The family of Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke will not be slammed with huge medical fees as had previously been reported, a statement released by her business agent Michael Spencer said Friday night.
Burke, 29, died of cardiac arrest in a Utah hospital Thursday, nine days after a crash in a sponsor’s event stopped her breathing. Her heart was restarted, and she underwent surgery but never regained consciousness.
Spencer said donations from fans and Health Canada would foot the bill of some $200,000 (all currency U.S.). Any surplus will be dedicated to a memorial fund.
That eases the impact of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt the family faced. A source said that athletes and coaches are covered by an insurance policy of the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association when they are taking part in events as a representative of the national team. But they are independent contractors when appearing in private events for sponsors.
“It is now clear that Sarah’s family will not have any financial burden related to her care,” Spencer said. “The Burke family has not yet received a hospital bill from the University of Utah [but]based on early estimates, total charges for Sarah's care are expected to be approximately $200,000.”
Originally, it was reported that Burke’s family would be hit with medical bills of about $550,000.
“Once charges are finalized, the University will work with Health Canada to determine what type of coverage may be available and what their contribution will be,” Spencer said.
Canadian Olympic teams are historically covered by insurance. Though Burke hadn’t been selected to the team yet, she was a medal favourite for the next Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“Now is the time to grieve and remember Sarah and her immense contribution to Canada,” said Dimitri Soudas, executive director of the Canadian Olympic Association. He referred insurance matters to the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association.
Tributes to Burke came from all over Friday.
“Sarah was the one who, in a very positive way, stood in the face of adversity and asked, ‘Why not?’” Peter Judge, the CEO of Canada’s freestyle team said on the snowsport site S-Media.
“What she would have wanted was for her teammates and others in her sport to stand up and also say, ‘Why not?’ To benefit from the significant opportunities available to them, being able to compete in the Olympics and the X Games. Those were the things she wanted and cherished and fought for.”
A moment of silence for the four-time X Games champion was observed Thursday night before Canada's women's soccer team beat Haiti in an Olympic qualifying match in Vancouver. She’d lobbied to get the 22-foot halfpipe event included in the Olympics, falling short for the 2010 Games but succeeding to gain medal status for the event in 2014.
IOC President Jacques Rogge expressed “enormous sadness” over Burke’s death, but added freestyle skiing is no more dangerous than other winter sports.
“She was a fine athlete doing the sport she loved. Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this time,” Rogge said.
Her fatal accident occurred on the same halfpipe where U.S. snowboarder Kevin Pearce suffered a brain injury in 2009. Judge said that Burke’s manoeuvre, a 540 flat spin, was well within her capabilities but the fact of the fatality inevitably will bring increased scrutiny to safety measures in the sport. Chris Robinson, volunteer president of the Canadian Snowsports Association, said wearing of helmets is mandatory in all freestyle events.
Rogge said there are “always risks attached to sport ... [but]thorough research has shown that freestyle skiing is no more dangerous than many of the other winter sports.”
Burke’s family -- husband Rory Bushfield who also is a freestyle skier, sister Anna and parents Jan and Gordon -- were bolstered by the contributions that have been made via two websites, Spencer said.
“Further contributions will be used to establish a foundation to honor Sarah's legacy and promote the ideals she valued and embodied.” The websites are and .
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified snowboarder Kevin Pearce. This version has been corrected.Report Typo/Error