By Tyler Allen Explore Big Sky Staff Writer
BOZEMAN – Shane McConkey lived an examined life.
From his childhood to his untimely death in the Italian Dolomites on March 29, 2009, nearly all of his adventures as a skier and BASE jumper were documented on camera. The new 109-minute documentary film McConkey, produced by Red Bull Media House and Matchstick Productions, debuted in Bozeman Thursday, Oct. 17, at the Emerson Cultural Center.
“We’re here tonight to celebrate the life of Shane McConkey and to celebrate adventure,” said Brad Van Wert of Bozeman-based Coldsmoke Awards, as he introduced the 9 p.m. screening. Coldsmoke licensed the film from RBMH when they found out the tour wasn’t coming to southwest Montana.
The production was atypical for Coldsmoke, as it was more of a documentary than a ski film, Van Wert later told Explore Big Sky. “We put on ski movies at Coldsmoke Awards, we know how to get the hype going. Out of respect [for Shane] we kept it classy and set a tone that was respectful.”
Coldsmoke hosted an after party at the Bacchus Pub on Main Street – including a “Saucer Boy” costume contest – to celebrate the consummate spirit of fun McConkey brought to his life and work. Saucer Boy was McConkey’s alter ego that lampooned skiers taking themselves too seriously.
The nearly packed house watched footage from McConkey’s days as a racer for Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont and his college years at University of Colorado-Boulder, jumping off roofs, bridges, cliffs – just about everything he could.
“Anything you do, people are going to think it’s unsafe,” McConkey told the camera. “So you’ve just got to do it anyway.”
Banned from a mogul race in Vail, Colo., he poached the course naked, throwing a huge spread eagle in front of the gawking crowd. When he moved to Squaw Valley, Calif. after flunking out of college, McConkey changed the way people looked at skiing the infamous Palisades, throwing huge backflips off the 40- to 60-foot cliffs.
The film highlights his influence and innovations in ski design, mounting water skis to shred a big mountain line and creating the reverse-camber Spatula ski for Volant as well as K2’s Pontoon. But he was constantly looking to push the limits of what was possible for mountain athletes, from BASE jumping to wingsuit flying and eventually ski BASE jumping, the sport that would eventually take his life.
The film took much longer to make than most ski movies, according to writer/director Rob Bruce, also a close friend of McConkey’s. RBMH allowed filmmakers extra time to source the old footage of Shane’s life, and the full production lasted 3 ½ years.
“I think when Shane passed away we all knew that we would have to make a film as a tribute to him,” said Bruce, one of five directors on the project. “But we needed to get over his death. About a year and a half later we started talking about it.”
Impassioned interviews with McConkey’s family, friends and contemporaries in the extreme sports world intersperse the old footage, and reveal the sphere of influence he had on those who knew him, and those he inspired.
Red Bull is donating proceeds from the film tour, video downloads and DVD sales to a trust for McConkey’s 7-year-old daughter Ayla.
“Shane was relentless in pursuing his dreams throughout his life,” Bruce said. “[Ayla] will be inspired by the way her dad kept persevering, and that’s a really beautiful thing.”