Photos and words by Matt Hansen
Speaking into a microphone in front of more than 550 sharply dressed people on Saturday night, Glen Plake described how he could race a rally car across the Baja California desert for 17 hours straight. The key, he said, was having a pee tube, which he took pains to not describe in detail though the gist was not lost on anyone. That way, he continued, you could go to the bathroom without stopping.
It was an amusing and colorful opening to his acceptance speech for being inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame—during a giant banquet at Sun Valley, Idaho. And it was vintage Plake: making a crowd—especially one that is on the mature side—a tad uncomfortable.
Then he reaffirmed why he has fans all over the world by adding: “I wish I had a pee tube for my eyes right now so nobody would know I was crying.”
It was one of several touching moments throughout the evening, which also saw the induction of Daron Rahlves and the late great Shane McConkey. Also inducted were seven-time national alpine ski champion Bobby Cochran, paralympian world champion Muffy Davis, and resort developer Earl Holding. Given the Hall’s history of choosing mostly those with racing or ski industry backgrounds, the class of 2010 is groundbreaking in that it includes skiers who broke the regimented mold by choosing to blaze their own paths: Plake as a film skier, rebel, and now global ambassador to skiing; McConkey as a freeski pioneer and visionary; and Rahlves as a downhill champion who transitioned into a successful career of skiercross and now big mountain skiing.
The banquet concluded a week of festivities at Sun Valley—home to North America’s first chairlift—celebrating its 75th anniversary. The week was also intended to recognize Sun Valley’s influential role in freestyle skiing (complete with a wet K2 T-shirt contest at Whiskey Jacques). A hotbed of ski culture in the 60’s and 70’s, it launched the careers of Warren Miller, the late Dick Barrymore, and is the site of the founding of Powder Magazine, in 1972. Miller, Barrymore and Powder found early success by documenting a new kind of skiing in Sun Valley called “hotdogging.” On hand at the banquet were key figures such as Wayne Wong, Bobby Burns, Suzie Chaffee, and dozens of others who during their careers chose self-expression over skiing’s traditional, often strict code of skiing within the lines.
Born June 12, 1973, in Walnut Creek, California, Daron Rahlves would become the most decorated downhill skier in American history, winning seven national titles and nine World Cup events, including Austria’s notorious Hahnenkamm. He was also world champion in the Super G in 2001. His skiing would ramp up even after he retired from racing after the 2005 season. Rahlves won an X Games gold medal in skier cross in 2008 and competed in that same event at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. A testament to his versatility, Rahlves took home the award for Best Line at the 2010 Powder Video Awards for charging a hugely committed line in Alaska, captured on film by Matchstick Productions.
McConkey, who died in 2009 at the age of 39 in a ski-BASE jumping accident in Italy, was a visionary who changed the way skiers look at and ski mountains. He was the driving force behind rocker ski technology, and founded the International Freeskiers Association. Though one of the most talented skiers in the world, McConkey was equally regarded for his amusing approach to the sport as well as his lack of pretentiousness. He often said skiers took themselves too seriously, and he parodied himself in numerous Matchstick Productions films as the whiskey-swilling, snowlerblade-skiing Saucer Boy. (At one particular Powder Video Awards, after accepting an award he managed to rig the microphone with a fart machine. One wonders what kind of stunt he would’ve pulled at the Hall of Fame banquet Saturday.)
Shane’s wife, Sherry, gave a brief but heartfelt speech, saying that in their lives together there was never had a dull moment. “I loved him from the first time I met him,” she said. “He loved me, and he loved our daughter.”
Glen Plake stormed onto skiing’s stage in the ’80s while filming with Greg Stump. Many skiers have come and gone since then, but Plake, still with his trademark mohawk, has always been at the heart of skiing, from freestyle to big mountain expeditions and everywhere in between.
He gave thanks to his wife, Kimberley, and to his friend and ski partner Darren Johnson, who attended the ceremony despite sustaining numerous life-threatening injuries after being buried by an avalanche earlier this winter.
Plake, who has traveled the country for years with Kimberley in an RV for his “Down Home Tour,” made a special point of recognizing the importance of small ski areas. He championed their cause as integral to the health of skiing, telling the crowd of resort developers and ski industry luminaries that they need to remember that skiing is a sport “done by a bunch of hicks at the end of a dirt road up in the mountains.”
Never one to couch his words, it was yet more vintage Plake, giving a room full of suits a piece of his mind. Then he closed out his speech with a series of cackles, and said, “Oh well, I’m just a dumb skier.”