burt and you’re just like - holy shit!”

That’s probably four out of five of the best snowboarders in the world paying homage to TB. These days, when he’s not hanging out at Tahoe with his family, he’s a guide in the Juneau area with Alaska Heliskiing. As for his career highlight? Tom says, “It’s always just a powder run.” 

Snowboarder Tom Burt

Best all-rounder Travis Rice, USA

“I definitely don’t consider myself crazy. I’m more calculated” – Travis Rice

In his Transworld Snowboarding speech, recipient of the Legend award, Tom Burt, thanks a long list of people whom he feels have contributed to the history of snowboarding. At the end of the speech he thanks Travis Rice for “putting it all together.”

Travis is considered by many to be the best all-round snowboarder of his generation, if not of all time, and over the course of his career he’s won countless competition titles. In a critique of Travis, Snowboarder Magazine wrote, “He takes tricks once reserved only for the park and throws them in the middle of a run, no matter how steep the pitch or how great the amount of chasing snow.”

Travis’s exquisite riding is on its own inspirational but it was the film he helped produce, The Art of Flight (2011), featuring many snowboarding greats as well as Travis himself, that propelled him into superstardom and that put snowboarding in the limelight once more. It’s been guestimated that the movie cost in the region of $2 million which provoked grumbles from some snowboarding purists. On the other hand, the trailer has over 40,000 hits on YouKu – that’s the Chinese version YouTube. Why so many hits? Because it’s a fine film designed to satisfy core riders and the mainstream public.

Travis Rice and The Art of Flight

Copyright: Cap826aggie

Technically perfect Shaun White, USA

Two Olympic gold medals, most gold medals at the X-Games ever, and 10 ESPY (Excellence in Sports Performance) Awards Shaun White is the best half-pipe rider (on snow and a skateboard) the world has ever seen.

A lot of people seem to think he’s a bit of a douche. OnTheSnow has never had the pleasure (or displeasure?) of speaking to the flame-haired man and so cannot comment on what he is like personally. But we do marvel at the aggression so many others in the snow community feel toward him. He’s not a dictator; why can’t people live and let live?

Ed Leigh wrote a pretty scathing attack on the talented pro called “Why I don’t like Shaun White”. Clearly no-one told Ed that if you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all. The assertions that Shaun’s “not a snowboarder” or that his ability to motivate and push himself isn’t “something most of us would view as fun or joyful” seem a bit pathetic and a little presumptuous but OnTheSnow can’t be bothered to get into it. What we will say is this: snowboarding’s not a private members’ club, and whilst we get that the sport is precious and different, you can’t protect it from the world.

The amazing thing about it, and everyone seems to agree on this, is that it gives you a rush of freedom and an opportunity to connect with nature. If Shaun’s legacy is that he brings that sense of freedom to thousands of people in, say, China, where he’s huge, then that’s a radical accomplishment.

Plus, he’s only 27, cut him some slack. OnTheSnow has every confidence he’ll start saving mountains soon.

Halfpipe supremo Shaun White

Copyright: Travis Hightower

Urban jibber Scott Stevens, USA

And the inspirational jibber award goes to . . . 

Scott Stevens is hella-good. He’s a freestyle snowboarder with a big internet presence. OnTheSnow recently came across a video of Scott pulling off insane tricks without either foot strapped in. He’s got an urban style, his creative skills are unmatched, and he draws comparisons to skateboarding great Rodney Mullen. His films are also a highlight in the ski community; in 2013 he won the Think Thank Film’s Judges’ Award for his contribution to the Think Thank films. Check out Scott’s inspirational riding here.

Capita Rider Scott Stevens

Alpine skier Chemmy Alcott, UK

Chemmy Alcott is Britain’s top-ranked female alpine skier and has five Top 10 World Cup finishes to her name. In 2006 she won Snowsport GB Olympic Athlete of the Year and in 2011 she was inducted into the London Youth Games Hall of Fame. But the talented athlete has also suffered her fair share of physical and emotional pain, from multiple broken bones to losing her mother suddenly a few days after the 2006 Winter Olympics.

Her most arduous physical challenge came in 2010, when, on the eve of the opening day of the World Cup downhill race, she crashed during a training run and broke her leg badly in two places. Her bone was literally protruding from her skin and actually pierced through her ski boot. She was given ketamine for pain relief and later tweeted, “Insane that something that brings you so much pleasure can also bring so much pain.” But in spite of experts describing her injuries as “career ending” the ever-fierce Chemmy persevered; within 10 days of the accident she was back on the rowing machine and she returned to the Alps to train in 2012. In August 2012 Chemmy broke her leg again but she is on course for a quick recovery; she referred to the accident as “a little whoopsie” on her Facebook page and is adamant that she’ll be back on the mountain in time for Sochi.

OnTheSnow asked Chemmy about certain runs that have scared her and how she has overcome that fear. She said, “Returning to my comeback world cup at the very piste, after two years out, in Lake Louise after almost losing my career there was tough. I think to go back and face those demons in my first race is the toughest thing an athlete ever has to do.”

British alpine skiers are no longer supported by UK Sport. To help Chemmy in her Olympic quest please visit

Downhill racer Chemmy Alcott


Paralympic gold medalist Chris Waddell, USA

Chris Waddell is a multiple Paralympic gold medalist and one of the most celebrated Paralympics of all time. Within a year of the accident which left him paralysed as a teenager, he was back on the mountain learning how to use a sit-ski. During his career he won 13 Paralympic medals, including five golds in the winter and summer games. He has been named the Dalai Lama’s unsung hero of compassion and People Magazine included him in their 50 Most Beautiful People.

In 2009 he accomplished another extraordinary feat: Chris became the first unassisted paraplegic to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. He did it to shine a light on just how able-bodied “disabled people” can be – which they are provided that our society builds structures that are suitable for all of us. Chris has said in the past, “Sometimes when you see someone with a disability in a developing country, you doubt that they have a life or much possibility out there." It is something he feels passionate about and the reason behind One Revolution, the non-profit organisation he started to change social perceptions of disability. Amongst his many endeavours, Chris now works as a motivational speaker; he said recently, “Something [might] happen in our lives that cuts us to the bone, we have a choice of how to react.”  

Celebrated Paralympian Chris Waddell

Copyright: One-Revolution

Explorer and climate activist Jeremy Jones, USA

“We’re the ones on the frontline, we see the change, and it’s important for us to try and make a difference and protect our playground.”

Jeremy Jones is one of the greatest free mountain riders in the world. He’s won 10 Big Mountain Rider of the Year awards, ridden first descents across the world in Alaska, the Himalayas, and South America, and, he’s managed to snowboard his way out of a massive avalanche. Jeremy’s list of achievements is vast but his greatest challenge yet might be that of his current role as climate activist.

In 2007, after seeing first-hand the effect of climate change, Jeremy started Protect Our Winters (POW). Its mission? To wake the winter sports community up and to get them to lead the fight against climate change. In 2013 Jeremy entered new territory, at the White House, where he was honoured by President Obama. The freerider was awarded the Champions of Change award, in recognition of “ordinary Americans doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.”

Jeremy said, “This nomination and to be recognised by the White House is an absolute honour for me. It’s also a testament to the work that we’re doing at Protect Our Winters and how important fighting climate change is to the future of our sport and economy,” said Jones. (Transworld Snowboarding).

Find out more about Protect Our Winters

Jeremy Jones split boarding




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