Not Just A Ski: A Tribute to Shane McConkey and his K2 Pontoons

Mom used to say, “It’s not what you have, it’s what you do with what you have.” The philosophy stemmed from her childhood as one of eight, and was made legendary by my uncles, who dominated an inner-city hockey league wearing a pair of grandma’s old figure skates — toe picks and all!

So it was for me growing up, skiing New Hampshire’s White Mountains in archaic, orthopedic gray boots and wax-less, second-hand rentals. Though I must have been a pitiful sight, gear never equated for much in my adolescent love for skiing.

Only when moving to Jackson Hole did equipment become a matter of research, debate and utter importance. The resort transforms into a ski showcase on snow days. With the howitzer blasts echoing off the Tetons like an epic heartbeat, Jackson’s devoted scuttle around the base with long, fat powder skis in tow.

A deep sense of inadequacy festered within me during my first delayed opening, powder mornings. Tottering around my dainty 167 K2 relics produced the same self-loathing as a freshman hitting the showers with the varsity squad. I kept my eyes downcast, and my loins guarded.

See, a ski is not just a ski in Jackson. It is a portal to your innermost intentions with the sport; a sort of standard that defines you as either a “gaper” or a “powderhound.” Much is assumed from the centimeters of a ski. Someone with two fat powder skis slung over a shoulder projects a serious mystique, even before clipping in. Throw an Avalung across their chest, and a shovel on their back, and you’ve got a hard-charging Jacksonite.

The mentality reeks of local machismo bullshit, but it’s nearly impossible not to subscribe to in time.

Retiring my outdated Eastern skis, I purchased Shane McConkey’s signature powder skis, The K2 Pontoons. Few have influenced skiing more profoundly than Shane McConkey. At a time when many face-shot-seeking skiers scoffed at the idea of fat skis, McConkey was floating on Alaskan spines on a pair of water skis. The Pontoons were the catalyst to today’s ski technology. Their head-turning girth, and extreme rockered tip, smacks of McConkey’s style. With a tapered, tear-drop design, the Pontoon’s rear tips sink, and enable their 160cm shovel to conquer any depth of snow. More importantly, The Pontoons became an indelible footprint of skiing’s beloved fallen son.

I just hoped I could do them justice.

As fate would have it, Jackson entered into one of the worst snow draughts just after the acquisition. For weeks, the two powder planks stood before my bed, taunting me. It took every shred of patience I could muster not to rip groomers on them. It’s gotta be right, I pleaded with myself.

In the meantime, the skis became props in the more-intimate moments of my life. Once, while romancing one of Jackson’s fairer sex, I pulled the McConkey fatties into the sultry mix. Clenching them like Poseidon does his trident, I channeled the spirit of “Saucer Boy,” and achieved a ménage a trois only possible in a ski town.

The day finally came in mid-January. “Twenty-four inches overnight, and still dumping,” the morning report read. I sped to the Village in an over-caffeinated trance, constantly shooting glances at the Pontoons sprawled across the trunk as I imagine a father does driving his newborn home for the first time.

The hours of delayed opening crawled by painfully. Consumed by the stoke of a powder day, I fidgeted through the morning like an addict through detox. Finally, amid a hail of snowballs, and punctuated by a ferocious roar of cheers, the gondola began to spin. I shoved my fatties into separate slots at the gondola door, grabbed a window seat and waited with Christmas-morning anticipation.

A lot of skiers talk about floating. Yet no matter how much you hear about it, no matter how many ski movies you watch, nothing can provide even the slightest inkling of the sensation. It is like trying to describe purple to a blind person.

Descending from the gondola, I veered skier’s left into a deep trough where the snow lay untouched. Those first weightless turns instantaneously reconfigured my life’s priorities. It was like the moment when the Wizard of Oz turns to color. The sensation was so enthralling, so utterly enjoyable, that it beckoned a sense of guilt. I knew at that moment that I would give up anything for this. Nothing before (or thereafter) delivered the equivalent ecstasy of floating on snow.

The Pontoons led me into the trees where virgin powder awaited. In the quiet seclusion of Moran Forest, turns were effortless and sublime. Not wanting to eat up the powder too quickly, I forced myself to stop mid-run. Big falling flakes intensified the scene’s silence, and I passed into a fantasy world where I expected a fawn to creep out from behind the line of conifers. Allowing my imagination to further ferment, I decided that the day deserved an apparition more epic than a fawn. Perhaps a majestic centaur trotting out with a gorgeous nude blond riding him bareback would be more appropriate. Yes, far more appropriate.

Stumbling back to my car at the end of the day, absolutely delirious, I cradled the Pontoons lovingly. For a person not easily seduced by materialism, it is striking to admit that the Pontoons changed my life. Over the season, they turned the dials of my perspective, and refined the scope of my daily objectives in the mountains. Though the experience can likely be had on a myriad of powder skis, the Pontoons were my vehicle to enlightenment, and thus ascended as the skiing’s preeminent tool in my mind.

Today, the Pontoons stand in my bedroom waiting for the snow to fall again. I often gaze at them, appreciating them on the same level as I do fine art. They remind me that, just as a writer lives on his words, and a painter in his portraits, McConkey lives on in these skis. I vow to summon that truth, and pay rightful tribute to him each time I clip in.

Robert Cocuzzo is a freelance adventure writer who has traveled extensively in South America and Europe. Formerly a charter fishing captain on Nantucket Island, Cocuzzo hung up his rubber boots for a pair of skis and currently lives in Jackson, WY.

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