This post comes from Matt Lucas, an avid explorer who, when he’s not guiding trips for Brooklyn Outfitters, adventures around the country and beyond. His writing and photography on travel and skiing has appeared in many places online and in print. Based out of New York City, his addiction to clean alpine air keeps him both sane and on the move. There is no mission too small, far, or silly that he won’t consider.
For those of us not lucky enough to live in Tahoe, the lake and its personalities may have an even larger presence than in reality. There’s always been something that resonated with me about it. While the area is not as “extreme” as Chamonix, in which local hero Glen Plake chooses to make his home part-time, or as fancy as Jackson, the home of top notch athletic talent in many disciplines, it has always seemed to have a certain amount of more fun to it. Maybe even American-ness, which to me is way more important, anyway.
Maybe it’s the unpretentious way the log cabin architecture and the roadside stands ground the area, bearing witness to a lifestyle past that was brought to us by the promise of refrigerators and automobiles that make it so approachable. It certainly was not only the ski industry that delivered tourists to the shores here, even if the 1960 Winter Olympics brought athletes of the highest level to compete on the snowy slopes, some sticking around and many others migrating soon afterward.
If one man was to ever embody dual ethos of talent and levity, or at least populism, it surely would have been Shane McConkey, who was honored by Squaw Valley Ski Resort in the third annual Pain McShlonkey Classic weekend at the end of March. For me, this would be an opportunity to make a pilgrimage to Tahoe, and to take an account of his influence on skiing today. It was also an opportunity to say goodbye to the winter season, as unpredictable temperatures and lower elevations on my native east coast will close most resorts by April Fools.
Perhaps the most unexpected thing about the competition, as well as the most welcome, was that it was a day to feel completely uncrazy about a love for Shane and skiing. Hundreds of silly people like myself had shown up from all over to wear costumes and watch the spectacle of the signature event, a Chinese Downhill-style snowlerblade run from the top of KT-22. While gates were set up for an upcoming Giant Slalom, racers did not feel compelled to stay in the track. In fact, after skiing the GS Bowl, competitors scooted over the edge of the ridgeline into the shady and moguled West Face.
Because there is only one winner of a Chinese Downhill, the mountain has added several events to keep the good times rolling beyond the race. My personal favorite was the Small Mountain Invitational. Like Big Mountain competitions everywhere, this one had few rules. Judging consisted of style, fluidity, and difficulty of line chosen. There were a variety of ways to unofficially earn extra credit as well, and fortunately the competitors were more eager to participate than argue about the details. Boundaries, at least for this event, are more physically absolute than anything, and at least one competitor stopped mid-run to relieve himself. Hulk Hogan set the tone to safely ski the steep face with his BCA airbag fully deployed before his run started. I wouldn’t have expected less from the man who spent my childhood urging me and my friends to eat our vitamins before running wild on his opponents. Lindsay Vonn picked a conservative route down the face, but edged it in graceful and powerful arcs no doubt aided by the downhill poles and lycra race-suit.
In the afternoon, skiers set their ‘blades out upon the racks to help judge the costume contest. Two men who spent the day skiing tandem in a camel costume pulled the gold medal for their efforts, but there were no losers present. Or maybe we all were, in a disaffected gen-x way. Snowlerblading and Costume-donning aren’t exactly the most respected ski disciplines. Either way, like something out of The Breakfast Club, we all belonged. That’s way more than I’ve felt on most vacations, and I hope that the Pain McShlonkey will bring more of the same for years to come. For better or worse, one inseparable part of Shane’s legacy was his commitment to pushing the envelope. As such, now I just have to start thinking about a better costume for next year….
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