Death of Shane McConkey rocks extreme skiing community
This was not the
It had been four days since his close friend
But McConkey struggled to release his skis. By the time he got them off, he'd been free-falling for 12 seconds and was too close to the ground for his wingsuit or parachute to do him any good. McConkey was 39. He left behind a wife and 3½-year-old daughter.
Sad as it is, the
But the passing of McConkey, a legend and pioneer with an infectious personality and monstrous cojones even for his line of work, rocked the community of big-mountain skiers to its core.
"You can feel it in the air up here in Tahoe," Rahlves said. "People are still trying to work through it, the idea that he's actually gone."
Rahlves reminded me of
A sampling of various obituaries leaves the impression of a guy with whom you would have loved to have a beer. From this inspired sentence in the
In addition to winning almost every different event you can win on skis -- moguls events, big mountain competitions, big-air titles, skiercross races -- McConkey was a bellwether, a visionary. As his friend
Thus, the visionary ski bum persuaded his sponsor, Volant, "to produce a reverse sidecut, reverse camber ski he dubbed the
More recently, Gaffney wrote, McConkey discovered BASE jumping, "and quickly became the forefather of ski-BASE jumping, seeing potential to ski lines never thought possible."
BASE stands for Bridge, Antenna, Span, Earth -- objects from which its practitioners leap, enjoying the rush of free fall before deploying their parachutes. Or not. The acronym was coined by
"You want to push the limit, but only to a certain point," said Rahlves, who doesn't ski-BASE, but does star in his share of ski-porn: carving lines down incredibly steep faces on mountains in places like Valdez, Alaska. "But you don't want to go over the edge" -- he intended no pun, I believe -- "and get yourself in a really dangerous position."
A reporter is forced to ask, absurdly, "Does skiing off a cliff, doing a double back flip, then planning to fly away in a wingsuit like Rocket J. Squirrel not constitute getting yourself 'in a really dangerous position?' "
"These guys don't just go up there yee-hawin' it. They get it all dialed in. But ski-basing is such a high-risk sport. There's almost no room for malfunction."
It is indeed so small as to be nonexistent. McConkey had performed some variation of a ski-basing stunt more than 700 times. The problem is, in his chosen line of work, one really needs to stay undefeated. You can only cheat death so many times before it pulls a straight flush, and the valley floor is rushing up at 120 mph and you don't have time to think of the wife and daughter you'll never see again.
Check out the comments following
"There are definitely two sides," Rahlves allowed. "From an athlete's standpoint, a life without adventure is a life without living. You have to have a risk involved, because that's what makes you feel alive. On the other hand, once you've got a family, it's not just you you're responsible for anymore."
Rahlves has 1½-year-old twins with his wife,
"Emotions were running high," said Daron, who has since been asked by his spouse, "When is enough enough for you guys?"
To find an answer, members of that adrenaline-addicted community might consider asking themselves two questions before ripping a sick line down some 50-degree face in Valdez, or skiing off a cliff in a wingsuit, or being towed into a wave with a 30-foot face: How much do I love my wife and child, or children? How long can I stay undefeated?