Skier Shane McConkey Killed BASE-Jumping in Italy

by steve casimiro on March 26, 2009 · 21 comments

21 responses

It’s a sad, tragic day for skiing: Shane McConkey, one of the sport’s brightest stars of the last 20 years, was killed today in a ski-BASE accident near Corvara, in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains.

Ski-BASE is like BASE-jumping, i.e. parachuting off fixed objected like cliffs, buildings, and bridges, but on skis, and McConkey was one of its best-known adherents and, indeed, pioneers. The 39-year-old Red Bull athlete was filming with fellow skier J.T. Holmes and Matchstick Productions in Europe and working on a project that had been brewing for a couple of years: scouting the perfect location and preparing for a double ski-BASE jump.

“Shane’s been working on this project for two or three years,” said Scott Gaffney, an MSP filmmaker and close friend of McConkey’s. “It’s where they ski-BASE off a cliff and then fly down to another patch of snow, cut away, land, ski again, and then ski-BASE again. It’s a double BASE all in one run. That’s what they were filming for. And naturally, with those guys, if they aren’t working on that they’re going to be jumping off something else.

“So he and J.T. had built a jump on top of another cliff. I think Shane had done it the day before without a wingsuit and today he was trying it with a wingsuit.”

Gaffney spoke with Holmes immediately after the accident. The other ski-BASE jumper went off the cliff first, with MSP’s Steve Winter shooting video from a helicopter and two other cinematographers shooting nearby, and was landing when the accident occurred.

“Shane did a double backflip and then had some difficulty,” said Gaffney. “He uses these old-school Tyrolia bindings, which release upwards, and they have straps attached that he pulls on to release the skis. So he pulls the bindings, the skis release, and then he flies away in the wingsuit.

“He got one ski off, but then was fighting to get the other one off. In the whole process, he went upside down and had one ski above him, which caused him to spiral. And then he got into a high-speed spin. He was still fighting to get out all the way down. J.T. watched the footage again because he wanted to know what happened. It was hard to see, so this is speculation, but it looked like he was going for his pilot chute. Maybe he couldn’t get to it—he’d complained before that the wingsuit was tight. But we don’t know for sure.”

McConkey, from Olympic Valley, California, made his first ski-BASE jump in 2003 and had over 700 under his belt. Just yesterday, he completed a dramatic ski-BASE in/near the Val Scura Couloir and posted an excited entry on Facebook and his Red Bull page, where he posted a gripping description of the descent and jump. “We nailed the Sassongher line!” he wrote. “This was extremely satisfying getting to ski such a unique line.”

McConkey was one of the most charismatic skiers the sport has ever seen, with a twisted and contagious sense of humor that seeped into nearly everything he did. His Red Bull bio says, “Being remembered as an athlete is nice, but I’d rather be remembered as that guy who helped us all ski better and faster by inventing skis with rocker and reverse sidecut shapes, and who convinced us to use fatter skis — and most importantly, to never take yourself too seriously.”

McConkey is survived by his wife Sherry, and three-year-old daughter, Ayla.

Corvara is located in the Italian Dolomites, just east of Val Gardena and west of Cortina d’Ampezzo. Click maps to enlarge.

McConkey’s segment from MSP’s Push.

If you haven’t seen K2’s tribute page, make sure you do. The photos are vintage McConkey.

A few years ago, well, 11, Leslie Anthony wrote what remains the definitive Shane McConkey profile. It ran in POWDER Magazine and was titled, simply, “The Man”. These excerpts appear courtesy Anthony.

Last March, atop a permanently closed face at Kirkwood ski area, a group of judges in the free-skiing contest taking place that day stares down over the steep, firm snow and rocky chutes, pondering the various lines and looking for a way down.
       Naturally–as naturally as a farmer scans the sky for rain–all eyes turn to the man with the sloppy 40-pound duffel slung over his shoulders, an ill-packed bag crammed with shovels, sleeping bag, and judging cards. If anyone can deliver a quick judgement on this ponderous precipice, then surely it will be the steely-eyed 28-year-old with the duffel, even if he is under strict doctor’s orders not to be on skis after tearing his left ACL in January.
       But there, leaning over the edge, pointing out what would be considered 3-line, 4-line, and 5-line routes under International Free Ski Association guidelines, is one James Shane McConkey, kingpin of the free-ski underworld, a man whose very name is synonymous with backflips, nude spread-eagles, crotch-grabs–an entire glisse revolution–not to mention killer answering machine imitations of Beavis and Butthead.
       Finishing his explanation, McConkey suddenly hitches up the duffel, rips three perfect turns and freefalls into the 5-line, a steep, tight chute with a little drop off in the middle. He’s at the bottom, bag open, sleeping-bag spread, shovel out, and setting up before the others even have a chance to think. But now there’s nothing to think about: the gauntlet has been thrown and they’ll all have to sketch down the 5-line to save face with the gimp.

If you’re shocked to discover Shane McConkey was a precocious child, stop reading here. Born in Vancouver, his Can-Am parents separated when he was three and he and his mother, Glen, moved from Whistler to Santa Cruz, California. His mother was “the best mom in the world–which anyone would say, but mine really was.”
       Indeed Glen, a strong skier and now four-time National Masters Skiing Champion, made numerous sacrifices and turned aside opportunities for herself in order to create more for her son. Naturally, according to McConkey, the greatest gift his mother gave him was skiing.
       When Shane was very young and still living in Whistler, Glen skied with him in a backpack, where he loved moguls. On groomers he’d shake the pack and scream “bump, mommy, bump!”

POWDER Assistant Editor Keith Carlsen–who has been forced into nude acts of depravity at the hands of McConkey–perhaps sums it best, “Shane is more than just a leader–he’s a ringleader.”

Like a dog who’s been caught with his head in the kitchen garbage–a place where canine instinct drove him without any cognation over the consequences–McConkey is often sheepish and deflective about the legendary impulses of his adolescent id.
       “How about the time you threw a backflip in a mogul course at Vail, had your pass yanked by patrol, then rushed the course naked and got permanently banned from the resort?”
       “You must be talking about someone else.”
       “Didn’t you get beat up in a Whistler bar this spring by some redneck who thought you were eyeing his girlfriend?”
       “I don’t think I understand the question.”
       “What do you think now when you see that old Volant ad where your hair looks like you stuck your finger in a light socket?”
       “What Volant ad? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Greg Stump March 26, 2009 at 17:43

UUUUUgggg… Not another one… I hate this news…

News Review March 26, 2009 at 17:54

So sad that we have lost another legendary talent. Our deepest condolences to the family and friends left behind by Mr. McConkey.. We sincerely pray that may his soul rest in peace.. You will surely be missed! Fly High Shane!

seth merrill March 26, 2009 at 19:08

Say Hi to the “Gambler” shane. and thank you!! for being YOU. see ya

Lhotse March 26, 2009 at 19:28

Steve- Thank you for your beautiful words about Shane, now, and throughout his career. I will miss him, his silly antics, his kind friendship and his amazing smile, which we will see on Ayla’s gorgeous little face forever. Sweet dreams, sweet prince. Shane will always be my hero. -Lhotse Merriam Hawk

Rick Armstrong March 26, 2009 at 22:20

What an incredible guy. Always up for an adventure. Always up for having fun. A true legend. He will be missed. Thanks for the great words scoop.

Jim Jack March 26, 2009 at 23:04

I will always remember the first day i met Shane at the GMD in 1992. He was showing me these silly videos of him and Kent throwing back flips in Vail on way to making Ski Theater. I will also remember the day he came up to me last year while I was judging our Freeskiing event in Squaw and He grabbed me in the pit and said what an amazing display of skiing he was seeing and what a great job we were doing with the IFSA.

Jim Jack March 26, 2009 at 23:11

@Jim Jack, I must continue….This was his baby and I know that he always wanted the sport to have integrity and credibility so that the athletes could receive the recognition they deserved. Thank you Shane for your vision and dedication. We will miss you and promise to continue your dream for the Free Skiers of the world. YOU are the man!…

Dave Villemure March 27, 2009 at 05:43

Thanks for the story Steve. I have so many great memories of Shane, the earliest being his naked antics on the Bud Mogul tour, a few years later reconnecting south of the Equator skiing epic lines in Las Lenas, many of which Shane lead me down, through and over on my first trip down there.He had way of making gnarly scary line a blast with his sillyness and laughter. Shane is a true icon of the sport we all love so much!

Thanks Shane! You will be missed by all !

Matt March 27, 2009 at 14:43

He will be dearly missed by all, I remember watching him in Ski movie, High society and Focused & all the others. He invented and revolutionized the powder ski with reverse side cut & camber. In some clips he would ski on a pair of water ski’s, then he invented the ultimate powder ski back in the day, the machete. And later in his career he did more advanced base jumping and then with his wing suites. A great father and friend who be missed by his Wife and by all. See you on the other side.

ben March 28, 2009 at 02:33

you will be missed rip it up with doug coombs, trevor petersen, and craig kelly

Lucky Luhr March 28, 2009 at 02:54

The best freerider in this world is gone. You were a great source of inspiration Shane, and every day that I put on my Pontoons it will be to honor You. Rest in peace, Shane, regards from Sweden.

Robert Pugsley March 28, 2009 at 12:22

A truely legendary human being. Thank you Shane for all of the inspiration, innovation, and humor!

I never got to ride with Shane, but now is spirit will ride with me every time I ride my Pontoons!

Trevor Troup March 28, 2009 at 13:40

You were a true hero..Long live saucerboy

Dan Hart March 28, 2009 at 14:24

Thanks for the love, hard work and dedication for all the years. I have awesome wide skis that are fun as hell thanks in part to you.

PS I won’t ski Vail until you are unbanned. I hope that is never.

Adam Heaney March 29, 2009 at 09:32

The thing I loved about Shane is that even though he was at the forefront of one of the most ‘daredevil’ sports known, he was seemed somewhat disdainful of the “extreme sport” nomenclature and had funny way of downplaying the “extreme guy” reputation while not coming off as coy. He succeeded at many of his goals, not the least of which was to not take himself too seriously and I always thought that was admirable in a sport where people seem to go to great lengths to market themselves as the gnarliest thing since Evel Knivel. Shane was not the “real McCoy”, he was the real McConkey which was way cooler.

Greg H March 29, 2009 at 10:47

When I heard the news yesterday my heart dropped. I had been a huge fan of Shane since I first saw him ski in “Sick Sence” and based my style of skiing after his style. I had the oppertunity to meet Shane in NYC at the MSP premiere of Claim. At 29 years old I was like a little kid meeting his idol for the first time, I was awestruck. I have always looked up to him for what he has done for our sport. I was honored to have met him. He will be truley missed. MSP Films and the industry will never be the same. RIP Shane thank you for making freeskiing what it has become today.

intense dave April 2, 2009 at 14:47

shane you are one of the skiers that inspired me to become a skibum/ahtlete you will forever in our memories intense dave

Woody Lindenmeyr April 3, 2009 at 05:28

Thanks Shane! For the good times, the vivid polaroids of your poop, pulling spaghetti back and forth between your brain, mouth and nose. Thanks for the sik ass reverse camber fat ski technology and shoving it down our throats. Thanks for the dedication, support and kindness. You will be immortal in spirit and legend. You can huck it all now …with Frank. We love you and your family is now bigger than ever! THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

shanneeq September 3, 2010 at 16:58

why do people applaud adrenaline junks – jumping from thrill to thrill and end up being killed.

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