20090328 Losses Shake Ski Communities

For me, it started last week.  Kathryn Miller Hess, a ski patroller and mountain guide in Jackson, Wyoming, fell skiing the Spacewalk Couloir last week.  She was rescued but succumbed to head injuries on the 17th.  A small piece describing the circumstances better than I ever could is in the Jackson Hole Underground.

Then on the 26th the North Lake communities were rocked with news that Shane McConkey, a Squaw Valley native, died in a ski BASE jumping accident in Italy.  Rumors were flying yesterday that his chute failed to deploy, that only one ski released, that the other ski put him in an upside-down-spin that he couldn't possibly have corrected.  The official release from Matchstick Productions refutes all those rumors - while the automatic releases on his skis failed, McConkey was able to manually release his skis.  But that ate up valuable free-fall and by the time he was in position to throw his chute it was too late.  A detailed explanation is in the News section of MSP's website.  Read about it here.

When I lived in Jackson in 1998-2000, Kathryn was one of my inspirations to become a mountain guide.  Her enthusiasm, strength, and laughter made it clear she loved doing it all; the skiing and the rock, dealing with the weather and equipment and clients.  McConkey - whom I never got to meet - was an inspration to me on film.  I especially remember him making high-speed turns on a pair of mounted water-skis, tools he used to convince Volant to make a reverse-sidecut, reverse-cambered powder-specific ski - the Spatula.  Now almost every manufacturer has such a board in production.

Kathryn gave one last time as her body was donated for organ transplants - now a piece of her zest for life is in dozens of lucky souls.  McConkey's family is surrounded by friends and fans who will never forget him either.  The waves caused by their lives will be felt long after we get used to the holes left by their passing.