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Hometown: Squaw Valley, CA
D.O.B.: December 30, 1969
On March 26, 2009, Shane McConkey left this world in a ski BASE accident in the Dolomite Mountains in Italy. In the process, we lost an incomparable icon, athlete, inspiration, joker, warrior, entertainer, giver, visionary, legend, hero, best friend, son, husband and father.
Through the course of a storied career, Shane had cemented his place as one of—if not the—greatest all-around skiers in the history of the sport by diving into just about every different facet and storming out on top. He had won skiercross races against the world’s best, invented terrain park tricks, won pro mogul tour events, dominated the big mountain freeskiing circuit for years, and stunned the world by taking ski BASE jumping into a whole new realm. He was a decent snowboarder, backflipped on monoskis, shredded on big mountain snowlerblades, claimed multiple pond crossing titles and won quite possibly the world’s first and only snowlerblade Chinese downhill. He essentially did it all, and he did it all exceptionally well.
Shane’s professional freeskiing career spanned an incredible 18 years, a longevity the likes of which in the action sports world is matched only by such icons as Kelly Slater, Danny Way, Laird Hamilton and Seth Morrison. And he wasn’t merely milking it to the end. Shane put together two of the finest film segments of his career in MSP’s Push and Claim at the ages of 36 and 38, respectively. Both segments featured him charging consequential lines, launching massive airs, busting inverts and hammering stomp after stomp in less than ideal snow. The fat lady may have been singing, but Shane heard nothing of it because at 39, he was on top of his game, feeling healthy and fired up for more.
So when was it all going to end for a guy who was still charging at 39? Shane didn’t know, but he was going to ride it for as long as he was physically able to pull it off and the excitable spirit remained within (which in all likelihood would have been years). Had he had more opportunities to be around progressive younger guys like PK Hunder and Sean Pettit, Shane would have been wholly inspired. He loved all things new and exciting, and it is quite likely that in a year or two we would have seen Shane in his 40s trying handdrag 3s off cliffs.
Shane’s ability to stiff-arm the hands of time and continue to throw down amazed anyone who saw him in action, but what really elevated him above most professional athletes was not his gargantuan backflips, gnarly billygoating and hairball straightlines; he won people over with his personality. Whether he was moonwalking on snowlerblades as Saucerboy, hucking naked spreads off 40’ cliffs, slashing off limbs in the lift maze with his Machetes or rapping the whitest of white lyrics atop his Subaru, in movies Shane appeared to be a genuine, fun-loving, self-deprecating goofball. That character was no act. In real life he was regularly hanging up the phone mid-sentence, sneaking rocks into another’s pack prior to a hike or secretly tying another skier’s skis to a rope just as patrollers were about to open an untouched goldmine of powder. Anyone who spent any more than minutes with Shane walked away with a story.
Shane’s positive persona was as unbreakable as it was infectious. He didn’t come away from a crash hurling his goggles, breaking his poles and cursing at the world. In the rare instance Shane tumbled, he’d typically laugh it off, say something self-deprecating like, “I suck,” and head right back up and stomp something never done before. His knack for keeping it light is just one of the many legacies he leaves.
Shane McConkey was essentially an energetic teenager wrapped in a 39 year-old body, and more often than not, the teen was bubbling at the surface. Now that he’s no longer with us, I suppose I can divulge a couple of other outlandish ideas he had in store: on our last trip to Haines, Alaska, while shooting for Claim, he searched high and low for a line that would allow him to rip down to a final pillow or cliff, stop, click out of his skis, chuck them down, and then throw a swan diving front flip off the cliff. And he wasn’t thinking of a meager 15-20’ drop. He wanted something with size. Marginal conditions unfortunately didn’t warrant such a thing, but the mere vision of it got him thinking even further. “If we go on a catskiing trip and find some pillows, we should do the same thing there,” he told me, the excitement of another means of ridiculous entertainment flickering in his eyes. “We should go out one day in Sorels and just jump down these pillow lines.” The guy who had worked tirelessly to revolutionize our equipment to make skiing better was looking to lose his gear altogether.
And before he skied off into retirement, Shane intended to go head to head with Mike Douglas in their running one-dollar bet on which of the two could drag out his career the longest. The idea was to dress up as old codgers, mount geriatric walkers to their skis, and proceed to drop into the rowdiest lines and pull off the best freestyle tricks possible, compiling whatever kind of segment they could that would leave the best man standing. Conceiving new ways to blend raw athleticism, adrenaline and humor was paramount in Shane’s joy of entertaining.
Of course, Shane knew his impact on the ski world was significant, but throughout his life he maintained an impressive level of humility. He was approachable, the kind of guy who shocked kids hounding him for autographs by asking questions about them. Anytime he spotted people on Spatulas or Pontoons, he asked what they thought, genuinely interested in their feedback. But he’d never say, “I invented those.” He’d listen to people talking about his film exploits in a gondola cabin, but he’d never step forward and say, “Yeah, I did that.” If you didn’t call him out as Shane McConkey, he wouldn’t either. He was simply a person of the people, no better, no worse than anyone out there.
So what is Shane McConkey’s legacy? It depends who you speak to. His affect on people was deep and spanned a tremendous spectrum. Many believe that it is his visionary gift of rocker to ski and snowboard technology that has forever changed riding powder. Others cite his gift of humor and the benefits of filling your life with laughter. Some feel it’s the inspiration he provided to countless people to get out and push themselves a little further to get a taste of the satisfaction that comes with tiptoeing on the edge. And others will be forever moved by the manner in which he exemplified the carpe diem spirit and made every day count.
No one is wrong. Because Shane McConkey gave so much to all of us. He made us say, “Sick!” and “Oh my god” over and over, and he made our skin tingle when we watched him throw his hands in the air or fist pump because for a moment we felt we were witnessing pure exhilaration—that rare Tiger Woods just-sunk-a-critical-putt kind of stoke, only elevated exponentially because rather than battling for prestige and money, Shane’s life was on the line in so much of what he did. I like to think that if we were all told we had 24 hours to live, in an effort to get just a taste of that absolute euphoria, a great percentage of us would want to rush out to do the kinds of things Shane did on a daily basis.
Was Shane McConkey the most influential freeskier in the history of the sport? Probably. Was he the most beloved freeskier ever? Definitely. And as the shocking news of his death ricocheted throughout the world, those of us close to Shane were not the only ones shaken to tears. People the world over who had never met Shane felt they had lost a friend.
The day after his death, someone stomped out R.I.P. Shane in a bowl in Whistler on a powder day. Ski areas as far away as Chile renamed runs in Shane’s honor. Skiers ran racecourses on Pontoons. Saucerboys suddenly ran rampant. Two guys hucked naked spread eagles off Squaw’s Palisades like Shane had done so many years prior. Everywhere, people said they went out skiing for Shane, charging just a little harder and going just a little bigger than they normally would, inspired by a man who gave and taught us so much.
- Scott Gaffney
Please visit http://shanemcconkey.org/