The piercing headaches hardly ever gave freestyle skier Kaya Turski as much as a moment's peace.
For nearly a year, Turski, one of the most decorated slopestyle skiers in the world, simply learned to cope with the constant ache as everyone offered advice: Drink more coffee, take more aspirin or just stop skiing.
At wit's end, Turski went to see a noted spine specialist. Turns out, the pain radiating from behind her eyes stemmed from scar tissue at the base of her neck and she underwent surgery last month to release a compressed nerve.
Finally free of those draining headaches, the freeskier returns to competition this weekend at the Dew Tour stop in Breckenridge, Colo.
Her heavy heart? Well, that will take more time to mend.
It's been almost a year since Turski lost good friend and mentor Sarah Burke, who died following a fall while training in the superpipe at Park City, Utah. Every run down the mountain Turski takes — and will take — is in tribute to Burke.
"Losing Sarah was such a crush to the whole world of freeskiing," said the 24-year-old Turski, who's from Montreal. "She was one of the most inspiring people I've ever met. I don't know anyone who wasn't touched by her. I know I do what I do because she helped me believe in myself."
Burke, who was 29 when she died, was so dominant that she helped push her discipline of superpipe skiing into the Olympics, where it will debut — along with Turski's slopestyle event — at the 2014 Sochi Games.
"When you do this sport, you know things can go wrong," Turski said. "You train hard and as smart as you can. You have to be willing to take risks. We're all a little crazy that way — we love what we do and accept those risks."
Her headaches, though, were a different matter.
They began nearly 15 months ago and gradually got worse, making it hard to fully concentrate on the course.
And that's quite risky. In slopestyle, skiers do tricks down the slope and maneuver through "features" — rails, big jumps and bumps.