REMEMBERING McCONKEY: THE IFSA STORY
Shane’s Conception of the IFSA, According to Friend Lhotse Hawk
As told to John Stifter by Lhotse Hawk in an e-mail
Despite being one of the world’s biggest goofballs and best skiers to ever schralp the planet in addition to being a great husband, father, and friend, Shane McConkey contributed two of the most influential creations to the sport of skiing—reverse-camber skis and the International Freeskiers Association (IFSA).
Although the story of the IFSA has been told before, POWDER decided to stoke a great story in tribute with the help of Shane’s close friend and former IFSA Vice President Lhotse Hawk. She graciously took the time to explain in humorous detail the conception and story of the IFSA after forming an enduring friendship with Shane in 1995. Originally, we planned on attempting to package her words into a concise narrative. But after receiving her reply, in the midst of grieving the loss of a dear friend and a cross-Atlantic flight, we elected to let her tell us all a great story full of nostalgia, laughter and visceral emotion.
POWDER: Do you recall what exactly prompted Shane to conceive and, subsequently, form the IFSA?
Lhotse Hawk: I Fucking Ski Awesome, or was it I Farted Slope Avalanched? I was working at Crested Butte Mountain Resort and the U.S. Extreme Skiing Championships was my pride and joy. We were running 11 events a season at the time and the Extremes was the jewel of Crested Butte. The South American Extremes in Las Lenas and the World Extremes (WESC) in Valdez had been around a few years. Kim Reichhelm had just won all three, and Seth Morrison had begun his stint as the competitive “bridesmade”. That year, Chaco Mohler and some guys out of Tahoe had started a new tour, the North American Extreme Skiing Tour, held at Kirkwood, Squaw, Jackson, etc. They were fun events, but each of them different. For instance, it was seven judges dropping high and low on five categories, or five judges averaging six categories; it was a bit of a cluster, especially to a number of athletes who were beginning to take this new game pretty seriously over a couple short years.
Maybe it was because he [Shane] was a former F.I.S. competitor who hated rules but had to win, or maybe it was because he sensed the impending revolution among the skiing youth, or maybe just because he was a shit-disturbing know-it-all, Shane McConkey wanted some order. Shane started holding “secret” athlete meetings in whatever town he visited in order to get a bunch of the athletes together to sign his organization petition. I remember him always alluding to the fact that we must not let the F.I.S. fuck up freeskiing. Shane did not want something as cool as the genres of freeskiing to be ruined by the evil empires of the F.I.S. and the U.S. Olympic Committee. Most of the athletes on the tour at that time had serious race backgrounds—many had graduated from ski academies, some had just quit the U.S. Ski Team—and all of them were leery of creating rules that would lead to more rules, which would kill the passion and the sport. If the athletes always retained the majority of the board of directors (never got old and out of touch), were always adapting and changing the sport to fit the ever increasing level of athleticism, and would never fall to pressures of the F.I.S., well, that would be a perfectly neat-o deal.
POWDER: Tell me about the first few days, months, years of the IFSA. How did you and Shane get this off the ground and make it an international organization?
Lhotse Hawk: In the spring of 1996, we held a summit meeting of freeskiing athletes and organizers in Crested Butte. Shane had talked to his mom, hired an attorney, and created a 501(c)3 called the International Freeskiers Association (IFSA). All he needed was enough athletes and event organizers to fill a board of directors and figure out how to run an international ski organization while still having enough time to train, travel and compete, as well as film. After several hours of playing with a fun new acronym (this never got old for Shane), debating judging, tour venues for the North American Tour or the World tour, accounting, and “international stuff”, we had ourselves an international ski organization.
I was elected VP to a project wholly overwhelming. I figured out pretty fast why my comrades thought I would be a good candidate for the job—hard worker, charismatic, understands the sport and the athletes…doesn’t compete and has the time. My new acronym? “I Follow Shane Around.”
POWDER: One of my favorite traits of Shane was that he never took anything—skiing or life—too seriously. Did he approach IFSA in the same manner?
Lhotse Hawk: Starting something like this was great in its conceptual stage, once Shane and I got down to business. Shane had a friend, Jens Hoffman-Camino, who lived in Germany and was a great event organizer. He volunteered to head up the European office, and well, sick, we were truly international. But there were serious issues that would come up—international accounting issues, judging problems, French dissention, liability insurance, my rent—and all I recall Shane saying was, “I don’t know, Lhots, I haven’t ever started an international ski organization before.” The man could lighten my mood with that quote on any given day and pay my rent. Seriously, he was the kindest and funniest guy—anyone will tell you that—but the way he touched everyone he met on such an individual level made him truly the right man as IFSA President, sometimes to his dismay.
By 2001, there were thousands of freeskiers. The 1997 New Canadian Air Force movement had stormed the parks and the IFSA was governing events in big mountain, skiercross, big air, halfpipe and slopestyle. The organization sanctioned events in eight countries, and freeskiing had achieved the occasional mainstream presence on ESPN, NBC and in U.S. Today. Mountain Sports International had taken over a majority of the event production, giving athletes consistent, quality events with good prize money. Shane’s work was done. He stepped down as President to focus on his skiing, B.A.S.E. jumping and personal life. Dave Swanwick and Jim Jack took on the duties of the IFSA and continue to keep the freeskiing world organized.
POWDER: Any specific stories stand our more than others during your years working with Shane on the IFSA?
Lhotse Hawk: I remember one spring we left Alaska to judge the Telus World Festival event at Whistler. Peter Smart had an event back then, before Whistler became a World Tour stop. I remember a couple of days after the event Shane had spent some time with his dad and his brother, which was nice because they didn’t get much time together back then. We went schussing around Whistler Mountain, and Shane told me he had never skied his dad’s run there. So we headed over to McConkey’s. There were a couple of dudes there taking a photo by the sign, and Shane cruised around and dropped in, right in the back of their shot. We got to the bottom and Shane stopped and said, “You know, Lhots, they’ll never know that was me in their photo, dropping in to my dad’s line for the first time, ripping.”
I’ve thought of that photo for years for different reasons, but over the last week I have thought about it with a sneaky smile on my face. Shane could be sober as a judge, serious as shit and yet the most warm and sarcastic human all in a single moment. His approach to the IFSA was the same. It was a huge undertaking, serious in all that it took to create it, yet fun as hell. I was so lucky to have traveled the world with Shane, spreading laughter and skis and contests like the pied piper and his mice.
Lhotse Hawk left the IFSA in 2000 to focus on the PR company, Method Media and Marketing. She is now a full-time mommy to a 9 month old, instead of tending to the Insane Freeskiers Shredding Allover.