WHO: Kevin O’Hara
WHAT: Pain McShlonkey Classic 2012
WHEN: March 23–24, 2012
WHERE: Squaw Valley
Three years ago, I was working as the manager for a photography company at Squaw Valley. Our office was in a corner of the Olympic House, within good proximity of the best food in the valley. I was leaving the office one evening, when my friend Alan, the proprietor of Northern Lights (the best soup and chili shack on both sides of the Mississippi), asked me, “Did you hear that Shane McConkey died today?” I had not. And honestly, at that time I was only mildly familiar with him. I knew he was a big hucker on skis, and I had read about him in the book “My Favorite Place,” but my familiarity with Shane was unexpectedly about to grow tenfold. I’m only sorry that it didn’t happen while he was still pulling ripcords and slashing huge lines.
News in the valley spreads quicker than in most podunk Midwestern towns. By the time I arrived for work the next day, the mood at the mountain was heavy, and the heft remained until well after Shane’s memorial service a week later. I found myself wondering why he was so important, and being that this was my second winter in Tahoe I knew I had some work to do getting up to speed with my facts. After reading some articles, hearing stories from locals, and watching some more ski flicks, it was pretty apparent who Shane was to the local ski community. He’d molded skiing into what we know it as today—comparable to how Elvis Presley rocked the music world into a new way of playing (and dancing). More importantly, Shane was funny. He hardly took himself seriously. Really, he was only serious about living fully.
Fast forward two years: I’m working here at TMS, I’m a WAY better skier, I feel settled in Tahoe, I know my bartenders as well as my high school buddies, I am fully familiar with GNAR, I have my favorite hot tub poach spots, along with all the other eccentricities of living in a mountain town. I’ve also learned a lot more about not taking myself too seriously. And what do you know, last year I qualified for the Chinese Downhill at the Pain McShlonkey Classic. An event coined from a little stunt Shane pulled with some buddies one night at Squaw. 30 pros and 30 amateurs were to go head to head (actually side by side) from the top of KT-22 to the bottom of Exhibition. The race, was a spectacular display of crashes, costumes, busted egos, cracked skis, and lots of laughs. One guy even ended up with a broken arm. By the end I was panting, bleeding, and grinning from ear to ear.
It was not only the Chinese Downhill that left an impression on me, but also the positive attitudes, the immense camaraderie and ability of everyone involved to let go of the seriousness of skiing. You could actually feel Shane’s influence on the entire event. I was so psyched to be a part of it that I wrote Sherry McConkey a short letter, and gave it to her after the awards, along with a big hug and a “thank you.”
This year I was invited to the spectacular “Moulin Rouge” themed Shane McConkey Legacy Gala, and I was also invited back as a VIP to compete in the Pain McShlonkey. I always assumed it was a once in a lifetime event, and I was stunned to get Sherry’s invitation. At the Gala, I re-introduced myself to her, and asked, “Do you remember me?” She smiled, “Of course I do.” Greeting me with another hug. I asked her why I was invited back. Sherry answered very simply that people who love Shane are what make the event, and that the whole weekend, for her, is about good friends. I am humbled.
What I have left with, after both years at the PMS Classic, is an endless positive feeling and “get after it” attitude that this group of people embraces. Shane had no hesitations with the amazing things he did, and he built an amazing world for himself. Every time, I feel a bit out of it, or down, I put on my Big Truck McConkey hat and I repeat to myself Shane’s line from the movie Claim: “Now ski down there and jump off something for crying out loud!”
So you wanna know the nitty gritty? How the race went down? I’ll leave that to the Contour video and the photos. I can’t wait to totally crush the competition in 2013!
ABS Vario Avalanche Airbag 25 Backpack
Contour ROAM Helmet Cam
Smith Holt Helmet