Shane was cut from a unique cloth of extremely talented skiers and fun and eccentric personalities. His mother, Glenn, an 8 time National Masters Champion ski racer was his primary source of guidance in life. With an untamable spirit, he left the nest early, but always maintained a closeness and certain level of obedience to his mother and her advice. Shane was born in Canada where his father, Jim McConkey, started the Whistler ski school. At age 3, Glenn relocated Shane to Santa Cruz, CA where he spent his pre-adolescent years. He was so small as a youngster that he got kicked out of kindergarten. Glenn recalls the principal just saying “He’s to small, bring him back next year”, upon first sight of him. As a result, he was always the smallest and oldest kid in his class. This carried into his high school training at Burke Mountain Academy on the East Coast of the United States, where, he vehemently wanted to be like legendary ski racer, Ingemar Stenmark. Stenmark showed bad-ass aggression on the race course, and disturbed coaches with his wild technique that ended up earning him the most wins in ski racing history. Stenmark, from the Lappland region of Sweden, was the only “hero” that our hero ever spoke of.
Shane was never physically huge or a bulky guy, so ski racing did not necessarily suit him. Technique and drive could only take him so far, and he quickly understood that his path was not parallel with his hero. He had a knack for the back flip, for competition and for having fun. Something about having skis on his feet made a lot of sense, but he did not know exactly what that was. Shane simply followed this intangible comfort and spent his college years doing exactly what made sense: having fun, and ripping it up on the hill. Living in Boulder, Shane skied all day and delivered pizza through the night.
By 1993, Shane had won a Pro Mogul Tour event and his antics on the mountain, flipping, spinning and skiing where no one else would, landed him sponsorships with Spyder and Volant. Shortly thereafter, with an un-sanctioned backflip and a naked spread eagle his “HEY, look at me!! I’m-having-more-fun-on-the-snow-than-you-attitude” was born, and he never set foot at Vail, or in a mogul competition again. He was 24 years old, a college drop out (to his mother’s dismay) and hell bent on making a career in skiing. At that time, a career in skiing outside of mogul skiing or racing, was unheard of. Shane was on a completely unproven, untracked path. He was exactly where he belonged.
Shane made it. Blessed with amazing athletic ability, a creative mind, and a hilarious sense of humor, for over 15 years Shane and Saucer Boy performed for movie audiences, trade shows, magazines, and newspapers. During his career Shane was featured in 26 ski movies (and counting). His skiing dropped jaws, and his humor made sides ache. The impact of his stardom was dwarfed only by that of his direct contributions to the sport of skiing through his non-traditional thinking and persistence.
It was Shane, who actually coined the term “Freeskiing”. “I preached long and hard to everyone that this new movement in skiing we were all part of should be called freeskiing and not extreme skiing. Extreme skiing is a specific type of skiing and only one part of what we were doing. The term was not accurate. What we were doing was free form skiing, free of rules and most any kind of boundaries. Whether it was steep, extreme descents or new freestyle what we were doing was freeskiing, free to ski our own style on our own terms,” he once explained.
In 1996 Shane played a major role in introducing the world to fat skis when he began using the Volant Chubb (90 mm waist) as an every day ski. Until this time fat skis were considered a crutch or training wheels and were largely ridiculed outside of helicopter skiing.
Some years later, Shane watched a friend water skiing and stared from the back of the boat at the water ski slicing through the WATER, and he had an epiphany: “Powder is more like water, than it is like snow!” He mounted 2 water skis with ski bindings, went powder skiing, discovered the easiest turns he had ever made, and then talked K2 into producing rockered skis. With the release of the Pontoon in 2006, K2 made Shane’s vision of the perfect ski a reality.
In his own words: “The ideas of reverse camber, rocker, reverse side cut and tail tapered skis made specifically for powder skiing was my contribution to powder ski design. Over the next few years we will see just about every company in the ski industry create some form of rockered or reverse side cut ski. There are even snowboard companies now making boards with these design elements in them. This point is probably the one I’m most proud of. It has been incredibly fun discovering these huge improvements to powder ski design.”
For his life achievements and many contributions to the sport of skiing, Shane was named an inductee to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame’s Class of 2010.
Shane’s imagination stretched further than pioneering uncharted territory in the ski industry. As the first North American Red Bull, he proved to be the perfect ambassador; a dominant competitor with outlandish athletic objectives that often proved the impossible, possible. Shane was one of the most innovative B.A.S.E. jumpers on the planet. He was at the forefront of human flight, and his dreams carried him to Baffin Island, China, New Zealand, Alaska and the Alps, but his most cherished time was that spent at home with his family.
Shane discovered his life partner in a wiry South African, Shahrazade Smulders (Sherry), near the turn of the millennium. The two were wed May 29th, 2004 on the beach in Thailand during the best wedding this world has ever seen. In 2005 arrived their daughter Ayla and Shane was smitten. Shane’s entire life was filled with special moments. He carved millions of turns into pristine untracked snow, laughed away afternoons with good friends, surfed warm water, enjoyed freefall and flying. His eyes soaked up views of immeasurable beauty. But what was the most rewarding to him, what made him happy and whole was his family: Sherry, Ayla and Pedro McConkey.
Thank you Shane!
Written by JT HolmesColumn