A Letter to My Friend, the Late Shane McConkey

A Letter to My Friend, the Late Shane McConkey

Editor's Note: This story original appeared in Mountain Gazette 194. As a rule we do not post editorial from the magazine online. With today being the first ever International Snowblade Day, celebrating the life of the late-Shane McConkey, we decided to break that rule this one time. Now go down there and jump off something for crying out loud. Please consider donating to our non-profit parter, The Shane McConkey Foundation



Written by Scott Gaffney

 Hey, buddy,

 We’re going on 12 years since you went in, and I figured it was about time I caught you up on things. I don’t know how the afterlife works, but considering you didn’t believe in God, I’m assuming that might affect whether you have some omnipotent vantage of our everyday world.

We miss you here. Ayla’s doing well. At 14, she’s a little performer now. Gee, I wonder where she got that from. Sage asked her out. Crazy, eh? But she turned him down because she didn’t want to mess up their friendship. And Sherry’s been Wonder Woman. She started the Shane McConkey Foundation and has raised over half a million dollars for schools, environmental groups, and all kinds of organizations that make the world a better place. All in your name. You’d be proud.

I do know that I miss you. There are the big things, like trips around the world, ski days with my favorite ski partner, and all that. And there are the little things: driving just outside the paint of the freeway on the corrugated strips to rattle the car and annoy each other, resisting the urge to use windshield wipers when it’s raining until you’d cave over in the passenger seat and flick the switch, or playing the old “casually block the other person from dipping his or her chip in the salsa as long as possible” game. It’s funny, because I learned a universal truth from our friendship: the closer you are to someone, the more enjoyment you get out of pissing them off. I’m right, right? 

We’re in strange, strange times right now. We have this gnarly virus going around that shut down the whole ski world last year during prime time, and who knows what’s going to happen this season? Some major ski areas are taking reservations. We’re all supposed to stay 6 feet apart. Imagine that in the KT line on a pow morning. How would you snake everyone and weasel to the front like you’d always do?

Saucerboy would have a field day in all of this weirdness. Saucerboys are still everywhere. They come out of the woodwork for gaper days at all kinds of mountains. My son Dane got all decked out in your real Bogner jacket for his fourth-grade Halloween costume, and we always see multiple mini-Saucerboys out trick-or-treating. Two years ago at the PMS (Sherry revived the Pain McShlonkey Classic years ago and it’s been huge), a number of guys on ’shrooms snowlerbladed Eagle’s Nest and absolutely shredded it.

By the way, Squaw renamed the Nest after you. It’s called McConkey’s now. Pretty sweet, eh? That isn’t the only renaming in the works, though. Squaw is changing its name; the word has been offensive to native cultures for a long time. As far as what it’ll be called now, a number of people have thrown out suggestions of “McConkey Mountain” or “Gnar Valley.”

Speaking of G.N.A.R., the year after you died, Unofficial took your G.N.A.R. chapter from Robb’s Squallywood book and made a two-week competition out of it with a $25,000 winner-take-all purse. Guys were pole-whacking, radness yelling, ego claiming, gnome hunting, calling their moms in the middle of lines, and skiing all over Squaw naked. It was absolute debauchery. You would have loved it. They got kicked off of Squaw and took it on the road. We made a movie about it and G.N.A.R. blew up into a worldwide phenomenon. People everywhere started playing by all your stupid rules. One of the favorites is the Pro Call-Out. You gave the general public an excuse—no, a duty—to belittle skiing’s top athletes whenever possible. It’s even infiltrated other sports. Ironically, before having to suffer the ridicule of your own doing, you exited stage right. Well played.

As far as the state of skiing, the sport’s on fire. You wouldn’t believe the kids these days. I’ve actually wanted to call an MSP movie that—Kids These Days—but we’re still shooting with Hoji, Abma, and Rubens, so that title doesn’t exactly apply. But man, the skiing level and depth of talent are unreal.

Today’s skiers are so freaking creative. Picture this: in this one edit, this guy does a mini-backflip 90 onto these two snow blocks at his tips and tails. His skis flex and he fluidly springs back out and busts a downhill Lincoln 90 and lands clean. And this kind of craziness is everywhere. Everyone spins off everything. You would have dug the X Games Knuckle Huck last year—an entire event dedicated to tricking off of the knuckle of a jump. Sounds basic, but it’s insane. Remember when I shot you doing the first-ever switch front flips, in 1999? Well, park skiing’s present god, Henrik Harlaut, pulled the most drawn-out nose-butter 180, pressing so hard on his flexed tips that he was completely horizontal. When he reached the knuckle, his tips released and he rotated forward into a floaty switch front. How sick is it that a version of a move you invented was one of the most mind-blowing tricks at the 2020 X Games?

Tanner had a dub switch front in his season edit last year. That’s right, he’s still skiing like a man possessed, doing dub backs off of tree transfers and stomping triple backs, too. Doubles are the new single and triples the new double. Ha—remember when you wrote an entire rap about your place in skiing in the mid-2000s to some Eminem song? I looked for it in all of your stuff when you died, but couldn’t find it; I just remember some lyric like, “All the kids want Tanner/ They look at me like I’m chopped liver!” Too bad we never shot that. There are a lot of things we didn’t get to do.

There are so many incredible skiers of every age doing incredible things, it’s impossible to keep up with who’s doing what. Veronica Paulsen—a Squaw local—stomped a huge laid-out backy into Corbet’s last year. Michelle Parker’s still crushing it and has become a ski-mountaineering badass, even skiing off the summit of Denali a couple of years ago. Remember Cody, the guy we made fun of in Hit List? He actually got really, really good and skied the sickest line ever back in 2014. I’m not even going to try to describe it. Do you have YouTube up there? Jim Morrison and Hilaree Nelson made a first descent of the Lhotse Couloir across from Everest a couple of years ago. Sit-skiers are doing corked 540s, backflips, and flatspins. Candide has morphed into a deity.

No one has quite filled your class-clown role, though. You remember Colby West; he was skiing’s jester for a bit. Damn, you didn’t even stick around long enough to see “My Friend Is a Pro.” Cody’s been a joker all along, and the guy who won the Freeride World Tour two years ago, Markus Eder, is like a playful 10-year-old. But no one’s truly committed themselves to the “idiot” role like you did. We—your friends, and the sport as a whole—miss that.

We’ve also lost too many friends since you skipped out: C.R., Ingrid’s brother Arne, Kip, Timy Dutton, Rubs. That’s just our Squaw crew. There’s Jamie Pierre, Sarah Burke (!), J.P.…the list is far too long. If you happen to see any of them, can you let them know we’re thinking about all of them, too? Wait—we talked in the past about God (or lack thereof), but never about heaven. But if heaven doesn’t exist either, then how would this letter get before your eyes? Why am I even bothering writing you? To hear my own thoughts?

I might as well end here, then. By chance you are out there, somewhere, just know that our ski world isn’t the same without you. But you’d be fired up with the state of the sport, and you’d be proud of your role in getting us all there. We owe you a massive thanks.




P.S. Speaking of “owing,” a couple of years ago I was rifling through the pockets of some old ski jackets that I planned to take to Goodwill when I found a check you’d made out to me for $85. Can’t remember for the life of me what it was for, but I’m pretty sure I can’t cash it anymore. So, if and when I see you again, you owe me $85.