Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Shane McConkey - RIP

Shane McConkey lived life to extremes. He and J.T. Holmes were long time skiing and BASE jumping partners, who both made their home in Squaw Valley, California, a breeding ground for so-called extreme skiers and action sports athletes. McConkey was more than a local legend, he was one of the biggest icons skiing has ever known. Holmes - several years his junior - was sometimes seen as his protégé, but to McConkey, the two were trusted equals. Both men had been ski-BASE jumping for years and even after hundreds of jumps, they were known for their attention to safety, at least as much as anyone can in one of the most dangerous sports known to man.

Less than a week ago, the two athletes were in the Dolomite Alps of Italy, filming sequences for an upcoming  Matchstick Productions film. It was their second day attempting a ski-wingsuit-BASE jump from the plateau-like summit of Sass Pordoi. They had tested the altitude by dropping rocks and waiting for their impact, and had ascertained that the valley floor was at least 1400 feet below and just as important, the cliff wall was near vertical. While no other athletes had ever attempted the type of jumps McConkey and Holmes were performing, the two had numerous successful attempts under their belt and this should have been about as routine as such a feat could be.

Holmes went first. He skied a few hundred feet, hit the kicker they had built next to the cliff, safely ejected his skis, opened his wingsuit, and then after a short flight, popped his parachute. When Holmes looked back to see McConkey's jump, he wasn't there. Unable to jettison one of his skis, McConkey was unable to open his wingsuit or parachute and impacted on the valley floor, killing him instantly. Shane McConkey was 39-years-old and is survived by his wife, Sherri and daughter, Ayla.
News of McConkey's death travelled quickly. Online sites like Facebook and Twitter were flooded with reports, rumors, and some very strong opinions.      

I’ve gone back and forth on whether to post anything on Shane McConkey’s recent passing. To be frank, there have been many people who were critical of him continuing to push the limits with a wife and 3-year-old daughter and I dare say that my feelings bordered on the same, but then it struck me that I don’t have the slightest clue what it was like to be in his shoes and I don’t know what his family thought about him attempting to defy fate on a daily basis. So to question whether he should or shouldn't have been participating such dangerous pursuits is not for me to do.

What I do know is that Shane McConkey was and is a legend in the sport of skiing. Forget, if you will, all the stuff about BASE jumping, wingsuit flying, and all the other action sports McConkey had become associated with; at his core, McConkey was a skier. Most people in the skiing world would agree that he was one of the most talented all-around skiers to ever strap a pair of skis on. Whether it was his exploits as a pro mogul skier, a racer when he was younger, or one of the pioneers on the international competitive freeskiing tour, McConkey represented much of what embodies places like Squaw Valley, Jackson Hole, Verbier, and Chamonix. His passing is surely a tragedy that could have been avoided, but that would have required he stop doing what he truly loved. And as members of the skiing community or general public, who are we to judge how made his living? his life is surely worth celebrating! RIP!

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