Legend: Remembering Shane McConkey
A dozen years ago the Tahoe area lost a legend.
Described as “the most badass person on the face of the earth,” in the 2013 documentary “McConkey,” Shane McConkey left a lasting legacy that is unparalleled in skiing.
Today, his free-spirited approach to life and the sport he loved is being honored across the globe with the first International Snowblade Day.
As part of the event that coincides with the anniversary of his death in 2009, the Shane McConkey Foundation is giving away more than $10,000 in prizes through raffles and photo contests, while raising funds for its programs like the Shane McConkey EcoChallenge, which encourages youngsters to tackle environmental issues in their community.
“It feels like we’re sharing the love,” said Sherry McConkey, wife of Shane. “It’s important to continue his legacy that way.”
‘I remember the moment I met him’
Born Dec. 30, 1969, in Vancouver, Canada, McConkey became one of the most legendary figures in skiing, combining BASE jumping and wingsuits with an unyielding attitude on the slopes to push the sport to new levels.
McConkey would find a home in Squaw Valley, and in doing so, inspired generations of winter athletes.
“I remember the moment I met him,” said pro skier Michelle Parker. “He was one of the only people that I ever got nervous right before meeting. Instantly he made me so comfortable — like his best friend. I always felt like he had my back.”
From launching a ski-Base jump off the 400-foot Lover’s Leap in South Tahoe to styling around on snowblades in a parking lot with a bottle of whiskey in hand, McConkey embodied a renegade yet light-hearted approach to skiing, making it as much of a lifestyle as a career.
“We still embody that,” said Parker. “There’s a lot of people trying to replicate that, and no one can quite do it the way Shane did … In our ski industry, from the youth to everyone who is older, we all reference Shane as this person that we absolutely idolized.”
Parker said she grew up looking up to McConkey. As she transitioned into a pro skiing career, she eventually met and befriended he childhood idol.
“Anytime that you got called to be on a shoot with Shane or go on a trip with him, it was an extra special time,” said Parker. “You said ‘yes’ immediately purely because of him.”
When the two were out filming with other pros, McConkey would often point out a line that no one else saw — let alone dared to attempt to ski — launching himself down vertical pitches and over jagged boulders and disappearing into a puff of powder with only laughter to indicate that he was OK.
“This guy can do anything,” added Parker. “I really felt like Shane was a super hero.”
March 26, 2009
At 39, McConkey was already one of the most innovative skiers in the sport.
For more than a decade, he’d practiced BASE jumping and had been eyeing a cliff in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains with plans to launch off into a wingsuit flight to the valley 1,500 feet below.
After building a kicker to launch from, McConkey and a small team began final preparations for the jump at Sass Pordoi, Italy. Friend JT Holmes went first, nailing a double backflip, and pulling a cord to release his skis in order to began flight in his wingsuit.
Holmes, according to a 2009 “Outside” magazine story, said the two thought the cliff was higher because the trees at the bottom were “so small.” Though misjudging the height of the cliff, Holmes managed to land safely in a snowfield.
McConkey went next, executing a double backflip as well, but when he attempted to release his skis just one came off and in doing so, became entangled with the other still attached.
McConkey reached to remove the other ski by hand, reportedly causing him to become inverted. He’d manage to pop the ski off and turn over, but by that time it was too late.
“Had he another two or three or 400 feet, he would have opened his parachute and been fine,” Holmes told “Outside.” “But unfortunately, he was out of altitude, and the ground hit him immediately.”
In an instant, one of skiing’s greatest figures was gone.
“Shane was my best friend,” Holmes said in an interview with the Sierra Sun. “He was somebody I leaned on for guidance in life — a major inspiration for me and countless others. The 26 of March, we just go out and have fun and don’t take life too seriously, get together with good friends, and usually use the snowblades for the day, which are always good for a laugh. We think about our friend, but at the same time, don’t overthink it.”
A dozen years later, Holmes said the anniversary of McConkey’s death is still a raw reminder of the friend he lost and the impact it had on the lives around him.
“It was a bad day,” said Holmes. “It changed the course of a lot of people’s lives. You realize everything can change in an instant, and you have to live your life accordingly. You always have to remember that everything can change in a moment.”
‘We think of Shane all of the time’
Today marks 12 years since the death of McConkey, but his presence is still felt around the region and throughout the ski industry.
“We think of Shane all of the time,” said Holmes. “A lot of interesting things remind me of him, sometimes it’s his daughter or sometimes it’s just someone displaying an incredible amount of talent. He was always open minded, and he had this incredible ability to learn things so fast. It’s these little things that remind me of him. They make me smile. It’s not a sad day (today) … it’s very much a celebration of his life.”
Parker echoed Holmes sentiments, adding that simply being in the mountains brings up memories of McConkey.
“He was always so lighthearted and truly enjoyed every moment of being out there,” she said. “I’ll think of Shane or get inspired by Shane, especially if I’m having a tough day or anything, I’m like, ‘Remember how much fun Shane would be having right now.’ It instantly makes me smile.”
Today, the Shane McConkey foundation celebrates the life of one of the area’s most iconic figures, raising funds for a good cause in a light-hearted manner. Individuals can purchase tickets from the Shane McConkey Foundation for a raffle that includes $10,000 in skis, snowboards, bindings, helmets, goggles, season passes, packs, poles, certificates, and much more from Jones Snowboards, K2, Oakley, Pit Viper, Laird Hamilton, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, Anon, Arcade, The North Face, and others.
The foundation is also having a photo contest to go along with the event. Participants can upload their best snowblade photos using the hashtag SnowbladeDay. Photo submissions will automatically be entered for a chance to win a prize during a 7 p.m. live-stream.
Proceeds from the event benefit the Shane McConkey Foundation, which supports causes that protect the environment and provide opportunities for children. With the event, the foundation, according to Sherry McConkey, expects to surpass $600,000 in total donations since being founded in 2011.
“I think through COVID and through life lately it’s just been so intense, and so just bringing out that memory of not taking life so seriously and being able to have fun … that’s what comes out at this time of year, which is huge for me. We need more of that in life,” said Sherry McConkey.
“I think Shane would be so proud to know that happened because of him. It’s not only who he was or what he did, it’s what he’s done for people. He inspired people around the world. That’s what I want people to remember — you can do anything.”
To take part in Snowblade Day, visit http://www.shanemcconkey.org.
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun a sister publication to the Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-550-2643.
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