The Close-Out Line: Shane McConkey

On the passing of skiing’s funniest, freshest and most inventive daredevil

“Ever watched a freeski contest? Then you knew Shane. Ever ridden fat skis in powder? You knew Shane. Ever laughed at a fart joke? You knew Shane. Ever stared up at the sky watching the birds and wishing you could fly? You knew Shane.”

So said the speakers on the stage of Dusty’s Bar & Grill in Whistler, B.C., during an April 2 memorial for Vancouver-born James Shane McConkey, who died March 26, while filming a BASE jump in Italy’s Dolomite Mountains. The stunt required him to ski off off a 2,000-foot cliff, execute a double-backflip, release his skis, and then fly away in a wingsuit, something he’d done many times. But McConkey’s skis failed to release, forcing him to remove them manually. By the time he’d manoeuvred into flying position, it was too late to avoid impact. The ski world’s Superman was gone.

The most versatile skier in the sport’s history, McConkey ascended the podium in everything from moguls to big mountain to skier-cross to big air during a 17-year career. This placed him with a handful of innovators who pushed skiing in new directions at the end of the 1990s. Always ahead of the curve, he single-handedly convinced the industry to embrace fat skis for ease and speed in the mountains. Realizing that powder was akin to water, he then invented a reverse-sidecut, reverse-camber ski not unlike those used for waterskiing. Today, nearly every ski manufacturer produces a similarly shaped board. As an encore, McConkey, who’d taken to BASE jumping, realized that parachutes offered potential to ski otherwise aesthetic lines that ended in massive cliffs-the so-called “close-out line”-quickly building a film career based on the idea.

McConkey’s hard-charging persona was tempered by a comedian’s heart. His most famous comic invention came about when a season was cut short by a knee injury, and he transformed into Saucerboy, a hardware-adorned, Jack Daniels-swilling platter-rider.

McConkey is survived by his wife Sherry and three-year-old daughter Ayla. To contribute to a fund for his family, visit