SQUAW VALLEY, Calif. — There’s a clouded axiom understood by those who ski and ride the mountains day in and day out. It’s revealed in a sly giggle, a snicker or an outburst of hoots from the chairlift.
Visitors don’t get it. Non-skiers don’t get it. But it’s simple: Snow blades, the stubby pint-sized skis, embody all that is funny and outrageous about the mountain lifestyle.
Shane McConkey understood this. That’s why when he took to the slopes in the late 1990s with a group of other X-Games competitors in an informal snow blade race, something greater began to grow.
McConkey’s little foray into the wintery child of rollerblading has now turned into one of Lake Tahoe’s most eclectic, most disturbing and likely its most hilarious snow-related event: The Pain McShlonkey Classic, an outrageous snow blade melee with multiple competitions, in honor of the fallen skier, who died four years ago on Tuesday.
The event, held near the March 26 anniversary of McConkey’s death, is characterized by the satirical and ultimately hilarious pompousness for which McConkey was known. Expect endless pole whacking, volleys of pro-callouts and ego claims, shockingly bad costumes, backflips and a variety of dirty tricks from the pro and amateur competitors vying for the Golden Saucer trophy.
“We’re all going to rip the s*** out this in honor of McConkey,” said amateur competitor Will Whipple, who made the cut after three years of trying.
That is exactly what McConkey would’ve wanted, said Sherry McConkey, who now runs the Shane McConkey Foundation.
“It’s incredible because I know he’d be up there, two thumbs up and just so proud,” she said. “Seeing people dork out and not take life too seriously would make him smile.”
So, why snow blades? The tiny uncontrollable skis have longed been used to mock the sternness of winter sports. They illustrate one’s commitment to making people laugh and having a good time, things McConkey’s entire life seemed to revolve around.
“It’s hysterical to watch a grown man flail down the mountain on fruit boots,” Whipple said. “We all just have to remember to have fun sometimes.”
Pain McShlonkey kicks off with the Chinese Downhill, a rip-roaring head-to-head race between pro skiers and snowboarders (on snow blades, of course) and a chosen batch of 30 amateurs (also on blades). Amateurs were selected by submitting their most embarrassing moment to a panel of judges. Entries were so vile and revealing they could not be posted to the internet, Sherry McConkey said.
Following the downhill race is the Extreme Small Mountain Invitational, a mock big mountain contest on Squaw’s Enchanted Forrest, where contestants work their snowlerblade skills for a cast of celebrity judges.
“It’s not about being extreme, it’s about making the judges laugh,” Sherry McConkey said.
Then, there’s the costume contest. Participants have been known to don saucers, one-pieces, climbing ropes and, in true McConkey fashion, good old mullet wigs. But, as the event is somewhat family oriented, butt-nakeds (or BNs) are not encouraged.
At age 39, McConkey died in a ski BASE jumping accident in Italy in March 26, 2009. Though his skiing and stunts drew sponsors and travel, McConkey was famous for his antics around Squaw Valley, including skiing lines naked, taking remarkably goofy season pass photos, farting up tram cars and, of course, snow blading.
Sherry McConkey remembers Shane shredding down the waterfall in Shirley Canyon on blades not long after they met. A couple years after his death, as she devised a tribute, an event involving snow blades just seemed to fit, she said.
“Sking is such a serious sport and it’s so much fun to make fun of it,” she said. “It’s something that Shane loved to do.”
The Awards Ceremony and The World’s Greatest After Party follow the competitions. Proceeds from this year’s event will benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Tahoe Truckee Unified School District’s environmental education programs.
“It’s incredible because I know he’d be up there, two thumbs up and just so proud.”