Big-mountain skier Shane McConkey dies
March 26, 2009
VAIL, Colo. ” Legendary skier and former Vail, Colo. resident Shane McConkey died Thursday in a ski accident in Italy.
He was 39.
McConkey was attempting a cliff jump in the Italian Dolomites in which he was to release his skis and then use a “wing suit” and parachute to fly through the air, according to news reports. McConkey was a pioneer of these so-called ski BASE jumps.
One of the skis did not release, and McConkey was unable to deploy his parachute, ESPN reported.
McConkey starred in numerous ski films as both a big-mountain skier and a ski-BASE jumper. He also won several national and international skiing competitions, including the X Games and World Extreme Skiing Championships.
The Olympic Valley, Calif., resident is survived by his wife and young daughter.
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McConkey lived in the Vail area for several years in the early ’90s, competing on the Pro Mogul Tour and delivering pizzas for Domino’s.
Eagle-Vail resident Kari Corbin, who was his roommate then, said McConkey always just wanted to find a way to get paid for skiing.
“He died doing something he loved,” she said. “He loved to ski.”
Despite his amazing exploits, McConkey always seemed humble, she said.
“Shane didn’t think he was too cool for school,” Corbin said. “He never thought he was above everybody else. As far as I’m concerned, he probably was. With skiing, and with everything.”
Corbin remembers filming McConkey doing a double back flip off the “whoopee” jump under Chair 4 on Vail Mountain.
Perhaps the most famous Vail McConkey story came from a Pro Mogul Tour event. McConkey took his run down the Look Ma course and did a flip, which wasn’t allowed at the time. After the disqualification, McConkey slipped back up Chair 3 and proceeded to poach the course naked, to the delight of the crowd. The stunt got McConkey banned from Vail Mountain, Corbin said.
Local pro skier and Warren Miller-film star Chris Anthony has known McConkey since they ski-raced against each other as kids and later together at the University of Colorado. When they lived in Vail in the early ’90s, Anthony helped ignite McConkey’s interest in free-skiing.
“He was the Jim Carrey of the ski world ” and Beavis and Butthead combined,” Anthony said. “Super inspirational, very innovative, and always sort of thinking about what the next thing is that we could do.”
He pushed the innovation of the reverse camber powder skis, which are now becoming popular among recreational skiers. He also took skiing and skydiving and combined the two.
Anthony, who ran an annual ski camp in Chile with McConkey, recalled McConkey as a skier with an incredible sense of coordination who could throw back flips off terrain that most people would have trouble skiing at all.
“He was a thinker, and a very gifted athlete,” Anthony said.
After leaving Vail, McConkey moved to Squaw Valley in 1994.
Friend Scott Gaffney, of Olympic Valley, had known McConkey for 15 years.
“I was pretty much floored,” Gaffney said. “Everyone is the same way. They’re floored. With what he does, you picture it happening at some point, and yet at the same time, you think it’s never going to happen. The bottom fell out today.
“He was a larger than life personality,” Gaffney said. “He was one of the most gifted individuals you’ll ever meet, and one hell of a friend who never let who he was in the media’s eyes change him.”
Gaffney said McConkey had discussed the inherent danger of base jumping and extreme skiing.
“He was calculated and very conscious of what he was doing,” Gaffney said. “In a lot of people’s eyes, he was absolutely crazy. He took away a lot of the risks to make sure what he was doing was safe.”
In 2005, McConkey became one of the first to ever complete a triple back flip while BASE-jumping with skis on, a trick he completed off a 400-foot drop near Lake Tahoe.
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