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Professional skier seeks next thrill

BAY KELLEY, Sierra Sun

There’s a point between falling and floating where Shane McConkey wants to be – a point where, like Superman, one can have the sensation of going up, meanwhile plummeting down at terminal velocity.

McConkey, 30, wants to fly, and, while physics prevent such a phenomenon, he has introduced a semblance of flight into as many aspects of his life as possible.

Take for example skiing, that for which McConkey is best known. He took inverted tricks away from the parks and man-made jumps and re-introduced them on a larger scale to boulders, cliffs and cornices. For more than eight years, McConkey has made a living launching himself off of large drops.

It’s his career – a career that was realized midway through his second year at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“I remember the moment perfectly,” McConkey said. “I had a revelation during a video correspondence class. It just hit me; ‘I’m not going to do this anymore. I hate it.'”

“All I cared about was going to ski.”

To the chagrin of his peers, who said that the ski industry would never support him – that he “was chasing a dream that doesn’t exist” – McConkey dropped out of academia and pursued his sport.

Since 1992, McConkey has been featured in more than 13 films, has claimed two International Freeskiing Association Championships, participated and placed in 20 nationally televised ski competitions and is considered by many to be one of the best freeskiers in the business. He travels extensively – claiming to only be at his Olympic Valley home in weeklong stints that add up to about four months during a year – and his list of sponsors is vast, including such companies as Red Bull, Volant skis, Oakley, Sessions, Boeri helmets, Reflex poles and Nordica.

‘… a dream that doesn’t exist.’

Now, McConkey jokes, “I only ski to finance my parachuting career.”

In 1994, McConkey made his first skydive and has since made more than 400 jumps. The interest grew and he became involved in BASE (Building, Antenna, Span and Earth) jumping about two and a half years later.

“Right now,” McConkey said, “I’m more infatuated with parachuting because I still have stuff to learn. The learning curve levels as you get better at something and with parachuting, I’m still an intermediate.”

McConkey has made 86 BASE jumps and has become an integrated part of the BASE jumping community.

“It’s a really weird, interesting culture,” McConkey said. “You have these great experiences that you really want to talk about, but you can only talk about it with your super-tight buddies. Even then, you don’t talk about everything. If you start talking about it, then everyone would jump the objects, and that would ruin them.”

With a piqued interest in the sport, McConkey has suffered firsthand the tragedies involved. He was standing next to the husband of Jan Davis when her chute didn’t open during a protest jump at El Capitan in Yosemite last year. He was a student of Olympic Valley resident Frank Gambalie, who, after making a successful jump, drowned while trying to escape awaiting rangers at Yosemite.

Gambalie, in fact, is the first name on McConkey’s list of heroes.

Gambalie is listed before Dan Osman, a pioneer in freefall jumps. Miles Daisher, one of McConkey’s jumping buddies made the list, along Rick Sylvester, who did the first ever ski BASE jump in the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me.

John Eaves, also of Bond fame – with his chase scene down a bobsled run in For Your Eyes Only – was also cited. Eaves holds the world’s record for longest backflip, sailing 140 feet over a crevasse. He is also a two-time world inverted aerial champ.

“He’s like 46 years old and still one of the sickest skiers I’ve ever seen,” McConkey said. “Anybody that’s older and still ripping as hard as the younger guys is an inspiration to me.

“Young teenagers, too. The ones with progressive enough minds to advance the sport. They get me super-fired up. They’re giving all us old guys something else to do. All it’s done is put me back on my learning curve.

“I’ve been lucky,” McConkey added. “I’ve had the opportunity to do the stuff I want to do. I’m a very fortunate dork.”


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