On Saturday afternoon at Squaw Valley, a couple bartenders tapped a few kegs, pulled out the bar stools, and opened the renowned Chamois for business. Cars started to pull up one after the other and soon the parking lot was as full as if it were a sunny powder day. Groups of friends, many wearing trucker hats with the ubiquitous Shane McConkey Foundation logo, sat around picnic tables, talking about hopes for a deep winter. But the conversation kept coming back to one name in particular--Shane McConkey. He was, after all, the reason why we were all there.
"There's just going to be love oozing out of this place," Scott Gaffney said at the Chamois before the festivities ramped up.
More than 4,500 people showed up to see the highly anticipated Squaw Valley premiere of McConkey. The afternoon of après felt like any other, except there wasn't any snow and people like Mike Douglas, Bobby Brown, and Travis Rice along with two dozen other Red Bull athletes walked through the village among the locals. People came from near and far, some taking long flights while others like Squaw locals Cody Townsend, Elyse Saugstad, and Michelle Parker just had to walk across the street. J.T. Holmes, Timy Dutton, and Miles Daisher jumped down to the crowd--literally--sky diving from above and landing at the base of Squaw's KT-22 lift, which had been transformed into an outdoor amphitheater for the show. The crowd, consisting of kids playing on the hill and adults sporting Saucer Boy gear, grew so strong that soon the entire base area was filled with blankets and lawn chairs.
"I'm impressed but I'm not surprised," J.T. Holmes said to the crowd when he took the mic with Scott Gaffney before the film started. "This is where people who kick ass at life hang out."
Underneath a cold and starry night, we watched Shane's life unfold on the screen. We laughed more than we cried. We learned things we never knew about Shane. Like how he lived in a closet, won a pro mogul tour comp without even trying, including his legendary naked bump contest run at Vail. We shared Shane's love for his wife Sherry and his daughter Ayla. And when Shane fell, we held a moment of silence that lasted until the POWDER memorial cover hovered on the screen and a lone voice shouted out his name, triggering a chorus of whistles and shouts. All the while, "Thank You Shane" illuminated on the Tram Face.
Four years worth of planning and editing and producing--thousands of hours of poring over footage and revisiting good and bad memories--flashed in front of our eyes in 90 minutes. But McConkey's effect lingered well into the after party and the next morning.
In standard Pain McShlonkey fashion, we drank and danced and laughed the night away. But in the corners of the crowded bars, you could hear stories about the more personal impact Shane had on each and every person who was there. U.S. Ski Teamer Travis Ganong reminisced about following Shane around the mountain. The owner of the Chamois, Junior, told me about the time Shane ordered a pizza with every single topping on it so that his breath would be as bad as possible, just for Sherry. Another athlete told me about tripping with Shane on mushroom tea in the woods outside of Truckee. The slightest interactions with Shane--a compliment he gave on a Halloween costume or a chairlift he shared--imprinted lifelong memories.
"He was just like he was on camera, every single day," Daron Rahlves said. "We're here because we love this place. We love who Shane was."
Four years ago, a similar crowd came to Squaw Valley to celebrate Shane's life for his memorial. The parallels between both nights were obvious. Perhaps more tears were shed at one. And the other came with the kind of understanding, clarity, and acceptance that happens with time. Both nights were celebrations of a legend who changed skiing for everyone, who reminded us that skiing is fun, and who is more of a man than any of us ever knew before.
For more information about McConkey or to see the tour schedule, visit McConkeyMovie.com.