I’ve had a handful of emails and calls from people who’ve asked what I think about the tragic accident and tremendous loss of Shane McConkey. I suppose it’s because I knew him somewhat over the years, because he was portrayed so lovingly in Steep (a film that I had something to do with), and the fact that I am currently at work on a story of a son who was left behind by another legendary skier who checked out too early.
Though I’ve thought about it a lot since I heard of Shane’s untimely death, I find that my reaction is complex. I knew Shane a long time, but never well. And despite a few fun times together, I never connected with him. Sometimes I found him hilarious and warm, other times I found him acerbic and piercing. I was always awed by the strength of his skiing, the daring of his comedic performances, and the incredible brio of his brazen airborne stunts. Sometimes, however, I felt like he’d taken a strange turn that could only end badly. But maybe that was my own fear talking…
I remember, years ago, thinking that Shane McConkey is to skiing what Andy Kaufman was to comedy. A brilliant, gifted, and twisted genius. I think that Shane would’ve enjoyed the comparison, but I don’t know. He might’ve punched me in the face, too. Fifty/fifty shot. Our distant relationship was like that. Two competitive egos, and all. Either way, I wish I’d mentioned it to him the last time I saw him.
I think about what Shane means to the ski tribe and it gives me pain. He means a lot. An innovator, a hero, and a beautiful, tragic jester. Many will lionize Shane, while others will judge him harshly through the small lenses of their own cautious lives. They’ll say he was reckless and wrong to take such risks when he had a young family relying on him. Others will be more big-hearted, praising his indomitable spirit, his bravery and courage, freedom and daring. In different moments I might find myself in either camp.
But mostly, I find myself deeply saddened. For our loss, for his family’s loss, but mostly for him. For what he will miss. Though I’ve never sailed off a thousand foot cliff, I wonder if it could feel as good as hugging your daughter after a long trip away.