I will miss talking to Shane McConkey. Not just because he was funny and full of life. But because he was for real. Despite all the Saucer Boy antics, he was always willing to sit down and talk about the sport, always engaged and interested in conveying his passion for skiing. He fulfilled the stereotype of the extreme athlete, always stoked and ready to go bigger than the next guy, but, as a person, he broke that stereotype. He didn’t just talk mindless babble and want to be some pseudo rock star. Sure he could go bigger than the next guy (in fact, he died doing that). The driving force behind McConkey was that he wanted to move the sport forward. Did he ever.
If you don’t think skiing and snowboarding have changed over the decade, look at where you ride. It used to be you stayed in bounds or you got arrested. Now, the lifeblood of the sport is in freeskiing—getting out the gates and improvising. This issue of Elevation Outdoors is a testament to that ethos. Backcountry is more or less for everyone these days. It’s no longer just about hippies in Nepalese hats.
Now, McConkey didn’t start the idea of freeskiing but he did push the boundaries by skiBASEing (skiing off massive cliffs James Bond-style with a parachute). If anything, he was always extremely respectful of everyone who came before him (“These kids think they are doing something new but there are assloads of old timers who have already done everything,” he told me once.) What he did was found the International Freeskiing Association (IFSA) in the ‘90s, legitimizing a new attitude in the sport and starting the opening up of the backcountry.
If you don’t think Shane McConkey was the most influential figure in snow sports over the past decade, just take a look at your skis or snowboard. When McConkey rode a big mountain line on water skis for a Matchstick Productons film at the start of the millennium, it seemed like a stunt. It wasn’t. It was the dawn of rocker, the biggest change in ski construction since the snowboard and parabolics brought everyday people back to the hills.
McConkey’s logic when it came to building a new powder ski was simple. Resort skis are designed with camber—you step on them and they flex down so that your edges bite into the snow surface and as a result carve an arc and turn. In deep snow, that design is meaningless, even counter productive, since it can cause the ski tip to sink. In fact, McConkey argued, powder skis should do the opposite. Like waterskis they should bend up, displacing as much snow as possible. You do that by building reverse camber (the ski splays up when stepped on) and rocker (tips and/or tails with an upward curve).
McConkey started to design some nutty skis like Volant’s Spatula and K2’s Pontoon that incorporated his philosophy, but they were still considered curiosities, big guns for Alaska. But at the time he told me quite confidently that in a few years, every ski company and every snowboard company would be incorporating rocker and reverse camber into their skis and snowboards. Was he ever right. Just look at the boards we profile in this issue. Of course, ski designers have run with McConkey’s first basic ideas and created amazing skis and snowboards that use all sorts of combinations of camber and rocker, making the whole experience better for experts and beginners alike. But the point is McConkey changed the way every one of us plays the game. You can’t say that about many athletes in any sport.
Some may remember Shane McConkey as another extreme athlete who died when his skiBASEing stunt went wrong, but I hope that you think of him as far more than that—and that you give him a little bit of thanks the next time you are on your fat skis or rockered snowboard and dip into deep powder. And make sure you attack that run with all the passion and grace you have in you. Shane would have liked that.