Todd Lappin remembers the life and legacy of one of the most influential extreme skiers of all time.
by Todd Lappin
I last saw Shane McConkey a year ago, at Squaw Valley, California, his home mountain. I got to ride the lift with him and Ayla, his then two-year-old daughter. Actually, I had noticed her first–she was the smallest kid I had ever seen on a mountain; the two of them were out for a ski lesson.
When we got on the chair, I decided to play it cool. I never let on that I knew who he was. Instead, we spoke as fathers. I have a girl just a little younger than Ayla, so we compared notes on how to teach our daughters to ski. At the top he asked me to take a photo of the two of them with his iPhone. (Shane being Shane, the glass on the front of the phone was cracked.) Then I watched the most inspiring skier I’ve ever known slip down a bunny hill in a snowplow, his little daughter tucked between his legs.
On March 26, Shane died while skiing into a BASE jump during a film shoot in Italy. It was one of his signature tricks — huck an absurd cliff, jettison the skis, pop the parachute, land with a mischievous smile — but his skis failed to detach after the jump, sending him into a free fall that he never
recovered from. He died on impact. He was 39.
I think of Shane every time I click into my skis. It’s no exaggeration to say that Shane revolutionized extreme skiing over the last two decades. A pioneer of the “new school” movement, Shane’s jaw-dropping jumps, easygoing style, and playful humor made him an instant standout in ski movies, and a hero to many of today’s younger champions. (Just type “Saucer Boy” into Google to see for yourself.)
Yet his innovations extended well beyond extreme skiing. A peek inside my basement equipment rack tells the story of his influence. My oldest skis, from the early 1990s, are a freestyle adaptation of the giant-slalom skis used in downhill racing — very long and very thin. Every pair I’ve purchased since has been a little wider and a lot shorter, to the point where I’m now riding on boards that are wider than my boots and shorter than the skis I used in junior high. Everyone laughed when Shane first touted the idea of using wide skis in deep powder, but it was common sense to him: Powdery snow is more like a fluid than a solid, and water skis are fat, so wouldn’t fat skis perform better on snow as well? Of course, he was right.
But now, with Shane gone, of all the amazing innovations he made and runs he’s taken, that scene at Squaw Valley, of him guiding his daughter down the bunny slope, is the thing I’ll remember most.
Because of his line of work, Shane McConkey could not hold life insurance. A group has been set up on Facebook to raise money to help his wife and daughter — to donate, spread the word, or lend moral support, go here.