There weren't many ways to make a living by skiing in 1996, so McConkey founded the International Free Skiers Association, or IFSA (alternate meaning: "I Fucking Ski Awesome"). IFSA brought order to the underground world of extreme skiing by organizing competitions with judging, rankings, and, most important, sponsors and prize money. He also helped launch a magazine called 'Freeze' to publicize the new free-skiing movement.
McConkey had essentially created his own dream job, with a simple business model: Sponsors would pay him to use their skis and wear their jackets; he'd make sure he got into the right movies and magazines. If he did well in competitions, great, but the real goal was exposure. "He paved the way for the next generation of skiers to have careers," says Holmes, 10 years his junior.
By 2001 McConkey was notorious enough to merit his own movie – something only extreme-ski legend Scot Schmidt had achieved. Filmed by his friend Scott Gaffney, 'There's Something About McConkey' showcased Shane in all his dimensions, from mogul-skiing ace to cliff-hucking mountain ripper to Buster Keatonesque Saucer Boy. He even threw rad tricks in the terrain park, showing all the snowboard punks that skiing could be cool.
"I can't picture him as a racer," says former World Cup downhiller Daron Rahlves, who knew Shane well. "Not that he didn't have it in him, but his creativity had a chance to grow in ways racing gates wouldn't allow."
The fat skis are a perfect example. When they came on the market in the mid-1990s, fatties were for intermediates and tourists. Shane saw it differently: The fat skis floated on top of the snow, like a snowboard, letting him ski bigger terrain with more confidence and speed – and fewer turns. McConkey started using a new line of expert fat skis from Volant called Chubbs in 1996, and skis have been getting wider ever since.
A few years later, he was on a lift with Gaffney, who wondered aloud whether you could ski soft snow on water skis, which were enormously fat and cambered (or curved), the reverse of snow skis. Shane proved it by mounting bindings to old skis with a water-ski rocker and shredding a 1,500-foot British Columbia face for the Matchstick cameras. Soon Volant came out with another radical product, the Spatulas: reverse-camber, reverse-sidecut boards that broke every rule of modern ski design, yet worked beautifully in soft conditions. Now several companies make reverse-camber skis, including McConkey's sponsor K2, and their popularity is taking off.
"A lot of people can think outside the box, have an idea or some sort of epiphany in their mind," says Holmes. "But Shane, with his follow-through, would make it happen."
Perhaps Shane's biggest epiphany was that his two favorite sports, skiing and BASE jumping, could be combined. He had talked about it for years, while planning and laying the groundwork, scouting lines and perfecting his technique. Finally, on January 15, 2003, he and JT stood atop a well-known rock-climbing cliff near Tahoe called Lovers Leap. They were both really nervous, JT remembers, but when they skied off the edge, their parachutes opened perfectly and they landed elated.
Others had ski-BASEd before, notably Rick Sylvester, the stuntman and Squaw legend who performed Bond's stunts in 'The Spy Who Loved Me.' Sylvester made the first recorded ski-BASE from El Cap in 1972, and since then other daredevils had tried it, but JT and Shane were the first to incorporate it as a regular element in their skiing. The parachute let them ski lines no one had ever tried, precisely because they ended in giant cliffs. "We realized we could use a parachute the way ski mountaineers use a rope," McConkey explained in March. "We look at mountains with new goggles now."