Extreme skier Shane McConkey spent his early years racking up medals at races and big air competitions. But those awards were considered the bare minimum requirement for being allowed to hang with ski royalty like Scot Schmidt and Glen Plake at McConkey’s adopted home resort, Squaw Valley. So to really make a name for himself in “Squallywood,” McConkey had no choice but to start hucking the biggest cliffs and bombing the most extreme lines on the mountain. And like a lot of people on this list, when the existing gear wasn’t allowing him to push as hard as he wanted, he simply invented new equipment—in McConkey’s case the ubiquitous rockered ski you see at every resort today. That innovation alone is enough to make McConkey one of the most influential skiers of all time. But it’s what he did next that makes him a true pioneer. When McConkey heard about a somewhat underground sport called BASE jumping in the late ’90s, he transferred his passions for speed and airtime into the new pursuit, executing some of the most extreme jumps of that era, including one off the Eiger in 2004. Then he discovered wingsuit flying and began contemplating a ski-BASE wingsuit combo. His dream became a reality when he and BASE partner J.T. Holmes pulled off one of the first ever, in Norway in 2007. But ski-BASE-wingsuit flights were so complex and so risky that it was only a matter of time before something went wrong. And they eventually did in 2009, when one of McConkey’s skis failed to release properly during a jump in the Italian Dolomites. He died at the age of 40. Two years later he was inducted into the ski and snowboard hall of fame.
• In 2002, he invented the first rockered powder ski, The Volant Spatua.
• In 2004, McConkey and J.T. Holmes ski-BASEd off the Eiger in the Bernese Alps.
• In February 2007, on a 3,000-foot cliff in Norway, McConkey and Holmes executed the first wingsuit ski-BASE jumps, in which they skied off the cliff, released their skis, and flew for under a minute before opening their chutes.
The Last Word
Long before Shane McConkey’s death, he was considered one of the most influential skiers ever—and JT Holmes says that assessment was spot on: “Skiing was a different sport when Shane left it,” he told Men’s Journal. “And he changed skiing for everybody. If you’re a 40-year-old intermediate, skiing soft snow, and your legs are burned out at 1 p.m., you can thank Shane because [on the old-style skis] they would have been burned out by 11 a.m.”
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