The McConkey Effect

Scott Gaffney

Shane McConkey, Patrol Chute, Squaw Valley.

Thursday afternoon, via phone, from Squaw Valley.
• "I just read a quote on a message board and it's appropriate: 'It's like hearing superman died.' And that is kind of the way he was for a lot of people. ... One thing about Shane is that he never let his larger-than-life persona in the media effect his head. He was always one of the coolest guys to be around. He gave everybody the time of day; one of the nicest and most generous guys out there."

• "His humor—definitely one of the most entertaining people out there and one of the happiest guys to be doing what he's doing. You hear people say 'live life to the fullest' and it's one of the most cliché things possible, but if anybody exemplified that, it was Shane."

Thursday night, via phone, from Haines, Alaska, with the TGR crew.
• "I'm speechless. I don't know what to say."

• "I've talked to a few people and I guess I got the gist of what happened. His skis didn't come off like they were supposed to, apparently. He was using those old-school Tyrolia bindings and they have ropes hooked on the back of them that they run up through their pants. Who knows, maybe the rope broke? They don't make those bindings anymore either, so those guys are always hunting around for the bindings because sometimes they loose their gear doing this stuff."

• "I first heard about him when I was ski racing in high school [in Vail]. I heard about his antics. He'd skied some NorAm slalom naked, so he already had this crazy reputation around him. But when he was living in Vail he was at the end of his racing thing. He was delivering pizzas for Domino's and just started getting into the outer-type events of the ski world, like this Hardcore Skiing Challenge, a slalom that fed into a GS that fed into a super-G that fed into a gated-GS mogul field, finishing on Look Ma at Vail. It was a cool event, put on by Hardcore, that ski clothing brand that's now non-existent. I think he won a couple grand winning the thing. ... And that's kind of how I met him; I competed in it too. It was one of the first ski events that was out of the norm, you know, pushing away from the conventional toward something else. And it was also a way to get some cash."

• "I met him at the Crested Butte Extremes later; he was milling around with a broken pelvis. His moguls career was winding down, but he was still competitive—a consistent top-three dude—and then he got into the Extremes the following year and did great there and then helped create the IFSA (International Free Skiers Association); making the tour and standardized judging system, making it more legit than it had been run previously."

• "I probably first met him when I was 17, so almost 20 years ago. He was definitely a goof ball, with the whole Saucer Boy character and stuff like that. And then some movies like the 'Spinal Snap' film with a bunch of spoof acting, comedy-style sh--. He was always doing crazy stuff on skis; loved the backflip and was definitely going for it all the time."

• "We're all pretty shocked. Erik Roner's rooming next to me here and he was a good friend of Shane's from Tahoe and a big BASE jumper too. He's pretty shaken up, that's for sure. I dont' know how many trips I've done with Shane, but it's a lot. I worked with him on that movie 'Steep' and that was the last film experience with him."

• "He led the way with the ski-BASE-ing stuff. The whole idea was taken from that James Bond movie. That's where that all came about for these guys. Frank Gamboli, that's who Shane learned BASE jumping from in the beginning; working their way from sky diving to BASE jumping and then ski-BASE-ing. And Frank didn't really get his chance to follow through with ski-BASE-ing because of his death."

• "Shane was the first guy to be a pro skier skiing on fat skis that usually only out-of-shape heli clients used. He would sit there and get in your face and tell you why you needed to get on 'em too. He'd really get in your face about it too. And then when you saw his segment in the movie you're like: 'What am I doing? And what have I been doing?' And now you look at it now, the Pontoon, it's 130 [mm] under foot or something, and he had the Spatulas too which was then the next generation of the skis highly-copied today and the Pontoon was the next step up from that. I don't know if they were working on something else more recently. But all that has totally changed the face of freeskiing. The places we go now, and how we go about it, is because of the gear he helped bring about."

• "Two years ago, or was it three, we were up here [in Alaska] when we heard about Doug Coombs. And now this; crazy stuff man."

Thursday night, via email, from British Columbia, with the Matchstick Productions crew.
• "I'm in Canada filming with Matchstick, one of the two crews out right now; the other was with Shane in Italy. We are all crushed and in disbelief at the death of one of skiing's greatest icons. Shane was also my closest friend and one of my coaches at my annual 'Ski with the Superstars Camp' in Portillo."

• "I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that he is gone and, at the same time, trying to grasp what a terrible year is has been for losing close friends."

Thursday night, via phone, from Aspen.
• "I know what happened. But I'm not really up for commenting about [the accident] until I talk to JT [Holmes], who was there."

• "Pretty much the nicest, most humble person you could meet, who was pretty much just oozing talent no matter what he did. But no matter who you were he'd act like he was your best friend. He was very interested in everything and just super-humble for being pretty much one of the most talented athletes in the world, ever."

• "I BASE jumped with him a bunch of times. He was a mentor to me in the sport and someone I looked up with great, great admiration and respect, especially in BASE jumping. His knowledge and respect of the sport is something I looked up to very much and wanted to emulate."

• "He was definitely the first professional skier who molded the two sports [ski and BASE] together. Guys had done it before but certainly didn't have the skiing ability that Shane had, where he could aesthetically and with perfection ski a big mountain line and then throttle it off some 500 foot cliff and with total control and just making it look absolutely perfect. Any BASE jumper who doesn't have the skiing experience could just click in and point it and then once you're off the edge your BASE jumping skills kick in. But that's why Shane really is the pioneer of ski BASE."

• "The wing suit ski BASE, that's a different aspect of the sport, where you're exiting the cliff and then by way of upward-releasable bindings you jettison your skis and then fly away in your wing suit. So you're basically taking the skis out of the equation. I've mounted some of those skis with JT and it's really simple. You attach a piece of nylon cord to the binding and then run it up the outside of your pants, up the back of your calf. So when you're doing a backflip, especially in a wing suit, your arms are already back there tucked behind your legs. So your hands are right on the cords. It's actually a very simple procedure."

"• "Shane and JT were the first people to do the wing suit ski-BASE stuff. It's part of of the progression of the sport, but it's on the far end of the spectrum. There's not a lot of people doing it because you have to be good at all aspects: Good at the skiing, good at the jumping, the wing suit flying, all that stuff. Part A is the skiing, part B is the ski-BASE-ing, part C is the wing suit, and then it all equals f---ing awesome. It's a very calculated stunt, but something that only the best guys in the world are doing. There's some Norwegians who have done it with them, but Shane and JT are the pioneers of it."

• "With the wing suit, you're not falling that fast; your glide ratio is like 2 to 1. You basically increase your forward speed and decrease your falling speed, so the best guys in the world can be falling 60 miles an hour and have a forward speed of 120-plus. They're super manueverable so you can fly steep or super horizontally, where you're not dropping that far but just screaming across the sky. You can actually start to go up for a second too, make sharp turns, whatever."

• "It's just devastating. Shane was my idol. And like I said, I had so much respect and admiration for him, not only as an athlete but as a person; such a genuniely nice and funny and charasmatic person. The type of person you wanted to around all the time. So to lose someone like that, it's tragic, devastating. As far as how he died, it is a dangerous sport. Just like skiing and mountaineering and race car driving, it's a dangerous sport. And there's consequences when things go bad. And that's an unfortunate reality. But still you don't get into it without having a very real respect for the dangers of the sport. And Shane was one of the most conscientious and safest jumpers I've ever seen. He always had a plan, and a good one. F---. He was just absolutely the man in both sports, skiing and BASE jumping."

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