Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ayla

The more clever bloggers out there are making April Fools jokes today and lizzing at how witty they are to Rick-roll so many people on one day.

If you came looking for that, sorry to disappoint. Today’s post is a stream-of-consciousness rant filled with emotional and not-very-well-formed opinions that I may not hold for longer than today.

But before I get to that, thanks to everyone who showed up to last night’s meeting at REI regarding the proposed lift up Flagstaff Mountain. I’ll not comment in detail on the proceedings because Andrew McLean has already said pretty much everything I want to. The turnout was great—people were being turned away because there simply wasn’t enough room. The presenters were well-prepared and each made his case effectively. Each except Onno Wieringa from Alta, whom I don’t trust.

Now on to what I actually wanted to write about today:

If you’re a skier, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are probably aware that Big Mountain legend Shane McConkey passed away last week while filming for Matchstick Productions in Italy.

Shane was a true ski pioneer. Reverse camber skis are all the rage for skiing deep snow. Thank Shane for that. He thought there was a better design for soft snow than traditional camber and sidecut and was behind the original reverse camber-reverse sidecut ski, the Volant Spatula. More recently his signature model was the K2 Pontoon.

But Shane’s pushing of the limits in ski design was really fueled by his need to push the limits of his skiing. Many of the most aesthetic lines end in huge cliffs, making them unskiable. So Shane strapped a parachute on his back and began ski BASE jumping.

When Shane died, it was because he was pushing the limits further and added flying with a wingsuit between skiing and deploying his parachute. Flying with a wingsuit requires ejecting the skis, and one of Shane’s skis didn’t come off, sending him into a spin.

I will freely admit that I’ve had mixed feelings about Shane’s death. Ski BASE is about as dangerous as it gets, so to add wing suits in the mix is just nuts. One simply can’t expect to live very long when doing things like that. I wouldn’t have described his death as tragic.

Until I saw this picture taken in Shane’s garage, with his skis, his saucer, and his darling daughter, Ayla.

ShaneAndAylaGarage

While my heart goes out to Shane’s wife, Sherry, she also knew what she was getting into when she married him. She had to know this was a possibility, perhaps only a matter of time. Though it doesn’t make it any easier.

But Ayla’s case is truly tragic. She chose none of this. She will grow up not knowing her father. He was larger than life and leaves quite a legacy in the ski industry, but his legacy will neither read to her, teach her to ski, or give her a whoosh when she climbs into bed.

As a father and a backcountry skier, this hits close to home. Every time I go up on the mountain, there’s a chance that something could happen. I don’t take unnecessary chances and do my best to minimize risk, but still. Something could always happen, even if it’s a car wreck on the way to work or cancer or any other crappy, unexpected outcome.

The community has already and will continue to rally around Ayla and Sherry. Nobody can replace Shane, but we can offer help.

But there are a lot of other kids who need help, too. So play your pranks, have your April Fools fun, but then find a way to do something nice for someone who needs it. Especially if that someone is a kid having a bad day. Or a bad life. Call it Karma, paying it forward, a deposit on your mansion on high, whatever you will. But be kind and lend a hand where you can. We’ll all be happier for it.

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